Herald High School Beat Writer Mike Phillips
Let’s hope this isn’t my last pick ’em column of the year.
This football season has been memorable, and you hate to see it end. We’ve got four area teams left, and two are playing for state titles tonight.
If you feel like you have seen this column before about Deerfield-Windsor and Westwood playing for the state titles in GISA, it’s because you have.
I picked Deerfield to win the state title months ago, so here’s the slam-dunk pick of the year for me in tonight’s GISA Class AAAA state title game at Webb Memorial.
I’m taking the Knights and a group of 16 seniors who will win the 48th game at DWS in the last four years with a victory against Heritage and former DWS player and assistant coach Kevin Prisant.
Welcome home Kevin, but sorry you have to face this DWS team.
I was telling someone the other day that when you play against Deerfield’s defense, it feels like they have 14 guys on that side of the ball.
That’s what it’s going to feel like for Heritage, which has been ripping teams. The Hawks destroyed Westfield last week in the semifinals, 42-10, and have scored 84 points in two playoffs games.
But they say defense wins titles, and defense is going to win this one tonight. Sure Dynamite Dozen tailback Kh'Ron McClain, who has a chance to break Tony Zenon's DWS rushing record, is going to have a big game.
McClain was in the stands two years ago when the Knights won their last state title. He had left Albany and Deerfield to live in Atlanta with his father, but McClain came back for that game, and he rushed onto the field and celebrated with his former teammates.
He will be celebrating again tonight — and it will be a sweet celebration.
Every time I talk to McClain, he tells me how much he “loves his teammates.” He means it. That's why this one will feel so special — to all the kids at DWS.
Coach Allen Lowe told me Thursday that the best part of this year's team was the way they all had the same collective goal — to win it all. These kids know all about that unselfish feeling of just pulling together in the same direction. That's always the goal, but few teams really get it.
This one does.
That's why it feels like there are 14 kids playing on defense, and it’s why one of the best blocks I saw all year was a wipeout downfield block by DWS quarterback Dallas Margeson. Yup, the quarterback went flying downfield and took a guy out to spring a big run.
Loew won his 200th game earlier this year, and he'll win his fourth state title tonight — and third since 2008. It will just be too much Deerfield tonight — and I mean that in the best of ways.
PREDICTION: Deerfield 35, Heritage 28.
CAN THE WONDERS DO IT AGAIN?: The Westwood Wonders face a team with some players who are probably bigger than Goliath. That's not a metaphor. Valwood's offensive line is huge and includes Georgia commit Aulden Bynum, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound boulder. Valwood is unbeaten, and no one in Georgia thinks Westwood has a chance against the Valiants. The game is even being played in Valdosta.
So what are Westwood’s chances?
Valwood beat Westwood by 30 earlier this year and is probably already making a space in the trophy case for the GISA AA state title trophy.
So why do I think Westwood will win?
Because I always think Westwood will win. There's more grit and courage in these kids than some NFL teams have. I like what quarterback Mitch Good said this week.
“The pressure is on them, not us,” he said at practice.
And the longer Westwood hangs in there with the Valwood, the more pressure will mount on the Valiants, who is bigger, faster and deeper.
Westwood won't go away tonight, however, and its that no-quit stuff gives the Wonders a chance to pull off the upset.
J.T. Edore, who has gained 1,575 yards this season and will have another big game tonight, and Westwood will have to gang-tackle like never before.
But the kids from Camilla have a chance, and that may be more than enough. It was a one-touchdown game at halftime the last time they played, and if it’s that close in the fourth quarter, look for Westwood to pull out the win.
As back-to-back GISA Class A state champs, they have won 37 of their last 39 games and defied all the odds when they moved from Class A to Class AA this offseason. They went 26-0 with back-to-back crowns once, and I'm picking to win their third state title in a row tonight.
By the way, I've picked the Wonders to win in their last 39 games. Make it 40.
PREDICTION: Westwood 35, Valwood 31.
INDIANS AND BOBCATS LOOK TO MARCH ON: Let's move on to GHSA, where both Early County and Seminole are going to win tonight.
It seemed like Alan Ingram couldn't stop smiling when I stopped by practice this week. We talked about his team, the season and just how far his kids have come this year.
Ingram just kept smiling and said, “I've been smiling a lot this year.”
They have enjoyed this team so much because no one game them a chance, and here they are in the state quarterfinals against Dooly and the top defensive tackle in the nation.
One player is not going to beat the Indians. Seminole will simply outscore Dooly.
Sit back and watch.
Ingram isn't going to stop smiling for a while. He's got a number of kids who can run the ball, an all-for-one defense and a bunch of guys who believe they can win.
Prediction: Seminole County 30, Dooly County 24.
Prediction: If you read this column, you know how I feel about Early County. I've been saying all year the Bobcats are one of the most underrated teams in Georgia, and here they are in the Elite 8 in the Class AA state playoffs.
Jacori Taylor and Ladonis Bryant are going to have another big night as the best 1-2 show in AA, and Brakari Isom is going to lead a defense that just gets better every week.
I know that Greater Atlanta Christian is loaded, but those kids haven't seen a team as tough as Early all year. There are eight teams left in AA, and three are from Region 1-AA. That tells you just about everything you need to know about how tough life has been for Early.
And that's what makes the Bobcats run in the playoffs feel like so much fun — not to mention so special.
That run won't stop tonight in Atlanta. Early will beat GAC and Fitzgerald's going to beat Jefferson so the state semifinals next week will pit the region rivals against each other. I'll take Brooks County over top-ranked Calhoun, too, in a game that will shock every one in Georgia.
There's not another region anywhere as competitive as Region 1-AA, and the payoff comes tonight when all three teams make it to the Final Four.
PREDICTION: Early County 28, GAC 14.