Cordele Dispatch, Cordele, GA

Local Sports

November 28, 2012

Patriots tackle second straight Region 4-A member

Rochelle — If the GHSA’s power rankings used to set up the Class A state playoff brackets are accurate, then Wilcox High is about to face a second-round team twice as good as the one it beat in the first round.

A 42-14 home field victor over a No. 15 seed, Greenville, in its postseason opener last week, the second-seeded Patriots will be hosting a No. 7 seed, Marion County, tomorrow night at 7:30.

“Even though they finished third in Region 4-A (as the result of a three-way tiebreaker involving Brookstone and Dooly), they’re a good example of the fact that the competition you face in the playoffs gets much better every week,” Wilcox coach Mark Ledford said.

“It’s obvious from watching video of  them in action that there’s a reason they’re in the quarterfinals as they’re a talented bunch that plays with a lot of heart and pride.

“They’re also a team that doesn’t quit as evidenced by the way they came back from a 21-0 deficit against (4-A champ) Brookstone to only lose by seven (35-28) in the end. No matter the score, they’re not going to lay down against anybody as they’re going to play hard on every snap.”

En route to a 9-2 record that’s identical to the one Wilcox sports, the Eagles won their first-round playoff game 31-12 over a Charlton County team that during the regular season handed the Patriots a 32-26 loss.

Wilcox has fared better against two other common opponents — Greenville which fell victim to Marion 28-21 in the regular season and Dooly, which lost 28-14 to the Patriots and bowed 12-7 to the Eagles.

The Eagles’ other victories came at the expense of Terrell (24-12) and Schley (69-21) counties, Kendrick-Columbus (21-20), Pacelli (35-0), Hawkinsville (31-14) and Central Talbotton (72-0). In addition to its loss to Brookstone, Marion dropped a 20-7 loss to Miller County.

“In watching them on video, the first things that jump out are that they’re athletic and well-coached in all phases of the game,” Ledford said. “From a physical standpoint, they do a good job of controlling things up front as both their offensive and defensive lines have real good size.” Quintez Kelley (6-2, 290) is the leader in the trenches.

When the Eagles have the football, they base out of a shotgun spread formation from which they appear to favor the run slightly more than the pass but are effective at doing both.

Their go-to guy when they stay on the ground is James Taylor, who’s compact in size and is shifty and strong. “He’ll be one of the best running backs we’ve seen,” Ledford said of Taylor who has gotten most of his 1,139 yards and 16 touchdowns for the season between the tackles.

When the Eagles try to get outside, they do so with wide receivers Johnny Royal and Henry Lee whom they first put into motion before giving them the football on speed sweeps.

That pair also excels at getting downfield and catching passes thrown by quarterback DeMarquez Mallard who, according to Ledford, is both a very accurate passer and a running threat to boot.

“As a team, they do a real good job of mixing things on offense with a unit filled with athletic kids who do a good job of capitalizing on the skills they possess,” Ledford said.

Defensively, the Wilcox coach said he anticipates seeing Marion employ 3- and 4-man fronts while mixing its secondary coverage between man and zone.

“They’ve done a good job of stopping the run and pass as their linemen cause a lot of problems with the penetration they get, their linebackers are solid in covering the run and pass and their secondary runs to the ball and covers well.”

In the area of special teams, the Eagles have a strong-legged kicker/punter, A.J. Wells, who as a junior already ranks in the top five nationally.

Wells has the ability to toe long-range field goals, boots practically all of his kickoffs out of the end zone and frequently pins foes deep in their own territory with booming punts.

“What stands out most about Marion,” Ledford said, “ is that it’s hungry, plays well together and with its talent will be one of the most well-rounded teams we’ve played.

“If we’re going to be able to cope with all of that, it’s imperative we move the football, take advantage of any scoring opportunities we get and keep the ball away from their offense as much as possible.

“More than X’s and O’s strategy, though, we have to play with more intensity than we showed against Greenville as despite rolling up a good bit of yardage and points I didn’t think we played a complete game.

“This week, it’s going to be crucial we be ready to play on every snap rather than think we can just turn it on and off when needed.

“Our chances of coming out on top also would get a boost if our fans turn out in the large numbers needed to offset the huge crowd Marion will bring as the result of its community being as excited as it is over the team.”

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