Yellow Jackets' Kendrick LeSueur
McGill-Toolen (9-2) has rolled into the playoffs once again as the top seed in their region. Last year’s team came in without a blemish on their record. The Yellow Jackets came into post-season in 2008 with an 8-2 record, but that might not be a bad thing.
Much like a batter fouling off a couple of pitches, your chances get better you will connect after you get in a groove and adjust to what you’ve seen. You might even hit one out of the park.
Vince Dooley and Jimmy Buffett’s Alma Mater will face a third strike from a known quantity this week. It is the second meeting with Davidson this season.
The Warriors come into the game with an identical 9-2 record. Last time they met at the end of September the Warriors came out with a 14-13 win after shutting down their opponent’s offense in the second half. That out-of-region game has little meaning this week. One team will advance, and one will go home.
Both teams are coming off grueling first round victories. McGill-Toolen took a 17-14 win over a talented and physical Blount team. They scored 17 points in the first half including kicker Andrew Dolan’s 45-yard field goal in the second quarter, but it was the defense that won the second half for them.
Davidson didn’t have it any easier. They turned the ball over five times (four interceptions), had a punt and a field goal attempt blocked in their 20-17 overtime win over Foley.
If either of these two teams were facing a squad that got away with an easy opening round those efforts might show up, but since they are both coming out of demanding performances it might not be a factor.
Coach Keith Powell’s stinger defense held up their part of the bargain in the win over Blount.
“They did a great job,” Coach Powell said. “Any time you hold anybody in the playoffs to two fourth quarter goal line stands it is a great accomplishment. We’re very proud of our kids for what they were able to do.”
McGill-Toolen has been without their senior quarterback Cullen Wacker (6-0, 195) after he suffered a knee injury during the regular season.
Coach Powell made an interesting and understandable call in the fourth quarter when he brought in his hobbled senior quarterback.
“Well we were backed up inside the one,” Powell said. “We had a sophomore quarterback (Preston Messer) in there. I just didn’t, whether good or bad, I just didn’t want the whole game to rely on what he did. That’s a little bit more pressure than I wanted to put on him. I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night if we had lost the game and not took the chance to put the senior that has quarterbacked 37-38 games in his career in the game. I just felt like he had been in that situation before, and it was time for me to put him in.”
The gamble paid off when Wacker got them out of the hole to near midfield before they had to punt. Andrew Dolan boomed a 52-yarder, and Blount found themselves backed up on their own 14. A late interception by sophomore defensive back Camron Martin (6-2, 165) sealed the victory.
We asked Coach Powell about the experience Messer (6-0, 180) gained last week and in the previous weeks filling in for his senior quarterback.
“There is no doubt that’s just going to help him in the future,” Powell answered. “He’s just a young 10th grader. He’s done a great job for us the last three weeks coming in and having to play in big ball games, and that’s only going to help him for the future.”
What about Davidson this week and the fact they had a tough road to hoe last week and turned the ball over several times.
“They did have to go to overtime, but it’s going to be a battle Friday night," Powell said. "It’s two teams that know each other very well. It’s going to come down to players making plays. That’s the way it did the first game, 14-13. It just came down that they made a couple more plays than we did. We had opportunities to make plays. We just didn’t do it.”
Coach Fred Riley’s Warriors run an old-fashioned, difficult to defend option offense that requires a lot of discipline from the defense.
We asked Coach Powell about the difficulty to switch gears and get his defense on-point to stop it.
“In one aspect it is different,” he said. “But there are a lot of people running the option out of the spread offense now. A lot of your keys are still the same, but there is enough difference that it can cause you some problems.”
“The biggest problem with them is that they run the true triple option. Not many people do that anymore in high school. So our kids have got to be very, very focused as to what their assignments are. You can stop them three or four downs in a row, and then the next series they come out and run the very same play and they go 80 yards with it."
"Then your kids get frustrated because they’ve stopped them on that same play five or six times. It’s just the angles of the blocking is so key for them, and we can’t create angles or creases for them.”
There is probably not a much more degrading feeling in football than taking the bait against the option and finding yourself suddenly behind the play because you bit and didn’t stay on your assignment. Patience will be a key for the Yellow Jacket defense.
“No doubt,” Powell agreed. “You’ve got to be patient, and they throw the ball very well. They have started throwing the ball in the last two or three weeks, and when you are facing the triple option they will suck your secondary in. You run four or five plays in a row and then the secondary is up there playing nine in the box. They hit you over the top, and that’s kind of what they did against Foley last week.”
“Their quarterback (Jarrell Smith, Jr., 5-11, 175) and fullback (Martin Broughton, Sr., 5-10, 190) are just outstanding athletes, and they do such a good job of running their offense. We’ve got to be assignment oriented. Our kids have got to be very, very focused all week long on their assignments, and then when we get a chance to make plays we’ve got to make plays because if you give them a crease they can go 80 yards in one play,” Powell reiterated.
From all appearances, this is becoming a pretty good rivalry between the two schools.
“Well, they are not our main rival, but it’s beginning to look like it because they share our stadium, but it’s a friendly rivalry. We get along good with them, and we look forward to the opportunity just to play them again.”
This projects as a thrilling game between friends at Lipscomb Field Friday night.
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