David Gann built Ringgold’s offense. He knows it, and he’s using it in his first year as the coach of North Murray’s football team.
Gann has a good understanding of what the Tigers do, and they know what he and his Mountaineers do.
When North Murray and Ringgold play tonight at the Tigers’ Don Patterson Stadium, it will be both a clash between almost identical schemes and a chess match between mentor and protégé as Gann faces former boss Robert Akins. In addition, the Region 5-3A standings will look a lot different Saturday, because one team will be 2-2 and the other will have fallen to 1-3.
The two teams meet for the first time ever at 7:30 tonight, the same kickoff time for other games involving area teams. Coahulla Creek hosts Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Dalton travels to LaFayette, Murray County is at Calhoun, Northwest Whitfield welcomes Ridgeland and Southeast Whitfield plays at Heritage-Catoosa.
Gann, in his first year as North Murray’s head coach, was the offensive coordinator at Ringgold from 2007 to 2011. He used an offense with the Tigers similar to the option-heavy one he has the Mountaineers (4-2, 1-2) running.
And Ringgold (3-3, 1-2) hasn’t overhauled the scheme since he left.
“Our kids can actually get in the huddle and run their offense, and vice versa,” Gann said. “The terminology hasn’t changed at all. I guess one advantage for our defense is we’re going to be playing against what we’ve practiced against every day since the spring.”
North Murray’s defense could use an edge. Two weeks ago it allowed 70 points in a home loss to Adairsville — the most in the program’s three-year history of varsity play — that put the Mountaineers in a four-way tie for fourth place in the region standings. The top four teams make the state playoffs, so remaining in the lead pack is crucial as the season enters its final month.
Ringgold is in the jumble as well, and whoever wins this game and the one between LFO and Coahulla Creek will be on track.
“If we don’t win this game, then we really don’t have a good chance of making the playoffs,” North Murray senior linebacker Jared Campbell said. “We have three games left where teams could hinder us from making the playoffs.”
Containing Ringgold quarterback Slade Dale, a third-year starter, will be key. Gann compared him to North Murray’s quarterback, Brady Swilling, who leads the area with 1,002 rushing yards just six games into his senior season.
“(Dale) can throw the ball well and run the ball well. He’s the general of their offense and as he goes, they go,” Gann said. “It will be two very good quarterbacks going at it. I can tell you that.”
Ringgold’s three losses this season — to Dalton, Gordon Central and Adairsville — were by a combined six points. In each game, the Tigers trailed by two or more scores and fought back.
“I told my kids it’s really about starting strong and playing strong throughout,” Akins said. “If you’re any type of coach, you want your kids to play a complete ballgame. I don’t think we’ve played one yet, and that’s kind of scary because you might end up in another big hole.”
One of the things that the Tigers can’t have happen is to let their own style of offense, as used by North Murray, get the best of their defense.
“If you don’t play assignment football, then you’re really going to be in trouble,” Akins said. “Then if you don’t scheme it properly and have the right guys there, then you’ll have problems. Then you’ve got problems to begin with, because Swilling is as good a runner as we have seen.”
LFO (4-2, 1-2) at Coahulla Creek (2-4, 1-2)
Coahulla Creek continues to make progress from week to week in its first varsity season, and Colts coach Jared Hamlin has seen specific players who have grown within the group after six games.
“I can go back to the spring,” Hamlin said. “(Receiver) Michael Ward is one of them. He was one of our most improved in the spring. He has gotten so much better since last season. He was a good player, but he’s really worked hard to become better. He’s running his routes better and focusing on the ball.”
“(Running back) Cameron Burton has gotten better,” Hamlin went on. “We expected that. It’s hard to say that he needed work — it wasn’t that he needed work, he’s just gotten better because of his work ethic. Joel Phillips has really come around defensively. He wasn’t a defensive player for us last year. He really wasn’t in the mix for us that much going into this season. He’s really pushed himself to the point where he has been starting for us on both sides of the ball and worked hard to get better on the defensive line.”
The Colts have an opportunity improve their mark and bring some homecoming happiness as they host the Warriors in a Region 5-3A matchup. But Hamlin said his squad will have its work cut out for it because of LFO’s overall quickness and its physical offensive line.
“(They’re) big and they love to pound it offensively,” Hamlin said. “They have a big offensive line. They’ve got some speed. They love to run the football. Defensively, they fly around and give you several fronts and also some different coverages. That’s something we’ve got to prepare for. They give you a lot of formations on offense.”
Hamlin mentioned several key objectives in competing with the Warriors, who scored at least 24 points in their first four games before suffering back-to-back losses against Gordon Central and Cartersville, both of which are ranked in The Associated Press Class 3A top 10 poll.
“Stop the run, run the ball and play good special teams,” Hamlin said. “If we can do those three things and make a couple things happen on special teams, keep them from running the football (while) establishing the run (ourselves) ... we’ve got a good chance.”
Dalton (3-3, 1-1) at LaFayette (1-5, 1-1)
Dalton and LaFayette both secured much-needed victories last week in Sub-region 7B-4A competition.
LaFayette coach Tab Gable’s Ramblers came out on top in a battle of winless teams, beating Heritage 19-7, while Dalton beat rival Northwest 24-19 to halt a two-game losing skid — although those losses came to Cass and Ridgeland, a pair of teams with a combined nine wins.
Still, Dalton coach Matt Land said LaFayette shouldn’t be underestimated by his team.
“I think there are two things about this game,” Land said. “One is anyone can beat anyone else in this region if you aren’t focused, and we have proven that this year. We have to be focused because there are still some things that we aren’t doing well. The second thing is LaFayette has got great athletes and always have had great athletes. They have people that if you get caught asleep at the wheel, they will burn you.”
The Ramblers have struggled this season with a much younger roster than the previous two. Offensively, LaFayette has relied on the progression of running back Cody Dallas and quarterback MacKenzie Kelehear. Dallas had a pair of scoring runs against Heritage, and Gable said he is averaging 150 yards per game this season.
“They have gotten better at their pass blocking and better at pass catching,” Land said. “They caught some key passes in some key situations against Heritage, and their running game is always strong.”
For Dalton, the Cats have been keyed by a running game built around the legs of sophomore tailback Kelvis Rhodes. Rhodes, who is leading the team in rushing with 895 yards on 123 carries, including a dozen touchdowns, was limited in the second half of Dalton’s win over Northwest with an ankle injury. Earlier this week, Land said Rhodes is expected to be available to play tonight.
“I see a good football team as usual,” Gable said. “We didn’t have a hard time simulating what they do in practice this week. We both run the I and the option and the toss sweep and just enough of the fullback to honor it. Dalton at times this year has played as well as any team we have seen. They play hard and are well-coached, as usual.”
Murray County (0-6, 0-3) at Calhoun (6-0, 3-0)
Calhoun, the top-ranked team in Class 2A, has stark goals when it hosts the winless Indians at Phil Reeve Stadium.
“We know Murray’s situation,” Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said. “It’s a struggling program. We have to get our (starters) in there, take care of business and get the lead. We want quick touchdowns (so we can) get some other people in there.”
On paper, tonight’s game is a monumental mismatch between Region 7-2A teams.
Calhoun has won 21 straight games overall, 43 consecutive in the regular season and was the 2011 Class 2A state champion after finishing second the previous three years. The last time Lamb’s team lost a game was an overtime loss to Buford in the 2010 title game.
Georgia High School Football Daily rates Calhoun as the most likeliest team in the state to finish the regular season unbeaten. According to GHSF Daily’s power rating, the Yellow Jackets are heavy favorites over all four remaining opponents — Murray County (minus-86), Armuchee (minus-62), Model (minus-61) and Chattooga (minus-62).
Calhoun has scored 273 points this year, while the Indians have scored 275 points in the past three and a half seasons, a span of 36 games.
Indians coach John Hammond sees no weaknesses in this year’s Calhoun squad and fully understands why the Yellow Jackets are ranked No. 1 both by The Associated Press and GHSF Daily/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“They’re one of the best teams in the state — regardless of classification,” Hammond said.” I’ve seen some good football teams and players in my lifetime. This Calhoun bunch is the real deal. Look who they beat on their non-region schedule — (Class 4A’s) Ridgeland, Dalton and Carrollton .”
On average, Murray County has trailed its six opponents 31-2 at halftime. Lamb obviously wants to strike quick as well, and he can do that with quarterback Taylor Lamb (1,804 offensive yards, 22 touchdowns), running back Alex Urbano (535 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns) and receiver Josh Barnes (492 receiving yards).
Ridgeland (5-1, 2-0) at Northwest (4-2, 1-1)
Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis knows the one name everyone recognizes on the Panthers’ roster is Vonn Bell, who is one of the state’s top college prospects. But both he and Northwest coach Josh Robinson — whose Bruins face the Panthers in a Sub-region 7B-4A matchup — said Ridgeland is more than just one special player.
“Vonn Bell is way up here,” Robinson said, holding his hand above his head. “But they have a team with a lot more guys who are right up here just a little bit below him.”
Mariakis said that has been key to the Panthers’ success, because no team can concentrate solely on Bell.
“He is just a playmaker, and that is why everyone in the country wants him,” Mariakis said of the senior defensive back who also sees time on offense and returns kicks. “We have three or four playmakers in the backfield that can really be our go-to guy, and they are behind a group of offensive linemen who have gelled and played their hearts out.”
In the past two games, a pair of blowout wins over Dalton and Southeast, Bell has touched the ball eight times on offense, scoring on four receptions and two runs. He also had an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown last week against the Raiders.
The Panthers aren’t as strong on defense as offense, but the team has showed marked improvement after opening the year with a 42-35 loss to Calhoun. Since then, Ridgeland has held opponents to 21 or fewer points in each game, with some of those scores coming late and against the second-team defense.
“That was the side of the ball that we had the least experience on, and I think we have gotten better throughout the season defensively,” Mariakis said. “We changed our defensive front to a 3-5 this year, and it is a little different personality, and the coaches have done a great job of preparing the kids and putting them in the right spot.”
Northwest will counter with an offense that found its footing in the second half against Dalton, scoring 19 points after being shut out in the first two quarters. Quarterback Silas Ledford had a pair of touchdown passes — although he was also picked off twice — and now has more than 1,400 passing yards for the season.
Southeast (1-5, 1-1) at Heritage (0-6, 0-2)
Southeast coach Sean Gray is preparing his team to hit low, because anything else won’t equal success.
When the Raiders face the Generals in a Sub-region 7B-4A matchup, a lot of focus will go to bringing down Caleb Dietz, Heritage’s 195-pound fullback. Despite suffering a shoulder injury during a 31-11 loss to Northwest on Oct. 5, he was the Generals’ main threat in that game and will lower his head to fuel a power running game.
Heritage coach Tim James — the only coach the Generals have had in their five seasons of existence, he led the Generals to a 7-3 season last year, their first winning record — said it was a “Grade 2 shoulder separation” and limited Dietz’s action last week in a 19-7 loss to LaFayette. However, James said the fullback will “be back this week.”
And hitting or wrapping up high won’t do the trick in bringing Dietz down.
“I’m going to tell our kids to hit him low,” Gray said. “If you hit him high, then he’ll keep going or fall forward for 2 yards or so.”
That grinding style to pick up first downs is what the Generals are aiming for, with a hope of better endings.
“We want to make long drives,” James said. “The only thing I guess we want to do different is score. We were down inside the 20 twice against Northwest and failed to convert.”
Another thing Southeast is preparing for is aggressive defense, with the Generals expected to send a lot of blitzing defensive backs and linebackers.
Junior receiver Rhett Harper is the Raiders’ top weapon — he has 379 yards on 25 catches, including four touchdowns, plus 89 rushing yards on 17 carries and a kickoff return for a touchdown — and with Blake Foster gaining more experience and comfort in his first season at quarterback, Harper could have a big night with fewer bodies in coverage as defenders focus on pocket disruption and big plays in the backfield.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they cover Rhett,” Gray said. “The last two weeks, he’s been double-covered. Last week (against Ridgeland), he had Vonn Bell right up on him. I told him, ‘Take it as a compliment. You have one of the best players in the country devoting all his attention to you.’”
Written by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Larry Fleming and Dave Gordon.