Photos by A.J. Reynolds/Athens Banner-Herald :: Prince Avenue’s Carl Mattox (1) and the Wolverines built off last season’s semifinals appearance to reach the state championship for the first time in school history.
McDONOUGH — The difference between Eagle’s Landing Christian and Prince Avenue Christian is clear in size.
As Chargers coach Jonathan Gess watched film of the Wolverines, he noticed Prince Avenue lacked the type of physically imposing players ELCA possesses in Keyante Green, Isaac Rochell and Andrew Williams.
But he quickly saw how the Wolverines make up for it.
“I’ve never seen anybody play as hard as those kids,” Gess said, “and all on the same team.”
ELCA (12-1) will face a Prince Avenue team in the Class A private school championship at the Georgia Dome today that Gess said embodies team football. What the Wolverines lack in star power they more than make up for with sound fundamental football and execution.
“They’re going to be a very tough opponent,” Gess said. “They probably have 12 kids that are just super football players. They’re not super big-time recruits, but they’re great football players. They play hard, run to the football, execute extremely well.”
The natural metaphor that came to mind for Gess, a graduate of The Citadel and former Air Force captain, was of the Naval Academy’s best teams — ones that play hard and understand their offensive and defensive systems.
“They’re like a bunch of Navy SEALs playing football,” Gess said. “We thought we could wear George Walton down. You’re not going to wear Prince Avenue down. They’re not going to be intimidated by you. They’re not going to stop coming at you.”
They’re also not the Prince Avenue team many expected. Just before the season, three starters and another significant player left the program after an off-field issue, according to the Athens Banner-Herald, including returning Region 8-A Player of the Year Rob Farriba, the coach’s son.
So Mark Farriba, now in his sixth season at Prince Avenue, had to do some shuffling. The big move was switching Carl Mattox to wing back after starting at quarterback the previous three seasons. Zack Graham took over at quarterback. Running back Bryce Huff, who led the team with 15 touchdowns last season, returned to provide some stability.
But the Wolverines barely missed a beat, averaging 35.2 points per game this season and reaching the state championship after coming one game short last season.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Gess said. “Our kids have to match [their intensity].”
At the core of Prince Avenue’s offense is a commitment to running the ball out of the Wing-T offense.
But the Chargers have been preparing for the Wolverines to make up for their lack of size with the element of surprise.
“We’re thinking they’re going to come up with a lot of trick plays against us,” ELCA running back and linebacker Keyante Green said. “They run a lot of mis-direction. We have our keys down but I’m pretty sure they’re going to try to come up with something different.”