Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA

Local Sports

December 5, 2012

Patriots, Bulldogs to collide again

Rochelle — Five years after they tangled in Cordele in a game played  before the largest crowd to ever attend a Class A state title game held outside the Georgia Dome, Wilcox County and ECI will vie again Friday.

This time, neither the stakes nor the attendance will be as high since the meeting comes only in the semifinals to be played here where the game will likely draw about one-third of the 9-10,000 turnout for the 2007 scrap.

Although the visiting Bulldogs won that collision 41-21 to extend their  advantage over the Patriots to 4-0 in a series dating back to the mid-1970s, Wilcox coach Mark Ledford isn’t playing up the revenge factor.

“I’m sure our fans are talking about getting a little payback, but our coaches and players aren’t thinking like that as we don’t have time to dwell on what happened in the past,” Ledford insists.

“The approach we’re taking is that the ECI game is the next one we play and that we’re going to put everything we have into getting ready for it. Our thinking is that regardless of whether we’ve played them before or not we need to be prepared for what we feel is going to be a heck of a game.”

ECI checks into the game with a slightly better record (11-1) than Wilcox (10-2), but the Region 2-A champion Patriots’ own a slightly higher power ranking (14.46) than the Region 7-A titlist Bulldogs (13.84). The teams have not met a common opponent

ECI’s wins have come over Metter (42-7), Jenkins Co. (42-15), Claxton (14-6), Portal (48-0), Wheeler (68-7), Treutlen (50-6), Johnson Co. (40-0), Montgomery (56-7), Savannah Christian (48-14), Gordon Lee (46-12) and Trion (27-10). Its lone loss was to Class AAAA Washington Co. (48-22).

“They’re a strong, well-coached and talented team,” Ledford said of the Bulldogs who will be making their fifth semifinal appearance but the first since 2008.

“Offensively, they’re wing-T just like they were when we saw them in 2007 as their philosophy hasn’t changed much despite the coaching change they’ve made since then (former defensive coordinator Chris Kearse replaced Milan Turner when he left ECI to take the head job at Thomson).

“Execution wise, they don’t run a lot of plays but what they do they do well and do a good job of mixing it up. They’re primarily a running team that looks like it stays on the ground about 70 percent of the time.

“However, if they catch you sitting on the run they don’t hesitate to put it in the air where they’ve had quite a few big plays and don’t mind at all taking their shots at passing the ball.”

Just as the Marion County team that Wilcox beat 39-21 in last week’s quarterfinals had a running back, James Taylor, with the name of a rock’n’roll hall of famer, so does ECI. His moniker is James Brown who to date has rushed for 880 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Brown’s backfield mate, Greg Percell, has put up slightly better numbers as he’s gained 910 yards and found the end zone 14 times. Both also are the team’s leading receivers. A third impressive Bulldog runner is Michael Sutton with 572 yards and 12 scores.

“All those guys as well as the quarterback (Caleb Pressey who has thrown for 824 yards and 14 TDs) operate behind a very strong offensive line that from what I can tell from video has good size,” Ledford said.

“They don’t have the monster front they did in —’07, but they’re just as effective as they get after you and have a really good scheme.”

Because most of the previous Bulldog opponents have been run-oriented, Ledford said it’s been harder for he and his assistants to get a read on the abilities of the ECI stop-’em crew.

“I would say they base out of a four-man front with some three-man mixed in and either way they appear to be strong. As a group, they tackle and get to the ball well.

“Their linebackers look to be good run-stoppers and their two cornerbacks, No. 1 (Brown) and No. 24 (Renaldo Williams) do a heck of a job against the run and pass. In fact, their entire secondary hasn’t given up much.”

Queried as to what has impressed him most about the Bulldogs, Ledford said it’s the way they’ve physically dominated opponents while outscoring them by a 503-132 margin to date.

When it comes to keys to Wilcox’s chances of winning its seventh semifinal appearance and first since 2009 when it went on to win state, Ledford said the biggest is avoiding turnovers.

“When you get this far, every possession is important so you don’t want to give up the football especially in your own territory,” he said. “It’s also going to be important that we get sound special teams play.

“Another thing that will help is to have the biggest fan turnout we’ve had thus far in the playoffs where from what I understand attendance has been down all over the state primarily due to the economy.

“I realize that the admission fee of $60 for a family four might just represent a good breakfast in some counties.

“But in a rural area like ours paying that much to get into a game is a sacrifice — one for which we’d be thankful.

“I’d much rather charge less and have more fans, but that was not our decision as ticket prices (as set by the Georgia High School Association) are identical across the state in all classes.”

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