It’s rare — as in never before — that Ed Dudley has been part of a team that had a two-week break in the middle of a season. But as with all things 2020, the Winder-Barrow head coach is taking it in stride.
After a scheduled bye week Sept. 25, the Bulldoggs (1-2) were supposed to have one final non-region tune-up game last week at Cedar Shoals last week before opening up their GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA slate this week. But when several Cedar Shoals players began experiencing respiratory symptoms in the middle of the week, the school pulled the plug on the game as a COVID-19 precaution, leaving the Bulldoggs without a game for a second straight Friday.
Dudley said Tuesday that WBHS was still trying to schedule a makeup game against another opponent during its next scheduled open date (Nov. 6), but his attention was squarely focused on the Bulldoggs’ region opener this Friday, Oct. 9, when they host Habersham Central in the school’s homecoming game.
While the teams have met late in the year over the last four seasons, it comes earlier this year but still carries critical implications and could, as usual, have a significant impact on the 8-AAAAAA playoff picture.
“The extra opportunity helped us heal up a little more. It provided us an opportunity to work and get better,” said Dudley, whose team has lost in its last two outings (27-14 to Eastside on Sept. 11 and 21-14 to Glynn Academy on Sept. 18), both at home. “But my big concern is that we may be a little rusty going in, and we can’t afford to get off to a slow start against Habersham. They score a lot of points and have a real prolific offense.”
Lighting up the scoreboard has been Habersham Central’s forte for the last several years, and the Raiders (2-2), who started off the year 2-0 (a 27-6 win over Madison County and 56-35 victory over Apalachee), will be trying to bounce back after consecutive losses to White County (28-21) and Stephens County (27-12).
After the graduation of two all-region performers in AJ Curry two years ago and Ryte Woodruff last season, the Raiders have continued to get production at quarterback so far in 2020 from senior Joshua Pickett, a converted wide receiver who is also a three-star recruit at defensive back and is committed to Duke.
Like his two predecessors, Pickett is capable of making plays with his arm and legs. Through his first four games this fall, he has thrown for 469 yards and tossed six touchdown passes against three interceptions. But he’s also done plenty of damage on the ground running for 646 yards (9.4 yards a carry) and four touchdowns.
Senior running back Jackson Clouatre forms a potent tandem with Pickett and has rushed for 602 yards (9.3 yards a pop) and four scores.
“It’s a two-headed monster. They’re just explosive all the way around,” Dudley said. “We’re going to do our best to slow them down some. You’re not going to totally shut them down or shut them out. But we’ve just got to go play and hopefully have some improvement on the defensive side of the ball, particularly early in the game.”
An equally important part of slowing the Raiders down will be keeping their offense off the field, and the Bulldoggs have spent the last two weeks trying to sure up what Dudley has characterized as a general lack of execution in the passing game. The Bulldoggs should have a veteran offensive line more healed up and ready to go, and they’ll hope to see some in-game strides from first-year starting quarterback Trevor Summerfield, who has shown flashes but was still settling into the varsity job.
Winder-Barrow will likely continue to lean heavily on senior running back J.C. Green, who has racked up 348 yards at 5.9 yards a clip and scored five touchdowns so far.
Kickoff Friday at W. Clair Harris Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m.
WILDCATS MAKE THURSDAY TRIP TO COVINGTON
Apalachee coach Tony Lotti would consider it an understatement to say the start to the 2020 season has been frustrating. And it didn’t get any better last week when another key player went down early on in a 28-0 home loss to Clarke Central in their Region 8-AAAAA opener.
After losing top running back senior Tauheed Ferguson on Sept. 18 at Madison County to a season-ending injury for the second straight year, the Wildcats (0-4) saw Junior Colby Sikes, who has been used as a running back and receiver on offense and is a key starter on the defensive side of the ball, come to the sideline with an injury after their first offensive play against Clarke Central last week.
Lotti said Monday he wasn’t sure when Sikes would be available again but wasn’t expecting him to be back in time for Thursday, Oct. 8, when the Wildcats make the trip to Covington to take on Eastside High School in another key region battle.
“We can’t stay away from injuries, but we’re at the point where someone is going to need to step up,” Lotti said. “It’s not going to get any easier this week, and we’ve got some kids who are learning on the fly how to step into roles at this level. Sometimes, you’re forced to grow up quicker than you like.”
With Sikes likely sidelined this week, junior Channin Daniels (36 carries, 153 yards, two touchdowns) is likely to get an increased workload in the backfield as well as freshman Prince Tate, who had a 49-yard touchdown run earlier this season against Habersham Central and put together some solid runs against Clarke Central last week.
“He’s one of the examples of kids who are stepping up,” Lotti said of Tate. “He went from middle school ball straight into Friday nights, and he’s been embracing it. I like the growth I’ve seen from him so far, and we’ve got a few other younger kids who are going to have to be ready and embrace their opportunity.”
Sikes is also the team leader in catches (10), so it’s likely quarterback Todd Jones will continue to target senior Charlie Hych and get junior Ethan Middlebrooks more involved in the passing game.
But improving the offensive production on the scoreboard, Lotti noted, will have to start with eliminating numerous costly mistakes that have repeatedly plagued the Wildcats. Three promising drives against Clarke Central last week ended in turnovers, and a partially-blocked punt traveled only six yards — setting up the Gladiators for a quick score early in the third quarter that put the game on ice.
“You can’t make mistakes like that and beat a good, talented football team,” Lotti said. “So we’re going to have to have some guys step up and help us flip the script in those critical situations.”
Especially against a team like Eastside (3-1, 1-0 region), which, along with Clarke Central, has been billed as one of the region’s top two teams.
After a season-opening 27-14 win at Winder-Barrow on Sept. 11, the Eagles suffered a 21-7 setback against Newton on Sept. 18 but have bounced back the last two weeks with wins over Alcovy (34-31) and Johnson-Gainesville (47-7).
The run-heavy Eagles have been led primarily by junior running back Dallas Johnson (70 carries, 602 yards, two touchdowns) and senior running back Sincere Johnson (37 carries, 127 yards, two touchdowns) but have four other backs who have found the end zone so far. And senior quarterback Dayton Green has been efficient, throwing for 368 yards on 20-of-34 passing and six touchdowns without an interception.
“They’re very solid in all facets of what they do and just are really well-coached,” Lotti said. “It’s going to be important for us to weather the storm early, and it’s been difficult because we have learned how to do that yet. We seem to settle down and play a lot better in the second half of games, but there are still too many mental mistakes.
“They’ve got a sporty tandem in the backfield, so we need to tackle well and we need to be in a position to tackle well. We don’t need to do things to help them. Our guys have just got to get comfortable in their own skin and get past the shock and awe, so to speak, and learn to settle into the emotions of a game early.
“It’s going to come with time. The only way to experience it is to go through it.”
BCA OFF AFTER HOME LOSS
In GISA, Bethlehem Christian Academy will have its second open date this week after a 66-29 loss at home to Southwest Georgia Academy last week, which dropped the Knights to 1-3 on the year.
BCA fell behind 22-0 after a quarter of play, trailed 36-14 at the half and never recovered.
Senior Ethan Guthas passed for 264 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those going to junior Ty Whiting.
Sophomore Brady Logan kicked a 30-yard field goal in the loss.
The Warriors (3-1) rolled up 608 yards of offense, with 489 of those coming on the ground. Senior Stohne Cobb went off for 140 yards on just 13 carries and scored two touchdowns, while sophomore Ko’voisier Stephens added 127 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns. Senior Tylek Marshall got in on the action, running for 91 yards on 11 touches and a score, and two other Warriors ran for touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Kole Kimbrel had a strong night, going 4-of-5 for 119 yards and a touchdown pass to Marshall.
BCA will be back in action Oct. 16 when it visits Notre Dame Academy (0-3) in Duluth for a 4 p.m. start.