The 2012 season will be a month old for some Georgia high school football teams when Northwest Whitfield finally plays its home opener.
But before the Bruins host Cass next Friday, they’ll take to the road for the second time this year, looking to follow up on a season-opening victory at Pepperell on Aug. 31 with a win at Pickens tonight.
Northwest coach Josh Robinson doesn’t expect the trip to Jasper to be an easy one, though. The Dragons, who are also 1-0, are in their first season under coach Chris Parker, who went 26-17 the past four years at Chapel Hill.
Save a 4-6 mark in 2010, Parker’s Chapel Hill teams had winning records each year. In his first season, the Panthers went 9-3 and reached the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs — a year after going 0-10. Chapel Hill had failed to produce a winning record in its eight years of existence before Parker took over.
“One thing I can tell you is coach Parker does a good job,” Robinson said. “I know he won coach of the year in Class 5A the first year he went to Chapel Hill. He really has his team designed to his strengths.”
In tonight’s other games involving area teams, Christian Heritage is at Coahulla Creek, Murray County hosts Gordon Central, North Murray makes a substantial road trip with a visit to Gainesville’s Johnson and Southeast Whitfield welcomes Gilmer. All kickoffs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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For the Bruins, Pickens’ junior-sophomore combination of quarterback Tanner Brumby and running back Shannon Brooks is one Robinson worries about. He hopes his defense, which allowed only seven points at Pepperell, can contain the duo.
“As far as players are concerned, their quarterback and running back are probably as good a pair of players as we will see this year,” Robinson said. “Pickens usually is known for having big linemen and “This running back is explosive, and the quarterback has a good, strong arm and can move with his feet.”
Like Northwest, Pickens had an early off week this season and didn’t play last Friday. The Dragons opened their schedule with a 50-21 win at Sonoraville, which lost 31-0 to Gilmer last week.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s tough to score 50 points in a game,” Robinson said, “and I don’t think Sonoraville is that bad.”
Parker called the Bruins “a well-coached, good team” and “more of an established program” compared to the Dragons, who haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2006. Northwest missed the state playoffs each of the past two seasons, but hasn’t had a losing record since 2003.
“I’m still trying to get us established here,” Parker said. “It’s a great test for us to get the opportunity to play against someone like that. Coach Robinson does a good job. I’m familiar with their program.”
Parker said Pickens was not at its best on special teams in the opener, and he believes his offense will face a challenge against the Bruins.
“We expect it is going to be a tough game for us. We’ll have to play really, really well,” he said. “We were awful on special teams at times and take pride in getting better at that.
“Their defense is pretty solid, no doubt. I thought their offensive line was good, too.”
While both Northwest and Pickens are in the same region, 7-4A, this matchup won’t count against their league records. Northwest is in Sub-region 7B-4A, while Pickens is in Sub-region 7A-4A.
Christian Heritage (1-1) at Coahulla Creek (1-1)
The Lions and the host Colts come into tonight’s game with plenty of similarities: a win over Murray County, a disappointing loss, a first season of eligibility for the GHSA playoffs and the need for wins and confidence as the sub-region schedule approaches.
The two teams had almost identical scores in big victories against the Indians as Coahulla Creek won 55-6 on Aug. 31 and Christian Heritage won 55-7 a week ago. Christian Heritage’s disappointing loss came in the season opener at Model, while Coahulla Creek lost its home opener last week against Gordon Lee.
Now, the challenge will be to see whether the Lions will build on their momentum or if the Colts will rebound from the loss.
“We still have a ways to go, but I can’t complain about how hard they play,” Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said. “We have to make some corrections to little things, but it would be a lot harder if the defense wasn’t as aggressive.”
Coahulla Creek’s Jared Hamlin didn’t enjoy last week’s 48-34 loss, but he liked the resiliency of his team after the Colts found themselves down 35-7 at the end of the first half.
“We had some mistakes, but then in the second half they responded,” Hamlin said. “We got stops and we got scores and we started playing football again. I think it was the first time they have seen a real physical team. I don’t know that we handled it well for a period of time. (But) a lot of teams would quit, and we didn’t.”
The two teams have similar offensive styles, with both running out of multiple sets and providing a variety of weapons to their junior quarterbacks — Trevor Brown for Christian Heritage and Blaine Williams for Coahulla Creek.
“They remind me of our team,” Poag said. “They will throw a lot of stuff at you, and their quarterback does a great job.”
The diverse offensive approaches means both teams will have to play assignment football on defense.
“Because they do so many different things, we have to stay sound with our alignment and being where we need to be with the different formations and things that they do,"Hamlin said. “Watching them on film, coach Poag does a lot of things offensively, and they are well-coached. It will be a big test for our defense.”
This will be the first game against a school from inside Whitfield County for both teams, something Poag said he hopes continues and builds for years to come.
“Our players know them and know each other, and that is why I like playing the local schools,” Poag said. “It is easy to get motivated to play the local schools. Hopefully we will be able to play local teams every year, because that is the way that you build rivalries and improve your program.”
Gordon Central (2-0) at Murray County (0-2)
Murray County’s quest for its first on-field win since the middle of the 2010 season hasn’t gone well so far this year.
And after losses of nearly 50 points in the first two games against fledgling GHSA programs Christian Heritage and Coahulla Creek, things are likely to get even tougher tonight against a Gordon Central team that has shown plenty of polish in a 2-0 start.
The Warriors, a Region 5-3A team, were dominant in wins agains against Coosa, 35-0, and Southeast Whitfield, 46-7. Meanwhile, the Indians of Region 7-2A have been outscored 110-13.
Gordon Central would likely be trouble for many teams in Northwest Georgia this season, and the challenge will undoubtedly be there for the Indians. Murray County coach John Hammond sees plenty of reasons why the Warriors have succeeded so far.
“They have excellent team speed on both sides of the ball,” Hammond said. “They bring matchup problems for a lot of teams. They have a really good defensive front. They’re good technicians.”
Although state power Calhoun is in the same county, Gordon Central may be on its way to establishing its own identity in its sixth season under coach Chad Fisher. Last year’s team made the Class 2A state playoffs, the first postseason appearance for the program in Fisher’s tenure.
Thirteen starters returned from that 7-4 squad, including senior quarterback M.J. Reynolds, who has accounted for more than 300 yards of total offense each of the first two weeks. Against Southeast, Reynolds was 16-for-20 passing for 256 yards and two scores while running for 56 yards on nine carries, including three touchdowns.
Reynolds has a big target in 6-foot, 190-pound wide receiver Tyshaun Clemmons, who’s also a defensive back. The offensive protection up front includes 6-3, 265-pound Bo Dooley. Senior D.J. Prather (6-2, 230), a two-way contributor at end, is a college prospect who might also be recruited for his basketball skills.
A rugged Gordon Central defense, which limited Southeast to minus-5 yards total in the first half, has size with the likes of tackle Larons Winston (5-11, 270).
“Our defense played extremely well for the second week in a row, and I knew before the season that they would be key to our success,” Fisher told The Calhoun Times after last Friday’s victory against Southeast. “We gave up a cheap one at the end of the first half, but I like the way they responded after that. We were flying around full speed, and our defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage.”
Murray County, which leads the all-time series against Gordon Central 7-3, has not had much luck on the scoreboard this year. But the Indians have found the end zone on a pair of big plays.
Against Coahulla Creek, Leon Pritchett had a 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown. At Christian Heritage, Dustin McAllister returned a kick 87 yards to score.
North Murray (2-0) at Johnson (2-1)
Both North Murray and Johnson have new coaches after a couple of disappointing seasons, but Mountaineers coach David Gann also sees some similarities between the offensive approach taken by his team and the Knights.
Still, there are differences in how they run the option. Johnson uses a spread-style option attack, more akin to Georgia Tech’s current system. By comparison, North Murray runs most of its triple option plays from the I-formation, similar to Nebraska’s power running game in the 1980s and 1990s.
“They are a very good football team,” Gann said of Johnson. “They have a fullback (Cedric Harris) who probably will be the best player we’ve played against. They run the Georgia Tech-type offense with the option. He will get 35 to 40 carries a game. He is definitely our focus. We have to stop him to win the game.”
North Murray’s all-senior backfield has rushed for more than 750 yards through the first two weeks, but last week’s 57-44 win against Dade County gave Gann a confidence boost in the aerial attack directed by senior quarterback Brady Swilling. The only starter the Mountaineers have ever had behind center, Swilling threw for 203 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
“It let me have a lot more confidence in our passing game and get the ball a lot to other kids besides (senior running back Jacob Mays),” Gann said.
Jason Roquemore, Johnson’s first-year coach, expects a tough challenge tonight against Gann’s lineup.
“His kids play very hard and he’s got some who are very talented in key positions,” Roquemore said.
He does not believe the two programs have followed replica paths, but sees some similarities.
“I think every situation is different, but I think we’d both say we have great kids,” he said. “This game and what we do as far as teaching and coaching is about kids. We’re both very blessed to have great kids in our program.
“That being said, it doesn’t discount the job he’s been able to do to get those kids believing in one another and in him, and to score 57 points.”
Gilmer (2-0) at Southeast (0-2)
With his team having been outscored 83-21 in two losses to start the season, Southeast coach Sean Gray didn’t squander time — or words — in assessing the Raiders’ offense so far.
“We’ve got to move the football,” said the first-year coach, who has seen his Raiders lose 37-14 to North Murray and 46-7 to Gordon Central. “We’ve got to get going.”
Junior receiver Rhett Harper, a preseason Class 4A All-State pick by Georgia High School Football Daily, has been solid in rolling up more than 400 total yards with two touchdowns in two games.
Defensively, Harper, a free safety, has caused a fumble, picked off a pass and recorded seven tackles.
The Raiders haven’t hurt themselves with offensive mistakes, having just one turnover — an interception — last week against Gordon Central. However, they haven’t been able to score enough points or stop opponents, and that’s kept them from being competitive.
The Raiders will have to be better against Gilmer, because the Bobcats are operating at a high level. In its two games, Gilmer has 942 yards of total offense — 649 on the ground out of a wing-T offense — and 10 touchdowns, all but one on the ground.
“The strength of our offense is having really three or four good backs — Colt Henderson, Cameron Kephart, Drew Morgan and Tyler Bertolini — that we feel comfortable getting the ball,” Bobcats coach Wesley Tankersley said. “Getting a key on which one will carry the ball is tougher than usual for defenses.”
Kephart is the team’s leading rusher with 178 yards. Bertolini has gained 155 yards, Henderson 128 and Morgan 69. When Gilmer isn’t running, the Bobcats are throwing — quarterback Marlen Hensley has 293 yards passing.
Gilmer coach Wesley Tankersley, a native of Ellijay who later played defensive back at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2003-04 after transferring from North Greenville (S.C.) University, has been impressed with Southeast after watching film.
“It’s probably the best defensive front we’ve seen so far,” Tankersley said. “And offensively they’ve got some weapons they can use.”
— Compiled by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Larry Fleming and Doug Hawley
The 2012 season will be a month old for some Georgia high school football teams when Northwest Whitfield finally plays its home opener.
CARROLLTON — With three minutes to play in Friday’s Georgia High School Association Class 4A boys soccer championship, both teams already knew the verdict.Continued ...
Dalton’s fans were chanting “Undefeated!” Southeast Whitfield’s fans could only root their Raiders to a disappointing conclusion.
The Catamounts took the lead less than three minutes into a 5-0 victory against intracounty rival Southeast at the University of West Georgia’s Ra-Lin Field.
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