Deerfield coach Allen Lowe's team is one win away from clinching the region title and locking up the No. 1 seed for the state playoffs.
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WHO: Pinewood (5-2, 2-0) at Deerfield-Windsor (7-1, 2-0).
WHAT: Top two teams in GISA Region 1-AAA face off for first place.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Webb Memorial, Albany.
RADIO: 107.7 FM.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
ALBANY — You can take Latin or ethics, and they even offer a course in zoolology at Deerfield-Windsor.
But there are no courses in complacency.
At least not on the football field, where kids at DWS all but vow not to take Pinewood for granted when they meet the Patriots tonight in a game that is suddenly packed with significance.
One week after winning the biggest game of the regular season against another unbeaten region foe in Westfield, DWS needs to beat Pinewood, which just shocked Southland and comes to Webb Memorial Stadium with an unbeaten record in the region race.
It was pretty easy for Deerfield’s kids to get up for Westfield, which was ranked No. 2 in the state right behind No. 1 Deerfield. The two are big rivals, and many people thought that game might be a preview of the state title game. The region title seemed to be on the line, and it had a direct effect on home field advantage in the postseason, including the state title game itself.
With all that on the line, the Knights responded with one of their best games of the season, a dominating 28-7 win.
Now they need to do it again.
Pinewood, which started the season at 1-2, has won four in a row, including back-to-back victories in the region, and the Patriots are now tied with DWS at 2-0 atop the Region 1-AAA race. So guess what? This game is as big as last week’s against Westfield.
So now Deerfield has to find that same emotion and drive from a week ago against a Pinewood team that could spoil a season.
“I know Westfield was a huge game,” DWS receiver Rich Fallaw said after practice Wednesday. “No. 1, it was Westfield, and No. 2, it was for the region and home field in the playoffs. But we know we have to keep winning. It won’t be hard to get ready.’’
That’s the idea at Deerfield, where the Knights are 7-1 and unbeaten in Georgia. The kids set their sights on a state title in August and the first step is to win the region, the second to grab the home field throughout the playoffs and then ultimately win the second state title in three years.
“We haven’t achieved our goal,’’ said two-way lineman and Division I prospect Patrick Forrestal, who is coming off a big game against Westfield. “Our goal is to win the state title and that means region. It’s real easy to get up for a region game.’’
With three games left, Deerfield can almost clinch the region with a win tonight, because the Knights play Tiftarea (1-7 and 0-2 in the region) next week at home and end the season on the road at Southland.
If DWS wins tonight and beats Tiftarea, the Knights would go into the Southland game at 4-0 in the region with victories against both Westfield and Pinewood. Southland has lost to Westfield and Pinewood, so even if Deerfield lost on the final night of the regular season, the Knights would win the region and home field in the playoffs.
They are in control right now.
“We’ve got home-field advantage in the playoffs right now, and we don’t want anyone to take it away from us,” DWS two-way lineman Daniel Cheshire said. “We’re not going to take them for granted. We know what we have to do to keep the home-field advantage. We know we have to win this game.”
They also know they better be ready for anything against the Patriots, who proved they will gamble their season if they have to. Pinewood made the ultimate gamble against Southland, going for two points at the end of the game a week ago and beating the Raiders, 15-14, when it worked.
The Pats can run the ball, and they like to spread the offense by using quarterback Dalton Johnson and tailback Ethan Kumpula, who have combined to rush for more than 1,500 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
Kumpula is the second-leading rusher in GISA Class AAA, gaining 826 yards on 116 carries (7.12 average), and Johnson, who runs more than he throws, is ranked fourth in rushing with 679 yards on 120 carries (5.65 average). Johnson has thrown 89 passes, completing less than half of them (39) for 485 yards and four touchdowns.
The top running back in all of GISA is Deerfield’s Kh’Ron McClain, who has rushed for 1,302 yards on 114 carries (11.42 average) and 14 touchdowns. McClain scored four touchdowns last week, including a 38-yard fumble recovery. He also had a sack worth 13 yards and had an interception against Westfield on defense. It was his 10th career interception, which broke the school record.
Deerfield’s defense dominated the Westfield game as Matthew Fox tied a school record with four sacks worth 40 yards on a night when the Knights’ D made 12 plays for either no gain or a loss, including six sacks.
It was arguably the Knights’ best defensive game of the year. Now they must do it again,
“We always talk about how we have to get better,’’ said DWS defensive coordinator Rod Murray, whose defense has given up just seven points in two region games.
That’s the theme this week at Deerfield — be even better this week than a week ago against Westfield.
“Somebody somewhere is getting better, and it better be us,” said Deerfield offensive line coach Hollis Hood, emphasizing the no-complacency attitude.
They didn’t celebrate much after Westfield.
“That’s behind us. We don’t think about that game now. We’re looking straight ahead,’’ said Fallaw, pointing his arm out in front of him to show the way.
Allen Lowe feels the same way, about the direction and about his kids being focused.
“Our guys were,’’ said the head coach, whose team has played in three of the last four state title games and won two of them. “Hopefully, because we have so many seniors who have been through the wars, they are able to handle the highs and lows of the season. They don’t look behind.’’
Forrestal, a senior, couldn’t agree more.
“We know what it felt like when we won the state championship when we were sophomores,’’ he said. “And we know what it felt like last year when we lost (in the state semifinals). It felt horrible.’’
Still, complacency can be found at every level of football, and Lowe knows it has a way of sneaking up on teams — especially after a big win.
“It is tricky,” he said. “It’s high school football. But I think our kids love Friday nights, and when you love Friday nights, you will do whatever you need to do to get the win.”
Lowe knows Pinewood will come at his kids with everything it has and try to control the game with its running game, chipping away all night.
But he also knows his defense will be up to the task. After all, they’ve stopped everything the last two weeks.
“Our defense has really played well the last two weeks,’’ Lowe said. “We have eliminated the big play that we gave up at the beginning of the year. I think they are starting to feel how good they can play and are feeding off of it.”
There’s nothing complacent about that.