Protecting their house

DWS quarterback Tripp Pressley scrambles away from the SGA defense during the first half Friday night. The Knights won, 21-7. (Tim Darden/Special to The Herald)

DWS quarterback Tripp Pressley scrambles away from the SGA defense during the first half Friday night. The Knights won, 21-7. (Tim Darden/Special to The Herald)

ALBANY — For one half of football Friday night, it looked as though Southwest Georgia Academy might knock off its second straight defending state champ.

But Deerfield-Windsor is no Ashford Academy.

The Warriors, who crushed 1A Alabama state champ Ashford last Friday, 35-14, led the reigning GISA Class AAA state champs, 7-0, on the Knights’ home field at halftime, but 21 unanswered points in the second half allowed the overflowing crowd at Webb Memorial to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

After all, losing on your own turf — in Week 1 — is no way to begin a title defense.

“Awful,” was all DWS running back Matthew Fox would say when asked how devastating a season-opening loss would’ve been had the Knights not rallied. “We’d have never heard the end of it — from everybody.”

After two plays and a fumble to begin the third quarter by SGA, Fox — the Knights’ senior leader — made the Warriors pay, scoring on Deerfield’s first play on offense from 32 yards out.

“That was my line, right there,” said Fox, who finished as the game’s leading rusher with 107 yards on 15 carries. “They cleared a huge hole and I just ran through it. Can’t take much credit for that run.”

One possession later, Fox added a 3-yard scamper up the middle to quickly turn a 7-0 hole into a 14-7 lead thanks to two PATs from Harry Vildibill. DWS junior Chris Boswell added a beauty of a rushing TD with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, breaking four tackles to turn what looked like a busted play into a 12-yard TD run and a 21-7 lead.

“The first half, anything that could’ve gone wrong, did go wrong,” DWS coach Allen Lowe said. “I thought out kids responded well. We’re just still fighting, trying to figure out everything (with our young team). We’re still searching, so right now I’m just glad we came out of here with a W.”

Things were not so pretty in the first half, however, for Deerfield.

DWS, which lost 17 seniors off last year’s team and knew it faced an uphill climb this year, didn’t quite know how daunting that climb was until it ran up against a Warriors ‘D’ that not only had a game under its belt coming into Friday, but their first-team defense was coming off a shutout last Friday against Ashford before its second- and third-team gave up two late fourth-quarter scores. SGA looked every bit as hungry to prove itself early on as it forced Deerfield into long third downs time and again. The SGA offense then got busy and jumped ahead late in the second quarter when sophomore QB Quinn LaGuardia found WR Teel Massey, who made a nice over-the-shoulder catch from 21 yards out for a TD.

The Knights were stunned. SGA, meanwhile, was soaring.

“That was a bad first half,” first-year starting QB Tripp Presley said. “We couldn’t do anything right.”

The Deerfield players said Lowe did some venting during intermission, while on the other sideline, SGA coach Brent Miller delivered a message of positivity.

“I said, ‘Let’s go out and do the same thing we’ve been doing. These are the AAA state champs — and you’re right there with them,’ ” Miller recalled.

But he couldn’t let his team go back onto the field without one final reminder.

“I told them again, ‘Do what we’ve been doing — and don’t make mistakes,” he said.

And sure enough, on the second play of the third quarter, that dreaded mistake happened.

“Yeah, yeah, that fumble,” Miller said of the turnover that reversed the course of the entire game for Deerfield. “That was tough.”

It was the momentum swing the Knights had been looking for all game. Fox’s TD tied it, and then 14 points later and a commanding 21-7 lead, the game was no longer a tale of two halves.

The game was over.

“It’s the whole game that matters. We can’t play half a game or this is what happens,” Massey said. “The bottom line is we got worn out. I still think we were in better shape than them — but they got 60-something players and we don’t. So there ya go.”

SGA could barely move the ball in the second half — to the tune of 47 total yards of offense — and only made it in Deerfield territory once. And even then, that drive was pushed back by three costly penalties — a hold, a personal foul and a false start — ending any threat the Warriors hoped to pose.

Deerfield (1-0) hosts North Florida Christian next week, while SGA (1-1) is home against Windsor Academy.

NOTES: Knights kicker Vildibill, who wears bright yellow shoes you could see from Dawson Road, heard the crowd chanting his nickname, “Chartreuse,” all night at Webb Memorial Stadium. The shoes aren’t just limited to the playing field — word is Vildibill wears them every day to school, as well … Presley left the game in the fourth quarter after appearing to suffer from cramps. He did not return and was replaced by backup QB Tyler Lowe, who is DWS head coach Allen Lowe’s son. Presley said after the game he was fine and the coaches decided to hold him out for the rest of the game since Deerfield was firmly in control at that point, up 21-7 … SGA leading tackler Thomas Vines had another big game with 8 tackles and a 39-yard catch on offense … Warriors running back Perry Bridges, who rushed for 181 yards and three scores last week, was held in check Friday by Deerfield, running for just 32 yards, no scores and a fumble … SGA will get starting running back Will Warren back next week after Warren was held out of the first two games (coach’s decision). Miller has declined to say why Warren isn’t playing … The Deerfield radio crew broadcasted their first of many games Friday. They can be heard — home or away — all season on 107.7 FM.