Photo by Derrick Mahone Jarrett Laws will lead his team against Union Grove on Friday in a game that will decide the Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A championship and a top seed in next week's region play-in games.
Just before Drew coach Jarrett Laws blew his whistle to start Tuesday’s practice, he had a few final words for his team.
“This game,” Laws said this chilly, breezy early Fall day. “This is to see who hangs a banner. We are playing for the subregion title.”
The players let out a big yell just before starting preparation for a Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A contest against Union Grove (7-1, 4-0) at Southern Crescent Stadium on Friday. The winner is the subregion champion and plays the No. 4 seed from the other side of the region to see who advances to the state playoffs.
“Everybody has to come prepared to play,” Drew running back Lester Knauls said.
Just two weeks ago, Drew (6-2, 3-1) didn’t look as if it would be in contention for a shot at the subregion title. A 32-31 loss to Mundy’s Mill seemed to have put a big dent into its title hopes.
However, Drew got a reprieve when Mundy’s Mill lost to Union Grove last week.
A Drew loss to Union Grove would send them to the No. 3 spot in the region. Union Grove is guaranteed no worse then second if it loses.
“This is what we have been working on the last four years at Drew,” Laws said. “We want to be in a position where the final games of the regular season mean something.”
Last season, Drew was in a similar situation heading into Game 8 of its schedule. The Titans faced Henry County with a shot at second place in the region.
However, a 7-0 loss sent the Titans to the No. 4 seed and a first round playoff road trip to Waynesboro where they lost 42-7 to eventual state champ Burke County.
Laws said his team has learned from its first playoff run.
“Our kids learned about the importance of preparation,” he said. “I think we got a little confident last season when we hit that winning streak. They go around practice now telling each other to not let up.”
Union Grove learned its lesson already this season. The Wolverines were 2-0 going into a late September game against Whitewater but left it with a 39-0 humbling loss.
Union Grove hasn’t lost since.
“It wasn’t a good thing, but it was,” Wolverines senior lineman Tyler Vaughn said. “We realized things just aren’t going to be handed to us.”
Now, the Wolverines find themselves in the top spot. That’s not without precedent for the program, but it’s new for this group that went 3-7 and 5-5 the past two seasons.
“It feels like a huge target,” Union Grove senior running back Derrick Craine said. “This is where we wanted to be. The seniors, we’ve never been at No. 1 as starters, so it’s a big step. It just feels good. It’s good to show improvement from year to year.”
But Wolverines coach Paul Burgdorf isn’t worried about his team being overwhelmed by the game’s significance. He said the players know the importance, but he and his staff haven’t emphasized it this week at practice.
Instead, he’s relying on the humility of a senior group that’s experienced some tough times the past two seasons but have Union Grove back in the playoff hunt.
“They’ve seen 3-7 and 5-5 and now 7-1,” Burgdorf said. “We also started about eight sophomores, but they won the county championship as ninth graders. No one’s shaking in their boots.”