Seminole County quarterback Alex Fudge lines up under center during a game earlier this season against Early County. Fudge and the Herald No. 2 Indians are 3-0 for the first time in over a decade and travel to No. 3 Pelham tonight for an anticipated matchup between two of Southwest Georgia’s top rushing teams. (Donalsonville News/Special to The Herald)
PELHAM — Seminole County has the third-best rushing total in the state in Class A this season, and Pelham is leading all of Class AA with 326 rushing yards per game.
Tonight, however, somebody is going to run a little farther.
And Pelham coach Frankie Carroll believes it’s that battle on the ground that will ultimately decide who will win between The Herald No. 2 Indians and The Herald No. 3 Hornets, who both enter tonight’s game with perfect 3-0 records.
“It’s going to be some kind of war,” Carroll said. “It will be a dog fight down to the end. It will be one of those physical games where you need a week off after, but you don’t have the luxury of having one.”
Both teams are off to their best starts in more than a decade but have yet to see the type of competition they will be facing tonight when two of the best rushing attacks in Southwest Georgia clash against a pair of defenses that can be equally tough.
Seminole County is averaging 208.7 rushing yards per game and has ridden senior running back Robert Speight for nearly half of their yardage on the ground. Speight, who averages 9.29 yards per carry, has only two rushing TDs this season, but he has also caught two scores and thrown for two more.
But as impressive as Speight and the Seminole County offense has been, nobody has compared to what Pelham has accomplished this season. The Hornets were 1-9 last season with their only win coming in Week 1 against Baconton Charter, but Carroll has turned it around in Pelham and put together one of the most dynamic rushing games in the state.
In all classifications, Pelham is sixth in the state in rushing and seventh in scoring (45.7 ppg) and is coming off back-to-back blowout wins against Mitchell County and Miller County, beating those teams on the road in the same season for the first time since 1976. Pelham has lost nine straight to Seminole — including a 20-13 setback last season — but these aren’t your father’s Hornets.
These Hornets can run with the best of them.
“The key is up front. The offensive line is playing lights out,” said Carroll, who credited new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Justin Sirmon for much of that success. “The offensive line is where it starts, but the backs we have grew and got stronger in the weight room and have gotten faster. They are playing football and running the football like you are supposed to.”
It’s not just one Pelham rusher who is having a career year. Three rushers have gained at least 200 yards in three games, and four different Hornets have at least three rushing touchdowns. Junior Darren Jackson leads the way with 295 yards and five TDs, but Desmond Parker (265 yards, 3 TDs), Demonte Franklin (249 yards, 3 TDs) and Christian Drake (120 yards, 3 TDs) have also been tearing up opposing defenses. In all, the Hornets have 17 rushing TDs and average nearly nine yards per carry.
“I knew we would be better than last year,” Carroll said. “I could tell during the offseason that we would be better, but I never expected to put up the kind of points like we are.”
The Hornets, however, haven’t seen a defense quite like Seminole County’s unit, which has allowed just four TDs, forced 10 turnovers and given up an average of nine points per game.
And the Indians are doing it during a season that many thought would be a rebuilding year for head coach Alan Ingram.
“We don’t have the overall athletic ability of teams that I have had in the past, but this team is working hard and believing in what we are doing,” Ingram said. “Our defense has played good at times, but we have to eliminate the mistakes and play the type of game that we are capable of playing (tonight).
“This bunch, more so than recent teams I have had, believes in what we are doing and where we are going. Everybody knows they have an assignment to do. We are still making some mistakes, but the effort is there.”
With 626 rushing yards and six total TDs, Speight has shined brightest for the Indians, but Ingram believes he has a handful of players capable of standing out on any given night. Quarterback Alex Fudge hasn’t thrown it much (9-for-15, 150 yards), but he has been efficient with four TDs and two interceptions. Brendan Kimble has has also rushed for 144 yards and a score, and Danny Rambo leads the team in receiving with five catches for 70 yards and a score.
“In the preseason, (Speight) didn’t get a whole lot of practice time, but he is playing now and has come alive,” Ingram said. “He is doing a good job in practice and has the numbers right now. But it could be a lot of guys. It could be Fudge. It could be Rambo. It could be Kimble. We just call the plays and take what folks give us. It’s just happened to be Speight so far.”