One coach will be 1-0 at his new school. The other will be 0-1.
In a season-opening matchup of teams with disappointing 2011 campaigns, Southeast Whitfield and North Murray will have the chance to showcase first-year coaches Sean Gray and David Gann, respectively, as the Raiders visit the Mountaineers tonight in Chatsworth. The non-region matchup at Mountaineer Stadium will kick off at 7:30 p.m., as will tonight’s other season openers involving area teams — Coahulla Creek at Murray County, Christian Heritage at Model and Northwest Whitfield at Pepperell. Dalton is off tonight after opening its season last week with a victory in Ringgold.
Gray believes a victory tonight would be more than a good start for either new coach.
“I think it’s bigger for the two programs as a whole,” Gray said. “They’re a third-year program trying to get off the ground, and we’re a program that has struggled and is trying to turn around. I think it’s a big win for whichever team wins.”
North Murray finished 0-10 last season while Southeast had a 2-8 record. North Murray’s Larry Cornelius and Southeast’s David Crane were fired after the season.
While Gray has been a head coach previously — he went 17-24 while leading Ringgold from 2003 to 2006 — North Murray is Gann’s first head honcho gig after a long career as an assistant in Northwest Georgia.
“Sean has experience at a head coach,” Gann said. “Me being in my 18th year, I’ve been at a lot of games as well. It’s important to get your first win as a head coach, and it’s really important to get the first win (of the season) for the football programs.”
Gann acknowledged the Raiders have some playmakers on offense. While an assistant at Ringgold, Gann faced Southeast each of the past three seasons. Receivers Rhett Harper, Abram Stanley and Kevin Torres and quarterback Blake Foster — who’s getting his first start at that position after starring at receiver the past two years — are players Gann remembers.
“The kids they have at wideout and the quarterback, it seems like I’ve played against them since middle school,” Gann said. “They’re still running a lot of similar stuff and getting guys out in space. It’s tough sometimes to cover.”
But he cannot forget the Southeast defense, specifically end Jayro Perez.
“He’s got one of those kind of motors where he plays hard from snap to whistle,” Gann said. “We’re going to try to look to get some help with Jayro. A lot of teams can’t single-block him, so we’re going to try to use our running back and tight end and tackle to help out.”
Gray knows about North Murray’s talented and experienced senior backfield — quarterback Brady Swilling, running back Jacob Mays and fullback Christian Bukle. The Mountaineers’ run-first offense might have an edge over the Raiders’ spread attack if rain is a factor.
“The weather could play a role,” Gray said. “If it’s wet, it could play a huge role in the game with us in the spread and them doing the option.
“We’ve got to be physical. We’ve got to swarm to the football. Everyone has to handle their assignments.”
North Murray senior linebacker Jared Campbell will not start in the game, a team punishment, after being ejected from North Murray’s Aug. 17 scrimmage against Model, Gann said.
Coahulla Creek at Murray County
Even though Coahulla Creek played a junior varsity schedule last year in its first season, there should be plenty of familiarity between both the Colts and the Indians tonight at Murray Field.
The two schools played in 2011, when many of Murray County’s varsity team members also played in JV games. Coahulla Creek won that meeting.
“You always try to win your first game and get a W,” Murray County sophomore linebacker Kevin Chavez said. “We played them last year in JV, and we are trying to get some revenge and get back and prove to ourselves that we can hang with most of the teams on our schedule.”
While the Indians have some payback driving them against the Colts, Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin is probably more anxious to see how his team adapts to the jump to varsity football and Friday nights.
“Conditioning is always a fear of mine going into a season,” said Hamlin, whose team was 8-2 last year. “We try to practice fast, and the best conditioning is by the tempo of your practice. It will be a different game because it is the first time against a varsity team, and those first few series will be the key to seeing how we can handle the pace.”
Conditioning is also a concern for the Indians.
“You are still working on your conditioning, and we have quite a few kids going both ways,” Murray County coach John Hammond said. “It will be a big challenge for conditioning. This week it is getting hot again, and who knows what the weather is going to be this week. It might be a wet football game, so whoever controls the clock and has the best conditioning has a major advantage.”
Murray County will start the season with sophomore Justin Smith running its newly-installed flex-bone offense. Smith takes over for Brady Todd, who is serving a one-game suspension after his arrest earlier this summer on an underage consumption charge. While Todd started Murray County’s preseason scrimmage at Southeast, Hammond was impressed with the work of Smith with the first team.
“He ran the offense well and he didn’t miss a beat,” Hammond said. “He made some great decisions. He isn’t the athlete that Brady is yet, but he makes good decisions.”
That will be a key in the Indians’ triple-option attack, which will try to confuse the Colts’ defensive front and control the clock.
“We aren’t going to break 80-yard runs, but we want to go 3, 4, 5 yards a play,” Hammond said. “As a team, we have to avoid mistakes. We have to stay in between the chains. We want to keep our offense on the field.”
Keeping that offense off of the field will be the challenge for the Colts.
“It will be a good matchup,” Hamlin said. “Murray does a good job of running that option, and does some things that will mean we have to be extremely sound defensively. Any time you play option football, you have to be extremely disciplined defensively. All it takes is one guy being out of position and it turns into a big play.”
Christian Heritage at Model
The days of playing road games at barely acceptable facilities before minimal crowds while in the Glory For Christ Football League are over for Christian Heritage.
The Lions are moving on up.
Christian Heritage, which won the league title in 2008 and finished second in 2009 and 2011, makes its GHSA debut tonight at Rome’s Model, a one-time model for wannabe state championship contenders. It’s a non-region matchup, but an important game nonetheless for the Lions.
“It’s exciting,” Lions coach Preston Poag said. “We’re going to be in different type atmospheres, but we can’t get caught up in all that. We have to go out there and play football.”
The Lions’ home field has undergone extensive renovations, including adding permanent seating for the first time and a synthetic turf field. Christian Heritage’s first home game, against Murray County, is set for Sept. 7.
First on tap is tonight’s GHSA baptism by fire at Model, which won state Class B titles in 1954 and ‘53 and a Class 2A championship in 1979. The powerhouse tag no longer fits the Blue Devils, who have had just two winning seasons in 33 years, the last in 1999.
Gordon Powers is starting his second stint leading Model. He went 21-40 as head coach from 2003 to 2008.
“Well, it sounds like a broken record,” Powers said, “but at Model it seems like we’re always rebuilding.”
While Christian Heritage went 6-3 and lost to Holy Spirit Prep 28-21 in the GFCFL championship last year, Model finished 1-9 with the lone win coming against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
The Lions have a sound nucleus — it includes returning starters in quarterback Trevor Brown, end Michael McKinney, running back Jake Stokes and fullback Austin Lowe — as they begin GHSA play. But Poag indicated plenty of respect for his season-opening opponent, no matter the Blue Devils’ history.
“They’re athletic and big up front,” he said. “They’ve got some good skill guys, some power backs in a spread offense, a good quarterback and they blitz like crazy out of a 3-5-3 defense. There are similarities (with) some Glory For Christ teams, but these guys are bigger and they’re coached better.”
Model’s top running threats are the Watkins brothers — Nakia a 6-foot, 210-pound senior and Nakyle a 5-10, 190 sophomore — said Powers. The Blue Devils’ scatback is junior Jamal Milligan (5-5, 150), while junior quarterback Cameron O’Neal directs the offense.
Linebackers Dax Bishop and Kyle Smith are two of the team’s best defensive players.
Powers, who coached Owensboro (Ky.) to the Class 3A semifinals in 2001 and state title games in 1999 and 2000, said his Christian Heritage scouting report includes minimal information.
“We don’t have a whole lot to go on,” he said. “I know their coach is outstanding. If coach Poag coaches like he played at North Carolina State, we’re going to see good football.”
Northwest at Pepperell
You can buy a book called “How To Slay A Dragon” for $12.53 on amazon.com. Tonight, against Pepperell’s mythical monsters, Northwest’s Bruins hope to write a heroic first chapter in their own story about the 2012 season.
To do that, Northwest coach Josh Robinson said his defense must compete with a mighty, non-fictional offensive line.
“They have some gigantic linemen that they’ll line up and try to pound it,” said Robinson. “I think we have some tough-nosed kids and I believe they’ll be up to the challenge.”
One of those is senior linebacker Jarrod Farmer, who’s ready for the test.
“From the first kickoff to the last, just never stop,” said Farmer. “We’ve got to be physical with it. Smash-mouth ... they’re going to run at me and I’m going to run at them.”
Quarterback Silas Ledford also knows the battle must be won at the line of scrimmage.
“We know they’re a physical team,” Ledford said. “Physicality ... in the trenches, blocking people. We’re going to try to go at them, too, play downhill and buck some heads. I believe in our guys.”
Ledford will be playing in his first game in more than a year, coming back from ACL surgery. Getting to the point of returning to the playing field has been a long road.
“Too long,” said Ledford. “I had the surgery about two weeks after it happened (in summer 2011). I started off just stretching it and icing it down, getting the swelling out. Then I was back to getting strength and stability. Then about six months after (rehabilitation) I was ready to go and able to play with a brace on. It feels good.”
Leading the offense along with Ledford will be senior running back O’Shea Hill. His versatility will allow him to get a number of touches, including time at slot receiver.
“We’re going to move him around,” Robinson said. “We’re going to make the other team know where No. 21 is. We want him in the backfield, we want him on the perimeter.
“We’ll get him the ball out there and ask him to block out there, because he’s a big body that can do either of those things for us.”
On the other side of the ball, Pepperell will try to counter the Bruins’ speed. Senior cornerback Bradley Adams should be up to that task, Pepperell coach Jeff Shiflett believes.
“Since we’ve changed to a 3-5 scheme, we’re really looking for Adams to bring leadership to that side of the ball,” Shiflett said.
Ultimately, Robinson believes he’ll still be able to run with an offensive line that’s undersized compared to past Bruins units that were both tall and bulky.
“I think we can,” he said. “Our two tackles are typical Northwest lineman, but guard to guard, you know, they’re not quite as big ... But I believe all those guys have the ability, if they do what they’ve been coached to do and take the proper steps. If those guys perform the way we expect them to perform I think we’ll be just fine.”
— Compiled by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Larry Fleming and Dave Gordon
New faces in top football coaching jobs at North Murray, Southeast Whitfield
One coach will be 1-0 at his new school. The other will be 0-1.
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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- May 16, 2013
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- State Champions!