High School Football
Streaking Lions face immediate challenge from Stratford in region opener
by Chris Goltermann
Trinity Christian returns from a bye week on the heels of a four-game winning streak that could boost the confidence level of any high school football team.
But the memory of last year’s game against Stratford Academy should have brought the Lions down to Earth while preparing to host the Eagles (3-2) on Friday night.
If not, Trinity’s coaching staff certainly tugged them down by the cleats.
A year ago in Macon, Stratford fought back from deficits of 9-7 at halftime and 16-7 after three quarters before scoring 15 unanswered points and picking off a Trinity pass on its final drive of the game to hold on to a 22-16 victory.
“The guys who have been here understand that when you get into region that this is the time when we can take it to the next level,” said Trinity head coach Chris Hanson. “The 4-1 was a good warmup to what’s coming about. The biggest thing is we have five region games and we have to execute and do our job.”
The Lions have been solid through at the midway point of the 2013 season, led by a defense that has pounced on lesser opponents. In its last three games, Trinity has 19 takeaways including seven apiece in wins over Flint River (23-15) and Piedmont Academy (27-7).
Offensively, the Lions have equally stayed the course despite an injury to senior quarterback Daniel Shoates.
Shoates came off the bench early in a scoreless game against Piedmont, running for two scores and throwing a touchdown pass to Glen Whisby. It’s just one hiccup Trinity has been able to overcome this year after seeing starters go down to injury on both sides of the ball.
The senior quarterback has connected on 59-percent of his attempts for 656 yards and eight touchdowns — four to Whisby — to go with just two interceptions.
Whisby (18) and Christian Downs (17) lead the team in receptions, both with over 200 yards for the season.
“The thing overall I’ve been most proud of is they’ve come together as a team and fought together. There’s a lot of unity. I tell them all the time to let that be a growing factor and ask what can I do to help this team,” Hanson said. “I think they’re seeing by getting through some of that adversity those first five weeks was a result of understanding their role, understanding their job and doing it for each other.”
But a Stratford lineup that has played a tough non-region schedule that’s included losses in crossover games against Region 1-AAA opponents Deerfield-Windsor (4-2) and Piedmont Academy (4-1) hasn’t skipped a beat in head coach Mark Farriba’s return to his
alma mater this year following back-to-back trips to the Class A semifinals with Prince Avenue Academy. The Eagles’ wing-T offense, led by senior quarterback John Mitchell (6-0, 160), has averaged 26.2 points per game while suffering two losses by a touchdown or less.
Junior Conner Corbitt leads Stratford with 294 yards rushing on 51 carries after picking up 98 on just three attempts in last week’s 35-14 win over Edmund Burke.
The Eagles jumped out to a 35-6 lead at halftime while scoring four times from 34 yards or further. Corbitt had a 68-yard touchdown to open the game before Mitchell connected with Jonathan Hefner from 54 yards out. Hefner added an 85-yard catch and run to end the first half.
Lucas Bowden and Mitchell both had over 150 yards rushing heading into last week’s game, with Mitchell leading the team with seven touchdowns.
“Coach Farriba’s done a good job with them there. You can tell by their attention to detail,” Hanson said of Stratford. “They have experience. You look across their defense and you can tell. We have to execute. We’re in region play now and the expectations don’t change for us. We just need to tighten up our game with the mental errors and things like that.”
Senior Douglas Bradley, a hulking 6-3, 210-pound end, could give Trinity fits on both sides of the ball, especially on defense.
“Everybody has to step their game up a little more and I think the guys understand that and the challenge we’ve given them this week,” Hanson said. “I think being able to be 4-1 right now, we’re very blessed, but I think our guys understood and accepted that challenge. We’ve just got to be able to match them. I think it’s going to be a dogfight type of game.”
Despite taking a lead to halftime against Piedmont, the Lions have been slow starters the past two games, something the team can’t afford against a Class AAA opponent.
“We need to put together four quarters of solid, tough football really,” Hanson said. “That all includes no penalties, no turnovers, getting turnovers on defense and making one big play on special teams. We’ve lacked a big play on special teams the first five games and I think if we can get there, it gives us an opportunity to compete at the highest level. That’s all we ask for.”