As Winder-Barrow coach Ed Dudley put it, the 24-hour window of “pouting” after a heartbreaking loss has come and gone, and the Bulldoggs have their eyes firmly set on doing something that no other team in GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA has been able to do over the last four-plus seasons: beat Dacula.
The Bulldoggs (1-3, 0-1 region) will make the short trip west Friday, Oct. 16, and look to snap a three-game losing streak by knocking off the Falcons (2-2, 1-0), who are ranked eighth in Class 6A and are coming off a thrilling 28-27 win over Gwinnett County rival Lanier last week in their region opener.
Meanwhile, Winder-Barrow was on the other end of a nail-biter, suffering an excruciating home defeat in which Habersham Central scored 13 points in the final five minutes to steal a 27-21 victory away from the Bulldoggs.
“You don’t really have time to sit around and lick your wounds,” Winder-Barrow coach Dudley said. “It’s just a situation in this region where every team has to go out every Friday night and play up to its potential. And if you don’t, you can get beat.”
Dudley saw encouraging signs last week as the Bulldoggs’ offensive line put together its most complete performance so far this season, clearing up space for a huge night for senior running back J.C. Green (28 carries, 266 yards, two touchdowns). But several costly mistakes also factored into the loss. A disastrous interception — one of four turnovers on the night — with less than a minute left was returned inside the Bulldoggs’ 5-yard line and Habersham scored the game-winner two plays later with 33 seconds to go. And the Bulldoggs also had two long drives end with no points due to a missed field goal and, later, a blocked attempt that would have put them up by 10 points late in the third quarter. Winder-Barrow was also hampered by committing more than a dozen penalties in the loss.
“I was so proud of our kids’ effort in a very tough, physical game,” Dudley said, “but we had some missed opportunities, particularly some chances in the red zone that we really squandered. And it’s hard to swallow those, but you have to move forward. You see it every week at every level. If you don’t take care of the football, it’s hard to win, and we’ve got to find ways to clean our mistakes up.”
Meanwhile, Dacula has bounced back after a pair of six-point losses to Class 7A programs Brookwood and Mill Creek to start the year and is showing that it hasn’t experienced much offensive drop-off despite losing several starters to graduation.
Senior Kaleb Edwards, who is a three-star recruit as a safety and is committed to Georgia Tech, has been just as strong on the offensive end and rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns while adding a 67-yard touchdown reception in the victory over Lanier — which the Falcons preserved when they blocked an extra-point attempt at the end of the game. Junior linebacker Kyle Efford, who has already collected several Division I offers, also headlines the Dacula defense.
“They’ve just got a great program and great team that wins year after year,” said Dudley, whose team gave up 61 to the Falcons last season in a 61-31 defeat. “We’ve not been close to slowing them down, and obviously we’ve got to find a way to change that. And we’ve got to be really great in the kicking game to have a shot.”
To help with the effort at solving Dacula’s explosive offense, the Bulldoggs will be counting on getting back senior defensive end Jacob Merrifield, who had to leave the game with a hand injury right before Habersham’s game-winning touchdown and could not return. Merrifield, a Florida Atlantic commit, has, as expected, been disruptive in opposing backfields, compiling 10 tackles for a loss through four games and 29 tackles overall.
“He’s the guy that opposing coaches always talk about when you shake hands with them. He’s a heck of player, and we’ll need him for sure,” Dudley said. “We’re playing a top-10 team Friday night, and in this region we’ll get at least one or two more before the year is over. We knew going in it would be this way, and we’re going to go over there and try to pull it off.
“Without a great opponent, you can’t have a great upset, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
Kickoff Friday in Dacula is set for 7:30 p.m.
Wildcats hope to generate more offense, slow down Greenbrier passing attack
For a second straight game Apalachee’s offense was kept off the scoreboard, as an early defensive touchdown wasn’t enough to overcome high-powered Eastside in a 35-7 loss in Covington on Thursday, Oct. 8.
After chewing up plenty of yards in their first two games of the season, the Wildcats have been limited to just one touchdown and 10 points on the offensive end over their last three outings. Apalachee has been riddled with injuries, including a season-ending hip injury to senior running back Tauheed Ferguson, and the Wildcats were also without junior backs Channin Daniels and Colby Sikes, though Wildcats coach Tony Lotti is hopeful his team will be healthier this week when it welcomes in Greenbrier at 7:30 p.m. Friday for a Region 8-AAAAA matchup.
Apalachee (0-5, 0-2 region) got an early lift last week from senior defensive back Malcom Johnson, who scooped up a fumble on a lateral pass and raced 34 yards into the end zone to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead 38 seconds in. But that early momentum gave way to the Sincere Johnson show as the Eastside senior running back rushed for three touchdowns and added a reception for another score and Apalachee’s depleted offense was never able to break through against a stout Eagle defensive unit.
“They’ve got a lot of talent over there and did a good job of hemming us up,” Lotti said. “We’re looking forward to getting some guys back, but I’m still worried about us up front. Hopefully we can block a little bit better because that’s obviously not gone well for us lately.”
Greenbrier, which started the year 4-0, will be looking to get some wrinkles ironed out itself after dropping a 21-7 region contest at Walnut Grove to fall to 1-1 in 8-AAAAA play. Unlike most of the opponents Apalachee has seen this year, the Wolfpack is a predominately passing team and boasts a very accurate quarterback in junior Brooks Pangle. Senior receiver Brayden Collett has been Pangle’s top target, but sophomore Malik Everett and junior Jackson Smith also have averaged several catches a game.
“(Pangle) is very talented throwing the ball and does a good job of getting the ball out quickly and finding the open receiver,” Lotti said. “They will throw it around an awful lot, so we’ve got to see if we can do a good job of defending them in space. Walnut Grove did a good job of making those tackles in open space against them, and it’s going to be important for us to do the same thing.”
Apalachee is asking those who attend Friday’s game to wear pink as the school marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a cause that has weighed heavily on Lotti’s heart after losing his sister-in-law to a long battle with breast cancer earlier this year.
“We just hope we can encourage support for research efforts and bring some awareness to the pain and struggles of those and their families who have been impacted by this horrible disease,” Lotti said.
Knights try to get back on track after bye week
Fundamentals were a heavy focus for Bethlehem Christian Academy during its open week last week as the Knights hoped to correct several issues from a 66-29 home loss to Southwest Georgia Academy on Oct. 2, in which they surrendered more than 600 yards of offense, the bulk of the damage coming on the ground.
The Knights (1-3) will look to get back on track Friday when they make the trip to Duluth for a 4 p.m. matchup with Notre Dame Academy (0-3).
“Football is really a simple game that comes down to blocking and tackling, and we didn’t tackle really well our last time out,” BCA coach Bruce Lane said. “(Southwest Georgia is) a very good football team and they were able to run the ball very well against us. “We spent a lot of time on the fundamentals of tackling and that was a positive not having to worry about a game plan, but trying to focus on us getting better.”
Making sure “BCA doesn’t beat BCA” has been a common message Lane has preached from week to week this season, and that’ll be the case again Friday when the Knights face a Notre Dame team that has struggled mightily. The Irish Wolfhounds have managed just seven points through their first three contests, and their only common opponent with BCA — Augusta Prep — defeated them 47-0, while the Knights routed the Cavaliers 42-12.
“They’re a young program that has struggled a little bit and are searching for an identity kind of like we are,” Lane said. “Our kids have to understand that the more fundamental we are in all phases of the game, the more opportunities we have to be successful.”
Notre Dame will deploy a triple-option attack against the Knights, along with other formations, and Lane said team discipline will be key for the Knights. BCA, meanwhile, will counter by trying to again establish its running game but also build off the passing success senior quarterback Ethan Guthas had against Southwest Georgia, when he threw for over 200 yards and three touchdowns.
“We found out a little bit about ourselves and that we do have the capability to throw the football,” Lane said. “We threw and caught the ball well and made some plays after the catch, which was nice. Ethan is getting better as the year goes along. I believe there’s more of a comfort level there now with a little bit different offense than the one he was learning, and he’s done a good job leading our football team.
“I think overall we’re getting better. If you go back to previous years and do the comparison, we’ve made some progress; it’s just going to take some time. There’s no silver bullet to correct all the mistakes other than just time and repetition.”