Round One Playoff Preview

Starr’s Mill vs Dutchtown
Immediately after experiencing the joy of winning the region championship, Starr’s Mill head coach Chad Phillips and his staff were brought back to reality with the game film of their first round opponent, the Dutchtown Bulldogs (7-3) from Region 4-AAAAAA.
His first thought? “They are the best four seed team in the state, by far. We certainly have our work cut out for us.”
Dutchtown was on pace for the second seed, but a loss to state-ranked Jones County Friday moved them down to four.
Starr’s Mill and Dutchtown have faced each other five times, all wins for the Panthers, the most recent just two seasons ago.
Lead by seniors receiver-safety Trey Dean, who is committed to the University of Tennessee, and athlete Chris Joyce, who has multiple offers as well, the Bulldogs are fast and athletic. “They are the same type team we have always struggled with. They look to get their athletes in space and create big play opportunities,” said Phillips. “If we play their game, we will be in trouble.”
The big advantage the Panthers do carry is their experience. Senior quarterback Joey DeLuca is starting his fifth playoff game, along with several other veterans, while this will be Dutchtown’s first playoff game since 2010. A major key to the game will be how they respond to the atmosphere.
Phillips said the game plan is “to play our game, to run our offense, to get four yards a carry and execute 10-minute drives that will keep their offensive weapons on the sideline for much of the game.”
Look for the senior leadership of Deluca, Mitch Prowant, Cole Gilley, Nick Brown and Coltin Houser, the kicking game, and the precision Panther offense to wear down the Bulldogs on the way to victory and move on to the second round against the winner of the Bainbridge-New Hampstead game.

Whitewater vs Eagle’s Landing
The Whitewater Wildcats (7-3, 5-1) finished the regular season in the best possible fashion with a win, and all phases of the game are coming together at the right time.
An offense that is averaging nearly 30 points a game is combining with an improving defense with the playoffs kicking off. Both sides will need to be sharp this Friday when Whitewater takes on Eagle’s Landing (6-4, 5-3) on its home field. The Eagles have shown all season they can hang with some of the best teams, and this game should be no different.
“We are not going to take it lightly,” Whitewater head coach Bryan Holley said. “It’s been a goal for us to not only get into the playoffs, but win in the playoffs, so we are going to approach it like any other game.
“It’s a big stepping stone for our program. A home playoff game is great, but we want to win and not just play at home and be one and done.”
The defense will have to find a way to stop a strong passing game. Eagle’s Landing’s quarterback, Cameron Lewis, has quite an arm on him, throwing for 1,560 yards, and the team has several skill players that the Wildcats secondary will need to match up with. The defense is going to need to apply as much pressure as it can to slow Lewis.
Offensively, the Wildcats hope to build on the success from their last game. They’ll look to establish a balanced attack, as Maddox Mueller threw for 157 yards against the Chiefs. The receivers and the running backs need to find space in the Eagles defense.
“We are just going to try to execute our game plan, both running and passing,” said Holley. “You have to be able to do both, You just can’t do one in the playoffs.”
The game features quick-strike offenses, but at the end of the night it will come down to which defense can make the key stops. The Wildcats have to stay disciplined the entire four quarters and not let emotion distract them like in the matchup with McIntosh.
“They’ve got to be disciplined and know that is just frustration coming out in football players,” Holley said. “Players have to stay on the sideline. They can’t rush onto the field as much as you want to help out a teammate.
“You got to be disciplined and self-controlled.”
With a smart, heady game, Whitewater should be able to ground the Eagles and move on against the winner of Warner Robins-South Effingham.

Stockbridge vs McIntosh
Entering the playoffs as a four seed and facing off against a one seed is a tall task, but it’s not one McIntosh will shy away from.
The Chiefs (6-4, 2-4) are back in the playoffs for just the second time, and they can’t wait to get to work. Before the regular season finale had even kicked off, the staff was already starting their homework.
“Coaches, we never sleep, so we’ve had a chance to look at Stockbridge, and they’re going to be big and athletic and fast. They’re very deserving of their number three state ranking,” said Belknap after the Whitewater game.
Stockbridge (10-0, 8-0) is a long way from the Tiger teams from when the schools last met back in 2001. The Tigers are now a perennial power, reaching at least the state quarterfinals the last three seasons.
Offensively, Stockbridge runs a traditional triple option offense similar to Georgia Tech.
“It’s a three-back attack, four with the quarterback,” said Belknap. “You don’t know who’s going to get the ball.
“It’s a little different than we’ve seen this year. We haven’t seen a true triple option team under center,” said Belknap. “These guys, it’s their bread and butter.”
The key to slowing them down is patience and making the proper reads.
“We have to play assignment football and be very disciplined,” he said. “That’s very tough, and, on top of that, they’ve got some dudes.”
One of those dudes is wide receiver Marquez Ezzard, a Florida State commit.
“That added dimension that makes their offense go is they have a division one receiver.”
McIntosh will look to keep pace with their own high-scoring offense that is averaging 35 points a night over their last seven games. They will face a Tiger defense that runs mainly out of a 4-3 front with man coverage. Starring on their defense is another stud, defensive end Brenton Cox, an Ohio State commit and a member of the AJC Super 11.
Facing long odds won’t scare the Chiefs. They’re going to leave all out on the field in Stockbridge.
“As we told our guys, we’re not going over there to keep it close, we’re going over there to find a way to win the ballgame,” said Belknap. “We’re gonna go over there and give it a shot.”
McIntosh will need to play a flawless game to upset the Tigers. The winner faces the winner of Ware County-Harris County.

 

Joey DeLuca, Maddox Mueller, and Dane Kinamon lead their teams into the postseason this Friday night. DeLuca and Starr’s Mill host Dutchtown, Mueller and Whitewater host Eagles Landing, and Kinamon and McIntosh travel to play Stockbridge. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

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