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Forsyth, Georgia
November 14, 2018     The Monroe County Reporter
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November 14, 2018

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November 14, 2018 Page 5B R i3orter By Dumas The Mary Persons Bulldogs will be seek- ing a state quarterfinal berth for the third straight year when they host Woodward Academy in the second round of the AAAA state playoffs at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Dan Pitts Stadium. The Bulldogs, 11-0 overall (5-0 Region 2-AAAA), appear to be peaking at the right time heading into a challenging playoff stretch. MP is coming off of its most lopsided playoffwin in program history in a 59-0 first- round victory over Richmond Academy. Meanwhile, Woodward Academy, 7-4 overall (5-2 in Region 4-AAAA), almost scored as many points in Round 1 as the Bulldogs, beating Carver (Columbus) 55-40 in a road upset to advance to the second round. The winner of Friday night's showdown will face either Marist or St. Pius in the quarterfinals on Friday, Nov. 23. IfMP faces Marist, the game would be played in Forsyth and ffit's St. Pins, the location would come down to a coin flip. Woodward has been a state football power for decades and is currently the sixth-win- ningest program in state history, reaching 700 wins in its regular season finale victory over Luella on Nov. 2. The War Eagles have captured 15 region championships in their storied history, including two state rifles in 1970 and 1980, respecrively. Like MP, Wood- ward went mostly silent for two decades after winning back-to-back region rifles in 1996 and 1997. But also like the Bulldogs, the War Eagles have burst back on the state scene with a vengeance in recent years, winning four straight region championships from 2014-17 under current head coach John Hunt, including back-to-back state semifinal appearances in 2014 and 2015 when Wood- ward was led by current UGA star Elijah Holyfield. The Bulldogs and War Eagles have met twice, in 2008 and 2009, when the two programs' briefly shared Region 4-AAA. Woodward Academy took the first meet- ing 28-9 in College Park in 2008 before MP bounced back with a 14- 7 win in Forsyth in 2009. In a defensive slugfest in which the two teams combined for just 233 total yards, MP's Meshari Walton was the Dogs' star in the 2009 win, rushing for a team-high 83 yards, including a game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown. Remarkably, that 2009 Wood- ward team featured three eventual NFL players in Andrew Adams, Henry Anderson and Iuwan Thompson. In addition to football stars, Woodward has been a breeding groun, d for state and national politicians through the years, including former U.S. senator Phil Gramm and current Georgia state senator Burt Jones. Former UGA dean William Tate, former first daughter Amy Carter and former Coca-Cola Company president Robert Woodruff were also Woodward alums. The 2018 War Eagles are led on offense by senior running back Tahj Gary, who has rushed for 1,054 yards and 11 TDs while averaging 10.2 yards-per-carry. The 5'9", 212-pound senior, who has rushed for more than 3,000 career yards, is committed to Virginia Tech and is the No. 66-ranked senior in the state by Gary is also Woodward's leading receiver with 444 yards and five touchdowns on 21 receptions. Joining Gary in the backfield is talented 6'4", 178-pound junior quarterback Mike Wright, who has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 926 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing several games. Wright, a dual-threat with offers from programs like Kentucky, ale Miss and Boston College, is also Woodward's second-leading rusher with 400 yards and 8 TDs on just 39 carries. Woodward's defense has struggled at times in 2018, yielding 40 or more points on four occasions. However, the War Eagles have an outstanding defensive back tandem of juniors Jacorrei Turner and Hunter Sellers, each of whom already have major college offers. The War Eagles also have J orter Ii an important weapon on i special teams in senior kicker i Marshall Golick, an all-state i selection as a junior. Goiick e. has converted on 6 of 9 field goal attempts with a long of According to, Wright ran for a 70-yard touchdown on Woodward's first play from scrimmage against Carver (Columbus) last Friday. Wright then threw four first-half touchdown passes, including two to Gary, to put the War Eagles up 35- 14 at halftime. When Carver Friday, Nov. 16 7:30 p.m. (Columbus) climbed to with- in 42-26 in the fourth quarter, Dan F'Jtts Stadium Tickets: $10 the War Eagles tacked on two(available at United Bank) Gary TD runs, 58 yards and 64 yards, respectively, to fin- LAST MEETING: ishoffthewin. Oct. 23, 2009. MP 14 Woodward Aca. 7 Meanwhile, MP added to its already historic campaign PREDICTION: last Friday, pushing its all- Mary Persons 51, Woodward Aca. 31 points total to 526. The Bulldogs, who average 47.8 points per game, are beating teams by an average tory with a left knee injury. However, Wilson, of 37.4 points per game. who has run for a team-best 1,322 yards MP senior quarterback J.T. Hartage has and 21 touchdowns, is expected to start on completed 69.9 percent of his pass at- Friday. tempts for a program-record Z397 Fards Defensively, MP is led by senior free safety and 26 touchdowns with just three inter- Desmond Williams, who has a team-best 53 ceptions. Hartage's top target, senior wide tackles, including 41 solo, and a team-high receiver De'Adrek Alford has a team-best five interceptions, including three returned 686 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on for TDs. Senior linebacker Ladamian Sands 28 receptions. Alford is just 31 yards away has also been coming on in recent weeks, from eclipsing Chris Bowden's single-season moving up to No. 2 on the team in tackles school record for receiving yards of 716, set with 51 (29 solo) despite missing almost all in 2007 and two touchdowns away from of two games due to suspension early in the breaking Malik Bledsoe's single-season season. school record for receiving touchdowns of With a win on Frida); the Bulldogs would 12, set in 2014. reach 12 wins in a single season for only the MP's other marquee offensive star, Quen fifth time in program history. MP has won Wilson, missed most of the first-round vic- 11 games in each of the past three seasons. S win gles The Reporter talked to Todd Holcomb, prep writer for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, about MP's big playoff matchup with Woodward Academy. Find Holcomb's cover- age at www.ajc. com/sports/high- school. Q.) How does this Woodward Academy team stack up talent- Holcomb wise with the recent War Eagle squads that have gone deep in the state play- offs, even pushing Carters- ville hard in 20167 A.) The current Wood- ward team is talented, but much younger. The 2015 Woodward team that made the semifinals was super talented. It had Elijah Holy- field (now Georgia), Max Richardson (Boston Col- lege) and Antone Williams (Duke). Those guys are all good college players now. This team isn't at that level but might can get there in a year or two. Q) Does Woodward's of fense run more through the multi-dimensional skill set of quarterback Michael Wright or the physical ground game of tailback Tahj Gary? A.) Before the season, I would're said Gary. But now, Wright is playing like Cam Newton. He had five TD passes last week and rushed for 100 yards. So the offense runs though Wright, who makes the decisions. But Ikl still say the best player is Gar He might be the best all-around running back in the state if you con- sider his ability to run, catch and return kicks. He's dos- ing in on 70 touchdowns for his career. Great player. I've always been a big fan of his. Q.) Do you see similarities in the way Woodward has raised the bar under ]ohn Hunt after two somewhat dormant decades and the way Brian Nelson has el- evated the MP program over the past several years? A.) Good comparison. Coach Hunt took over in 2011 at a school that had some state rifles in its his- tory but had been merely good and not outstanding, or relevant on the state level, for over a decade. They've made two semifinals and averaged 10 wins since he came. Very similar deal with Coach Nelson at Mary Persons, which also was pretty good under recent staffs but found a new gear with the new coach. Both also came from out of state. Hunt was a great player at Florida and had been coaching on college staffs with Steve Spurrier. Nice resume. Q) Does Woodward have the necessary speed and athleticism on defense to keep MP'S explosive troika of quarterback ].T. Hartage, running back Quen Wilson and wide receiver De'Adrek Afford in check? A.) I don't think speed and athleticism are the cen- tral issues. I think it's youth. They have only one senior who plays on defense. Their leading tackler is a sophomore. One of their sophomores had four sacks last week. Another of them had two interceptions. But they've had real trouble stopping good teams. There's no hiding that. It's obviously a major concem for Woodward in this game. Q.) If MP advances on Friday night, do you see Marist or St. Pius as a bigger obstacle in the Bulldogs' quest to return to the state semifinals for a third straight year? A.) Maybe St. Pius since they l be the ones that might get home-field edge. Marist would have to travel. St. Pius beat Marist 17-0, but that was mid-Septem- ber, and Marist played Blessed Trinity to the wire. Mary Persons deserves to be in the conversation with any team in AAAA, Marist and St. Pius are much better than anybody that Mary Persons has played with the exception of Peach County. As far as matchups, note that Marist runs the ball most of the time, while St. Pius runs the ball almost all the time. Not sure which M.E would prefer. Q.) What is your predic- tion on Friday night's MP- Woodward showdown? A.) Unless Mary Persons' defense, which has not been tested much this season, suddenly can't stop a really good Woodward offense, I don't think that Woodward will be able to keep up. But I can see Woodward scoring three or four touchdowns. Might be a 42-28 kind of thing. CoAoRoE. To benefit the Cottage of l 9 Monroe Coo Ride will begin at 11:00 AM from 524 Cabaniss Road GA 31029 After-The-Run at the Monroe Co. Moose Raffl ether ,dge e Baskets, Prize Drawings, Free Food Entertainment, Saturday 1:00 PM & THE BOOTY ' ,nation at least $ 0 Let's make this a special Christmas for all Monroe CounO, Kids!!!! NA EZ/Z For more info call 478-957-2853 No calls after 9 PM This event for the sole purpose of helping Monroe Cout .ty children at Christmas. It is not sponsored by nor associated With any orgamzed motorcycle club. Everyone is welcome to participate and we appreaate your generous donations, however, we must ask that you leave any colors, attitudes and weapons at home for this event. The organizer of this event is not responsible for any loss or injury to any person or property.