Published Thursday, November 15, 2012
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
The GISA playoffs may be new to Trinity Christian’s football program. But road trips have been part of every Friday night this season.
“Our guys ride a bus to every game,” head coach Chris Hanson said, matter-of-factly, considering Trinity Christian has played its home games at East Coweta Middle School while a new on-campus facility is in the process of being completed. “So every game for us is like a road game.”
In that respect, this week’s ride to Perry to face 9-1 Westfield, the No. 2 seed out of Region 1-AAA, doesn’t look like it will be a factor during Friday’s quarterfinal round.
But the bus ride home for 6-4 Trinity Christian will take on a much different feel dramatically in either of two directions, something Hanson wants his team to understand before taking on a talented lineup that has already beaten three of the Lions’ opponents in Region 2-AAA during the regular season.
“It’s one and done,” Hanson said. “Right now, there are teams that have packed their gear up for the season and we’re excited to still be one of those still playing at this point. But we’re also at a point where there can’t be plays that you can take off. It’s do or die.”
Trinity Christian is also at a point where it has to leave last week’s disappointing 29-14 loss to county rivals The Heritage School in the rear-view mirror. Despite squandering a halftime lead and being shut out through the final two quarters, the Lions’ only motivation could be a potential rematch with the Hawks in next week’s semifinal round should Heritage (9-1) get past Pinewood Christian this week.
“We’re not even looking to next week,” Hanson said, turning his attention to a sound Westfield program coached by Ronnie Jones. “We’re the underdog.”
The Hornets have never lost a first-round playoff game in Jones’ 20 years at the school, only one of which has ended in a sub-.500 season. Both teams scrimmaged each other during the preseason.
“Coach Jones does a great job with that program. They’re big, strong and physical,” Hanson said. “They’ve got good athletes, they’re fundamentally sound and they’ll come ready to play.”
Both defenses have allowed more than three scores only once this season, each to eventual region champions. Led by senior quarterback Evan Williams (5-7, 160 pounds), Westfield’s wing-T offense has averaged just over 30 points-per-game while defeating 2-AAA opponents Tattnall Square (3-2), Mount de Sales (38-20) and Stratford Academy (17-13) during its non-region schedule.
The Hornets have also used depth among their skill positions to their advantage with five ball carriers, led by Tom Tuggle, posting at least 175 yards rushing this year. Williams leads the group with nine touchdowns while also throwing for 830 yards and nine scores.
Trinity, meanwhile, will have to continue a trend of playing from an advantage early in games. Last week’s 14-0 start against Heritage was indicative of how well the Lions have played prior to halftime. But the Lions fell victim to turnovers and penalties that cost them down the stretch, as well as the play of Hawks senior running back Candler Rich.
“We’re looking at it as we have to finish,” Hanson said. “Our players have to believe they can finish.”
In its four losses, Trinity has been held to two scores or less each time, making it essential for the Lions to move the chains throughout Friday’s game. Senior transfer Jay Warner enters with 1,112 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns while averaging 8.4 yards a carry.
Three others — senior fullback Drew Gibson, senior quarterback Connor Adams and junior Dee Snelling — all have over 221 yards rushing and at least one score. Trinity even used lineman Mark Collier last week at fullback, with the senior scoring the first touchdown of last week’s game.
Collier is also one of three Lion defenders with at least 48 tackles this year. Senior linebacker Edwin Rivera leads the team with 77 to go with two forced fumbles. Gibson, who has played both linebacker and defensive end, has 46 tackles, two sacks and is responsible for three Trinity safeties this year.
Last week’s game went sour from the second-half kickoff, which gave Heritage the ball at its own 47 and led to a go-ahead score by the Hawks. Trinity seemed to have Heritage stopped on its next possession with an interception by Snelling on a third-down pass.
But a personal-foul call kept the drive alive. Two plays later, a facemask call helped put the ball at the Lions 5, before the Hawks went further ahead.
Down 22-14, Trinity quickly drove for a potential tying score, getting to the Heritage 35 in the closing minute of the third quarter only to be intercepted at the Hawks 3-yard line, only Adams’ fourth pick of the season. One snap later, Heritage put the game away on an 85-yard catch and run by Rich.
“We have to play like we practice ... with a purpose,” Hanson said. “We’re going back and working on things we didn’t execute last week because they will come into play again this week. If we execute like I know we can in practice I truly believe we can do some good things Friday night.”