Starting quarterback Dallas Margeson has led Deerfield to five straight wins since the team began the season 1-1. And if the Knights can beat region rival Westfield tonight, they might just run the table all the way to the GISA AAA state championship game, where DWS and Westfield could very well meet again. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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WHO: Westfield (6-0) at Deerfield (6-1).
WHAT: GISA Top 2 teams in Class AAA meet, No. 1 region seed on line.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Webb Memorial, Albany.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
ALBANY — Dallas Margeson is a sharp kid, honor student, a quarterback with all the football savvy in the world and smart enough to quote Shakespeare or Thoreau.
On Wednesday afternoon, Margeson was quoting Deerfield-Windsor assistant coach Craig Rhodes.
“It’s like coach Rhodes says,” Margeson began, “there’s no place like home.”
Actually, that was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz who said that first, but Rhodes, Margeson and the kids at Deerfield grasp the concept better than most — with or without ruby red slippers.
It’s just one — but a mighty big one — reason the Knights want desperately to beat Westfield tonight at Webb Memorial Stadium.
Forget the state rankings for a minute — Deerfield (6-1) is ranked No. 1 in the GISA Class AAA state poll, and Westfield (6-0) is ranked No. 2 — and forget for a moment that neither team has lost a game in Georgia this year. And yes, there is first place in the region race at stake, and there are some who are saying this is the overture to the Class AAA state title game in November.
But the icing and cherry on top of this multi-layered cake is about being at home.
That’s what the winner of the region gets. Along with the title and bragging rights, the region champ will earn home field advantage throughout the state playoffs, including — if they get there — the home field in the state championship game.
What’s that worth?
“Everything,’’ DWS two-way lineman Daniel Cheshire said after practice on Wednesday. “Being at home in the playoffs is awesome!”
But there’s also something else.
This could be the last time DWS will get a chance to play a state title game at home at Webb Memorial. GISA is changing the format, and beginning next year all classes will play state championship finales at Mercer University in Macon.
Indeed, there is no place like home.
A victory doesn’t guarantee a region title because DWS still has to play three more games, including a big one against Southland, which has one loss in the region, on the final day of the regular season Nov. 9. But a win by Westfield would just about nail it down for the Hornets, who hammered Southland, 38-0, last week, while Deerfield was blowing away previously unbeaten Bulloch, 31-0, in another crucial region game.
You get the idea.
“There is no way to get (the region title and home field advantage in the playoffs) unless we win,’’ DWS coach Allen Lowe said. “Whoever loses this game will be on the outside looking in.”
It’s always big when DWS meets Westfield, and the kids know it.
“They always play us tough,’’ said KE’Marvin Pitts, who plays running back and defensive back for DWS. “We know it’s going to be intense. The rivalry speaks for itself.”
They’re used to it.
“It’s like this almost every year,” Cheshire said. “They’re always at the top of the region, and we’re always at the top of the region. Our first goal is to win the region, and our No. 1 goal is to win the state title.”
Deerfield has won the state title three times since 2002, and two of those championships have come against Westfield. The Knights lost the region game to Westfield, 15-14, and then came back to beat the Hornets for the title, 24-7, in 2002, and then swept Westfield in 2008 with a pair of hold-your-breath wins, beating Westfield, 6-3, in the regular season to capture the region title. Deerfield then won it all with a 17-12 victory in the title game.
Westfield has never won a state title, and if there is any team the Hornets want to beat, it’s Deerfield. This is more than a rivalry game for the Hornets — this is their biggest rivalry game. DWS holds a 15-13 all-time edge against Westfield, but the Knights have won the last seven meetings.
“They really want to beat us,’’ two-way lineman Patrick Forrestal said. “If they want to beat anybody on their schedule, it’s us.”
Lowe put it a little differently.
“We know their focus this week will be a little more intense,’’ said Lowe with a smile. “The region championship is possibly on the line, and home field is on the line — all of it. It’s going to be a good atmosphere. They will bring a big crowd, and it’s going to be great football weather. It’s a big game. We enjoy playing them. Hopefully, we’ll play a big game defensively. With Westfield, you have to find a way to win field position.’’
Deerfield’s defense will need its best game of the season, because Westfield is not only disciplined and big up front, but the Hornets are led by one of the most electric players in GISA, quarterback Evan Williams.
“Evan Williams is the key to their offense,” Lowe said. “He’s a tough, tough kid. He can run and he can throw. He makes them go.’’
DWS has seen enough film on Williams this week.
“They always bring their A game against us,’’ said Margeson, who also starts in the secondary. “They do a good job. Their quarterback is quick. We’re going to need to play great defense. We’ve got to come out with a lot of energy from play No. 1.”
Energy shouldn’t be a problem, and the DWS kids know it.
“They’re very aggressive,” Cheshire said. “And they’re big, and they play smart. There’s a reason they’re undefeated. It’s always the biggest game. And you know they’re going to be pumped.’’
The rivalry is rich, and runs deep.
“When I walk on the field and look at them, it’s a different feeling,” Forrestal said. “I look at them, and all those feelings rush back. There’s just something about them.”
It could be an instant classic. And it might be a shootout. Deerfield is loaded, too.
Kh’Ron McClain, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, is arguably the best player in GISA. He plays both ways — at tailback and cornerback — and leads all of GISA in rushing. McClain is coming off a 258-yard night against Bulloch and has now gained 1,155 yards, averaging a staggering 12.28 yards per carry. He has scored 11 touchdowns and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Pitts has rushed for 244 yards on just 31 carries (7.87 average) and has run for three TDs, and he also leads DWS in receiving with six receptions for 182 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 30.3 yards per catch. Margeson has completed 38-of-67 passes for 555 yards and eight touchdowns.
It could come down to DWS kicker Harry Vidibill, who leads GISA kickers in points. He has kicked 28 extra points and two field goals, including a 40-yarder.
No one will be going home early in a game that’s all about being at home.
It should be a packed house.
One more thing, it’s the Homecoming game for DWS. That’s right, Homecoming. Most teams pick a patsy to play on Homecoming, but DWS faces its biggest game of the season.
“I don’t mind,” Cheshire said. “I love it.’’
It’s the state’s top two GISA teams. It’s a rivalry that keeps getting better. It could be a preview of the state title and ultimately decide where the title game will be played.
There’s no other region game like it.
It’s Westfield and Deerfield in a game where the term “Homecoming” could literally mean coming home and staying there.
Just ask Dorothy.