No. 3 seed Pike (6-4) — from Region 2-AAA — will travel to Sandersville today to take on the No. 2 seed Washington County Golden Hawks (9-1) from Region 3-AAA at 7:30 p.m. while at the same time, Region 4-AA champion Lamar (9-0-1) will stay in the friendly confines of Trojan Field as it hosts the Cook High Hornets (7-3), the No. 4 seed from Region 1-AA.
Pike will be competing in its third state playoff game since the school began playing football in 1971. The others were in 2004 (a 27-3 road loss to eventual state champ Charlton County) and in 2008 (a 33-7 home loss to Westminster). Needless to say, second-year Pike head coach Brad Webber, who was an assistant coach on Mac McMillan’s staff in 2008, stressed to his players this week about the importance of tonight's game.
“I researched the football team through the years and I let the guys know that if we win, we’ll make history as the first Pike team to win a playoff game. I think that fired them up,” Webber said. “These guys are good at getting fired up for games.”
Webber said Washington County is well-coached, has a great quarterback who is accurate and can run well, has about four good receivers and a good running back. He said the Pirates should be ready for such a good team, since he said Pike has played the 12th-hardest schedule in Class AAA. In fact, Webber noted the Pirates have played 6 teams which have qualified for the state playoffs in their respective classes.
He said the key to beating Washington County — a team which averaged 42 points per game this year — is to run the football, control the clock and play great defense.
“We’ve got to get first downs since first downs lead to touchdowns and we’ve got to keep them off the field on offense,” Webber said. “We’ve also got to play hard-nosed defense; we have to hit them and hit them hard.”
Washington County’s stadium is known as “The House of Pain” but Pike players believe they can bring their own pain to the Golden Hawks. Several players — including seniors Tony Anthony, Jess DeVoursney, Darius Jordan, Dylan Jeffery and juniors Tyler Gregory and Artez Oglesby — said they are very close-knit team and they still have a chip on their shoulders after being predicted to finish with less than 3 wins this season. They have already heard that the Golden Hawks have pretty much guaranteed a win tonight.
"Making the playoffs this year is like waking up on Christmas morning and seeing all the gifts for you," said Anthony, a running back. "I'm really glad to be in the playoffs and ready to face Washington County."
"We're ready to go," said Jordan, a wide receiver. "We're turned up and now that Washington County said they'll bury us, we have the motivation to play well Friday."
Other Pike players realized the importance of tonight's game.
"We've overcome adversity all season and now it's up to us to make Pirates history," said DeVoursney, a tight end/linebacker.
“Making the playoffs is awesome. It shows the hard work has paid off and we have a chance to be the first Pike County team to win a playoff game,” Jeffery said. “Now it’s time to shock the state of Georgia.”
The players said Washington County is fast and has good size, just like their region foe Peach County. They said the Golden Hawks are good, but it's nothing Pike hasn't seen already this season.
"We just need to run it down their throats," said Oglesby, a running back. "I like our chances with Tyler in front of me making plays."
"We just have to play as a team against Washington County. We've come a long way on offense and defense and I think we can do well in the playoffs," Gregory said.
As for Lamar, first-year Trojans head coach Franklin Stephens said Cook is a pretty fast team which has good size on the offensive line. The Hornets also have a quarterback who manages the game well and a good running back. The Hornets also like to run a bit more than pass, but the ratio is pretty even. Stephens said on defense, Cook has rangy kids who can run.
He said for Lamar to win, the Trojans will have to rely on more than just the Austin twins — quarterback Lance and running back Lawrence. Other players, and especially the Trojan defense, will have to be prepared to play. The twins have made big plays all year so they'll be marked men tonight, especially since Lawrence has more than 900 yards rushing this season.
“I’m sure Cook will key on the twins, so others will have to step up and be ready,” Stephens said. “We have to take advantage of what the defense gives us and do what we’ve always done.”
Lost in the outstanding play of the Austin twins is the fact that the Trojan defense has had four shutouts and has limited three other opponents to 7 points or less this season.
“Everyone knows that in order to go far in the playoffs, you have got to play great defense,” Stephens said. “We have a bunch of unsung kids on defense who get the job done. The coaching staff has done a great job getting them to buy into our schemes.”