Region playoff spots up for grabs

Photo by Brian Paglia
Mount Zion first-year coach Ervin Starr is still looking for his and the Bulldogs’ first victory this season.

Photo by Brian Paglia Mount Zion first-year coach Ervin Starr is still looking for his and the Bulldogs’ first victory this season.

The final two weeks of the regular season has some interesting scenarios that will help determine the playoff picture. Several teams in the Southern Crescent will be involved in shaping the outlook of Region 4-AAAAA and Region 4-AAAA. Three games involving area teams will have a big playoff implications.

Staff writer Gabriel Stovall takes a look at the three games that will help shape the season.

Locust Grove at Stockbridge

One thing Locust Grove football hasn’t been short on this season is drama.

Other than a 34-6 victory over Morrow and a 14-0 win against Spalding in back-to-back weeks in September, each of the Wildcats’ games have been decided by nine points or less.

It began with a season-opening four-point loss to Union Grove — a team that can clinch the 4-AAAA, Div. A title tonight with a win over Drew.

But Locust Grove saved its most thrilling moments for the last part of the season. How about a 40-37 win over Dutchtown on October 5 — this after battling back from a 31-0 deficit. And the Bulldogs still had a shot to win it, but a Ryan Kangiser field goal sailed wide as time expired.

And just last week against Eagle’s Landing, when it looked like the Wildcats would lose its second straight after Brandon Dewberry intercepted a Keenan Wise pass with less than 10 seconds remaining, a Locust Grove linebacker popped the ball out of Dewberry’s grasp as he stepped back on a kneel down to kill the clock. The Wildcats pounced on the ball in the endzone as time expired, giving them a 35-34 win.

Now with the 4-AAAA Div. A crown on the line against No. 7 Stockbridge — winners of seven straight with a few close calls of their own, and a quarterback in senior Trenton Earl who has yet to throw an interception — here’s what you can expect from these two playoff bound teams.

What to Expect: Stockbridge’s defense has been the story, giving up just 10.2 points a game after its season opening 23-0 loss to No. 3 M.L. King. Junior defensive end Timarcus Cullins is a game changer in the trenches and the secondary has speed to burn. Meanwhile, Locust Grove’s Wise and Cortez McDowell make up arguably the most dangerous quarterback-wide receiver combo in the Southern Crescent. These two strengths cannot stand up together. Which ever one buckles first and most may decide the game.

Mundy’s Mill at Ola

Coach Greg Manior’s squad missed out on a golden opportunity last week at Union Grove to control its own destiny in the 4-AAAAA, Div. 4A race. A win against the Wolverines would have given Mundy’s Mill sole possession of first place in the subregion.

As it is, Mundy’s Mill will need a win against Ola and a Drew loss in order to get in as the subregion’s No. 2 seed. A loss will send the Tigers to the No. 4 seed and a region play-in matchup against Whitewater, the top seed from the other side of the region. And if Ola wins, it clinches the No. 3 seed.

What to expect: Rodney Smith to have another monster performance. Smith rushed for 813 yards and four touchdowns in Mundy’s Mill’s three straight wins against Mount Zion, Drew and Forest Park. But even against a solid Union Grove defense, Smith showed flashes of dominance, especially when he accounted for all 75 yards of the Tigers’ first scoring drive — all rushing — while the game was still in doubt. And although Ola hasn’t had much trouble scoring on any one this season, take away its 35-0 rout of Forest Park last week, and the Mustangs are surrendering 35 points per game. Not a good sign when facing one of the Southern Crescent’s leading rushers. Could be lots of scoring in this one.

Forest Park vs. Mount Zion

Both Mount Zion’s Ervin Starr and Forest Park’s Don Williams knew that their first year at the helm of programs that needed serious rebuilding wouldn’t be easy. They’d been warned, cautioned and encouraged that fixing this kind of losing that has afflicted these two programs recently would not be a task for the faint of heart, or for one who gives up easily.

But when you consider that these two 0-8 teams have been outscored by a combined 695-103 margin, you realize that Mount Zion and Forest Park haven’t just been losing. They’ve been overmatched.

Still, each coach has been able to see some silver linings amongst the clouds. Williams has repeatedly praised junior running back and leading rusher DeJuan Simms for being an offensive bright spot. And junior linebacker Brandon Williams has had several games with double digit tackles.

As for Starr, due to early season injuries, he has had to shift and shuffle around a roster that had promising talent. Senior starters in the secondary like Saint Crowley and Emmanuel Parks , and sophomore defensive end/tight end Alexis Johnson all went down with season-ending injuries. The unfortunate injuries has meant more playing time for freshman like safety Timotheus Slade and left tackle Norris Degree. The Bulldogs need a win to avoid their first winless season in school history.

What to expect: One of these first year coaches to come out of this game with a win toward the end of the season to build momentum off of. Athlete for athlete, Mount Zion may have a slight advantage over the Panthers. But Don Williams has a team that has bought into the intangibles that he has been preaching since the offseason. And Forest Park will want desperately to win this one for him.