Deerfield’s Jay Saunders returns a kick during the Knights’ regular-season finale victory against Southland two weeks ago. The Knights will play Stratford Academy tonight in the GISA Class AAA semifinals as they try to stay alive in their quest to defend their state championship. (Staff photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY – Offensive lineman Will Roberts doesn’t spend much time looking at the Georgia Varsity Sports Vent.
However, the Deerfield-Windsor junior couldn’t help but notice the doubters on the online message board.
As Deerfield prepares to travel to Macon to face Stratford Academy in the GISA Class AAA semifinals tonight at 7:30 p.m., Roberts said few expect Deerfield to be playing in next week’s state championship game at Mercer University.
“Last year at this time, we were like 11-1 rather than being 8-4,” Roberts said. “Most people (on the Vent) are doubting us. They aren’t expecting us to make it to Mercer next week. We’ve got to prove them wrong.”
Deerfield will be making its second trip to Stratford Academy this season. The Knights took a 28-21 decision on Sept. 13. But tonight’s game will be different.
In the midst of a three-game winning streak, Deerfield has outscored opponents Tiftarea, Southland and Mount de Sales by a combined 125-21, using an explosive offense to score plenty of points, while its defense has helped set up several more scores.
Meanwhile, Stratford (9-2) has won seven straight since a two-game losing streak early in the season. One of its losses was to the Knights, but then it dropped a 21-20 contest to Westfield the following week. All of the Eagles’ losses were to teams still playing in the postseason.
Westfield will play host to Southland in the other Class AAA semifinal game. The winners meet next Saturday in the state championship game.
In Deerfield’s first meeting with Stratford, running back Matthew Fox broke a 21-all tie, dashing 32 yards for a touchdown with 30 seconds left. He finished with 218 yards rushing and scored all four touchdowns in a back-and-forth affair. The Knights hope Fox has a similar performance on Friday.
For Deerfield-Windsor coach Allen Lowe, he couldn’t be happier with his team’s play, especially on defense.
“Hopefully we can keep playing like we’ve been playing for two more weeks,” Lowe said. “The kids are playing with a lot of emotion the last few weeks. But this is the time of the year where we need to be stepping up.”
Running back Grey Lanier doesn’t know the secret to Deerfield’s explosive play on offense. He said the team’s practices have been more intense and the Knights are peaking at the right time.
“Just stay focused,” Lanier said. “We know what we’ve got to do, we’ve just got to get it done.”
But as hard-fought as the Knights’ earlier win over Stratford was, Deerfield-Windsor coaches expect the Eagles to be even tougher tonight.
Lowe doesn’t want his players to take anything from their previous meeting more than two months ago.
“What happened earlier in the year doesn’t have any bearing on what happens now,” Lowe said. “Stratford is solid in all three phases of the game. They’re going to be tough.”
Roberts said the Eagles will be looking to get even.
“They’re going to be mad, especially after we beat them up there earlier,” he said. “They’re going to come out fired up. But we’ve got to match their intensity.”
And prove the doubters wrong.