By Brian Howard
With just one high school football team from the Southern Crescent remaining to play under the lights, the Union Grove Wolverines will look to make it two straight with another long round trip in the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
The Wolverines beat Glynn Academy, 24-6, last week in the opening round of the state playoffs - a trip that consisted of 491 miles round trip and lasted more than eight hours on the bus.
Tonight, things remain the same for Union Grove - another long road trip, this time to Valdosta to take on the defending Class AAAAA state champs - Lowndes Vikings.
“Last week we kept to our own schedule,” Wolverines coach Mike McDonald said. “We tried to keep the team focused and we were able to have our pregame meal around 3:30 p.m. We then went to the stadium and had meetings until it was time to go out and play.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Martin Stadium and again, the Wolverines must endure the long trip, by going 432 miles round trip.
Last week, the Wolverines did what was necessary to move on, beating Glynn Academy to reach this second-round matchup.
“It was a long way down there,” McDonald said. “I thought we played well on defense and played well enough to win the game.”
Against the Terrors, the Wolverines (9-2) jumped out to a 24-0 lead midway through the third quarter and never looked back.
Union Grove running back Steven Sylvester led the Wolverines' scoring attack with three touchdowns. Quarterback Dustin Alley, who missed most of last season with a broken arm, was 12 of 16 passing for 173 yards.
Since losing to Starr's Mill, 27-17 on Sept. 16, the Wolverines have won five of their last six games, including a dramatic come-from-behind victory against Lovejoy on Oct. 8. Union Grove has outscored its opponents, 346-217, averaging 32 points a game in the spread offense.
But getting a win against Lowndes won't be easy for Union Grove. The Vikings are 25-1 in the past two seasons.
Lowndes (10-1) enters tonight's contest riding a six-game winning streak, with their lone loss coming Sept. 16 to Ware County. Since the loss, Lowndes has outscored its opponents, 192-38, including a pair of shutouts.
Other than the one loss, the Vikings, ranked No. 3, rolled through the regular season schedule, winning nine games by an average score of 39-5. They scored 20 unanswered points to pull away from Douglass, 42-18, last week in the first round of the playoffs.
“They're very physical,” McDonald said. “They run the football very well. Defensively, they are very good and it will be a challenge for us.”
The offense is paced by a pair of running backs - senior Lynn Williams and sophomore Darriett Perry.
Lowndes has rushed for more than 2,669 yards this season.
Williams and Stanley Dickson, along with Perry have combined for 2,060 yards through 12 games.
Williams, an All-State running back and Lowndes' leading rusher in 2004, has solid vision and lightning moves. Williams, who had 1,385 yards last season, rushed for 605 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.
Perry has ran his way to 657 yards, while Dickson has 788 yards, including season-high's of 109 at Houston and 133 last week against Douglass.
The defense is anchored by linebacker Matt Harper and lineman/fullback Devaris Leonard.
Union Grove's defense, which gave up an average of 21 points a game during the regular season, will be charged with slowing down those backs. Defensive end Austin Newton recorded four sacks in last week's win.
“For us, all three sides have played well this season,” McDonald said. “If not for the East Coweta game, our defensive stats would have been better. This is a veteran group with a mix of juniors and seniors. They busted their tale over the summer and a coach can do only so much, but I wanted them to succeed.”
Although both schools are located in opposite ends of the state, they each played one opponent - Luella.
The Wolverines beat the Lions, 38-7, and the next week, Lowndes defeated Luella, 48-21.
The winner of tonight's game meets Walton/Central Gwinnett in the state quarterfinals.