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PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Deerfield looking ahead to playoff opener vs. Mount de Sales

Knights play host to Cavaliers, whom they beat on Sept. 6 by a point

Deerfield’s Grey Lanier runs the ball against Stratford earlier this season. Lanier and the Knights host Mount de Sales Friday in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs as they start their bid to defend their 2012 state championship. (Tim Darden/Special to The Herald)

Deerfield’s Grey Lanier runs the ball against Stratford earlier this season. Lanier and the Knights host Mount de Sales Friday in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs as they start their bid to defend their 2012 state championship. (Tim Darden/Special to The Herald)

ALBANY — Nick Michas doesn’t hold Deerfield-Windsor’s Oct. 25 game at Pinewood Christian in high regard.

Nearly three weeks ago, the Knights committed five turnovers and dropped a 24-21 decision to the Patriots in Belville.

At the time, it seemed Deerfield’s football season had hit rock bottom. The Pinewood loss was the Knights’ second consecutive region setback, and the defending GISA Class AAA champions were wondering if they’d even make the state playoffs.

“That was a horrible game,” said Michas, the team’s starting middle linebacker and offensive tackle. “We weren’t focused, and we took them for granted. That game reflected our senior leadership. We weren’t doing a good job.”

But things changed. Renewed focus, some excruciating practices and precise execution on offense turned things around.

Fast forward three weeks and Deerfield has posted two convincing region victories over Tiftarea and Southland and will play host to Mount de Sales Academy on Friday night as the Region 1-AAA runner-up and No. 2 seed in the first round of the GISA Class AAA state playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Webb Memorial Stadium.

The Knights have rolled in their past two victories, outscoring their opponents by a combined 83-14. Michas believes Deerfield’s best football lies ahead.

“We still haven’t played the best we can,” he said. “We’ve popped off some big plays on offense, but I still believe we can play so much better.”

While the offense continues to improve, the defense has been a staple all season. With the exception of a 48-7 loss to North Florida Christian in the second game, Deerfield’s three other losses to Tattnall Square, Westfield and Pinewood Christian came by a combined 22 points.

The Knights (7-4) entertain Mount de Sales, a team they defeated 14-13 in the third week of the season in Macon. Deerfield used a blocked punt from Antonio Watts that he returned for a touchdown, then Matthew Fox scored on a 2-point conversion run for the victory.

It will be a collision of two programs that ended the regular season heading in opposite directions. Mount de Sales (3-7) has lost two straight, while Deerfield won its last two.

Senior Davis Gill, a starter on the offensive and defensive lines, said both teams will look different than when they last met on Sept. 6.

“We feel like we’re ready after our last two games,” Gill said. “We feel like execution-wise on offense, we’ve played the best we have all season.”

The young Knights began the season with just four returning starters and a relatively small senior class. Regardless of Friday’s outcome, coach Allen Lowe knows youthfulness can’t be used as an excuse.

“This time of the year, the kids have experience,” Lowe said. “They’ve just got to go out and do it again.”

Just like they have the past two weeks.