Dougherty’s Jared Kiser breaks up a pass intended for Westover’s Kel Miller during their city rivalry game Friday night at Hugh Mills. (email@example.com)
ALBANY — Dougherty (0-8, 0-5), which led, 20-14, at halftime and 26-21 with 1:44 left in the third quarter Friday against Westover, nearly pulled off its first win in more than a year. The Trojans hadn’t won since Sept. 9, 2011, when they beat Clarkston, and they hadn’t beaten a city rival since shutting out Westover on Oct. 3, 2009.
Dougherty quarterback Michael Whatley almost made history happen Friday night.
The sophomore threw for five touchdowns and 329 yards on 20 of 41. He tossed two TDs to Demario Barney in the first half to tie the game at 14-14 with 6:09 left in the second quarter and then another to Madarious McWhorter to give the Trojans a 20-14 lead with 2:39 left before halftime. Kenneth Johnson scored on a fourth-and-goal in the third quarter to give Dougherty its last lead, and Jared Kiser caught a 59-yard TD pass with 1:53 left in the game.
“I wanted it bad (Friday). I wanted to win, but sometimes it just …,” Whatley said before trailing off. “A win would have given us respect.”
That’s how Dougherty felt after almost giving Corey Joyner his first win as head coach and sending shockwaves throughout the Region 1-AAAA standings.
“A win would have meant respect. It would have meant respect from teams around here that Dougherty often had (in the past),” Joyner said. “And it would have been a confidence booster for our guys. Our guys worked their behinds off during the summer. We got out there at 8:30 and didn’t leave till 1:30.
“We had night practices, two-a-days, three-a-days, whatever it took. But we just don’t have enough people. And it’s sad that these guys had to experience that loss with all they have given.”
Whatley said, ultimately, he felt he and his teammates got some respect for battling Westover until the final minutes.
“We deserve (respect) a lot,” Whatley said. “We fought. We fought hard and never gave up. We are just going to keep fighting until the end.”
PATRIOTS SURVIVE: Westover’s hopes of winning its first region title were on the ropes Friday when Dougherty nearly pulled off an upset at Hugh Mills Stadium.
The Patriots survived, 41-32, and hung on to a slim chance of capturing the Region 1-AAAA title.
The scenarios needed for Westover to win the region crown are unlikely, but the Patriots still have the inside track to a No. 2 seed in the playoffs and the school’s first home playoff game if they can run the table the next two weeks against Worth County and Albany.
Octavia Jones wasn’t pleased after his Patriots had to come back from a late third quarter deficit against a Dougherty team that hadn’t won in over a year, but the Westover coach was relieved to escape with the win.
“The big picture is winning out,” Jones said. “We can’t worry about what other teams do. We just have to worry about us. We almost let this one get away tonight. We just have to maintain our focus and make sure we take care or our business on the field and let the chips fall where they may.”
DEERFIELD’S SECRET: The Knights have turned up the heat on defense over the last three games, are 3-0 in GISA Region 1-AAA play and atop the league in both victories and in defense. Nobody in GISA plays D like DWS.
The Knights’ first-team defense has given up only seven points in those three games, and the lone touchdown came after Deerfield had built a 28-0 lead against Westfield, which was ranked No. 2 in the state at the time.
“They know it’s the region,” DWS coach Allen Lowe said of his team’s improvement over the last three games. “Defensively, were playing much better. Were not giving up the big plays we gave up at the beginning of the year.”
The big plays are coming on defense. The Knights had six sacks and 12 stops in which they either held Westfield to no gain or a loss on the play last week, and in Friday night’s 49-7 win against Pinewood, the Knights had seven plays of no gain or a loss in the first quarter alone, and 10 for the game.
The Deerfield D has also scored 14 points in the last two weeks, scoring on a Kh’Ron McClain’s 38-yard fumble recover against Westfield and scoring on Matthew Fox 55-yard fumble return against Pinewood. Fox simply stole the ball out of Pinewood quarterback .D.J. Dalton’s hands and raced untouched for the touchdown.
Fox, who had four sacks against Westfield and three plays for losses against Pinewood, said the defense knows what it has to do in big games, and the key is counting on each other.
“Everyone plays aggressive football,’’ Fox said. “Everyone knows what they have to do. It’s not one player making a big play, it’s everyone. It’s all lock and key — the key fitting into the lock. Everyone has to be in the game, doing their job.’’
Dallas Margeson, who starts at quarterback and safety, knows the region games are bigger and dictate the path to the playoffs. He admits the defense is playing better, but can’t put his finger on it.
“We (the players) really didn’t talk about it when the region started. I think it just happened,’’ he said. “It’s the region. We know what that means.’’
McClain, a Herald Dynamite Dozen player who leads all of GISA in rushing with 1,480 yards, has come up big on defense in the last two games. He had never had a sack in his career before the region season started, but he made a 13-yard sack against Westfield and had a sack worth nine yards against Pinewood. He also had an interception against Westfield -- his 10th in his career at DWS, which set a school record, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
“It’s not about being a one-man show,’’ he said modestly. “It’s about the whole team. I never know (how many yards I gain). It’s all about the team here at Deerfield. I just love my team. For us, it’s about Friday night lights. We love Fridays.”
Patrick Forrestal has had five plays for losses in the last two games and Nick Michas has had two huge games in the last two weeks.
After the win against Pinewood, Lowe said: “Defensively, they were going to have trouble moving the ball.” Then he paused and added: “Right now, I feel everybody will have trouble moving the ball against us.’’
Davis Hines didn’t return a punt for a touchdown against Pinewood, but give him a big assists on a one-play, 13-yard drive that lifted Deerfield to a 14-0 lead early.
Hines returned a punt 35 yards to the Pinewood 25, and the ball was moved to the 13 after a late hit on the play. Sam Shellhaas scored on the first play from scrimmage.
MONROE GROUNDED?: Monroe quarterback Charles Stafford hasn’t done anything wrong lately, but he hasn’t been able to put up monster numbers in the last couple of games. The reason? Stafford hasn’t thrown a pass in the second half in the last two weeks.
He played only briefly in the third quarter in Monroe’s 56-26 win against Dougherty last week, and didn’t put the ball in the air at all. And on Friday night, Stafford, who completed 14-of-17 passes for 202 yards and a couple of TD throws to Kevin Williams, who continues to make his case as the best receiver in Southwest Georgia, didn‘t throw a pass n the second half and spent most of it watching from the bench.
He had two completions in the second half worth 50 yards before a torrential downpour ruined any chances of passing in Monroe’s 12-0 win against Albany last month.
Stafford will probably play the entire game on Friday when the Tornadoes face Cairo in a game that will all but decide the Region 1-AAAA title.
Cairo hasn’t lost a region game n more than three years and controls its destiny. The unbeaten Syrupmakers can wrap up their fourth consecutive region title with a win Friday at Hugh Mills. Monroe was upset in its region opener by Westover, 17-14, in a game in which Stafford threw for almost 200 yards in the second half.
The Tornadoes are 4-1 and Westover, which lost to Cairo, 31-7, are also 4-1, right behind Cairo, which is 5-0. A win by Monroe would force a three-way tie for first with one game remaining in the season.
The tiebreaker is points allowed in the game involving the three teams. Westover has given up 45 points in two games. Cairo has given up seven and Monroe 17.
Monroe would have to beat Cairo by 11 points and hold Cairo to fewer than 29 points to win the title. Cairo could lose to Monroe by 10 or less and win the title via the tiebreaker. The only way Westover can win the title is if Monroe beats Cairo, and Monroe and Cairo each end up giving up a total of 46 or more points in the two games.
That means Cairo would have to lose and allow 39 points (for a total of 46) for Westover to win the title, and Monroe would have to win and give up 29 points (for a total of 46).
Monroe coach Charles Truitt wasn’t worried about tiebreakers before his team went to Crisp County last Friday.
“We talked to them about how important the Crisp County game was,” Truitt said. “We told them that the Cairo game won’t mean a thing if we don‘t take care of business and beat Crisp.”
The Nadas did just that, winning 28-0 and holding Crisp to only one first down all night while tossing their second shutout in five region games. Dynamite Dozen linebacker Anthony Smith led the way with six tackles, including two for losses.
COURTEOUS COACH: Early County head coach Trey Woolf didn’t want to shake hands after Friday’s 17-14 last-second loss to Fitzgerald. Woolf, though, wasn’t doing it out of spite, he just didn’t want to get anybody else sick.
“I’m covered up with the flu,” Woolf said after the game, which the Bobcats had a chance to tie with four seconds left until a 32-yard field goal missed wide left.
To be fair, Early County kicker Brandon Carter isn’t a natural kicker and hadn’t attempted a field goal all season until last week when he nailed a 25-yarder with 51 seconds left to beat Thomasville,17-14. Early County officials believed it was the first field goal attempted in the last three years at least.
Carter, who ran for 46 yards at tailback, tried to pull it off again to tie GHSA Class AA No. 5 Fitzgerald Friday. He lined up straight-on just three yards behind the ball and hit it square, but it sailed left of the uprights and the Canes survived.
The main reason the game came down to a kick was Early’s three first-half turnovers inside the Fitzgerald 25, two of which were fumbles. Fitzgerald head coach Jason Strickland said the turnovers were partly due to defenders stripping the ball and partly due to good luck.
“Coach (Neal) Burkhart, our defensive coordinator, does a great job and we practice (forcing) turnovers every day,” Strickland said. “Some of it’s the football gods smiling on us, (too).”
Early County quarterback Jacori Taylor lost two of the fumbles, but made up for it with 101 rushing yards, including a 65-yard scamper and score, and threw for 152 yards and a touchdown. After having to defend against Taylor, Brooks County’s Malcolm Parrish, Cook’s Ross Pickle and Monroe’s Charles Stafford, Strickland and the Canes are ready for a break.
“I’m ready to play somebody that doesn’t have a good quarterback,” Strickland said.
Herald High School Writer Miker Phillips and staff sports writer Matt Stewart contributed to this report