Lions get second crack at Westfield in first round
by Chris Goltermann
Most high school football teams don't have a chance to right the wrongs of their previous playoff failures, at least against the same opponent.
Count Trinity Christian among those with that unique opportunity this Friday.
The Lions - who squandered four opportunities in the red zone during last year's 10-7 first-round GISA playoff loss at the Westfield School - will get another chance to test themselves against a 9-1 Hornets program that has won at least one postseason game in 19 of the 21 seasons played under head coach Ronnie Jones.
'The good thing about playing Westfield is we're familiar with them and a lot of our guys were juniors last year so they have experience in the playoffs like they do, maybe not as much [as Westfield], but they do,' said Trinity head coach Chris Hanson. 'Things are going to be quicker in the playoffs, the intensity's going to be different and we've got to be ready to go.'
Trinity guaranteed its second consecutive trip to the state playoffs as well as backto- back winning seasons for the first time since joining the GISA in 2011 with a 12-0 victory over rival Heritage School in a budding rivalry between the county's two GISA schools.
'That's a great rivalry we have. We knew they were going to be ready but I was very impressed the fight and the determination Heritage had in an emotional game for them,' Hanson said. 'They left it on the field. We caught a couple of breaks and took advantage of some of the opportunities and it helped us in the game. It wasn't a perfect game by far because we still made some turnovers. But it was a great win for our program.'
Trinity, however, understands it will take a near-perfect effort this week to avoid the same ending to its 2012 football season.
Under Jones, who has compiled a record of 190-65 following the school's ninth region title in that span, this year's 1-AAA champions have reeled off nine consecutive victories since a season-opening loss to Tattnall Square, a team that also defeated Trinity Christian 27-0 later in the year.
Since allowing three turnovers in the loss to Tattnall, Westfield has showcased both size and strength over a nine-game win streak where the Hornets have allowed opponents to two touchdowns or less in five of those victories.
Westfield's line of scrimmage has been a dominant force through the run, led up front on defense by a trio of seniors Bert Hiley (6-2, 210) and Charlie Ayer (6-0, 200) at the ends and junior Walker Davison (5-11, 200) at the tackle spot.
The Hornets have been just as bruising running the ball in Jones' familiar wing-T set led by running backs Chandler Duggan (727 yards, 12 touchdowns through nine games) and 6-0, 170-pound senior Stuart Smith (660 yards, 9 touchdowns). The team ran the ball on 40 of 45 snaps last week for 261 yards in a 49-26 win over Tift Area.
Westfield had a season-high 501 yards and 23 first downs in a 41-0 blowout of Bulloch on Oct. 25 in a game that featured four touchdown runs by Duggan.
'They don't change a whole lot up. We're familiar with what they do and it's been successful,' said Hanson. He's got a good team just like he had last year. They're big and strong and we've got to be ready and go play fundamental football if we do, we can compete just like we did last year.'
The only thing missing on the Hornets resume under Jones is a state championship. And after knocking off the likes of 2-AAA champion Stratford Academy as well as defending title winner Deerfield-Windsor during the regular season, Westfield may be primed for another extended playoff run unless Trinity can learn from some of last year's mistakes.
'That was a pretty wild game. I remember it like yesterday,' said Lions defensive coordinator J.P. Weaver. 'Our two turnovers led to a field goal before halftime and then a touchdown first drive of the second half when we fumbled the snap at midfield and they scored on that drive.'
Trinity scored directly off an interception by senior Mark Collier and had another chance when Dee Snelling picked off Westfield quarterback Evan Williams but fumbled it back on the return. By the time the Lions got the ball back, there was little time on the clock to muster enough of a drive to set up a tying field goal.
'We had a lot of opportunities that were out there last year and hopefully we can take advantage of those advantages this year. I think we can,' Hanson said. 'I know the guys are excited this week for another opportunity. The biggest thing I told them is it doesn't matter what whose record is. You've earned your chance and that's what you wanted.'
Where Trinity may be able to exploit Westfield could be with a defense that has recovered 43 turnovers this year.
Needing consecutive wins over Westminster and The Heritage School to clinch a playoff berth, the Lions finished with a combined seven interceptions and six sacks between the two games.
'Basically the way we see it, it's round three of the playoffs for us because of the magnitude of each of the last two games we've played,' Hanson said. 'We've just got to keep our minds focused on the end goal and who's in front of us this week. You want to take a sense of confidence into the playoffs and I think the guys rose to the challenge last two weeks.'
The team's biggest struggles, however, have been against playoff opponents John Milledge, Stratford Academy and Tattnall Square, allowing at least 27 points in each game.
While having balance in a running attack that's netted 1,691 yards among six players that have contributed at least 135 to the total led by sophomore Jared Farlow (412 on 84 carries), fumbles as well as 12 interceptions have stunted progress at points during the season.
Two of the Lions' senior defenders - linebacker Diego Henriquez and lineman Conner Owen - combined for 141 yards rushing against the Hawks. Henriquez leads Trinity with 86 tackles and Owen has 42 to go with a team-high three forced fumbles.
'Besides the Stratford and the Tattnall games, our defense has played pretty good,' Weaver said. 'We had some execution in those games, but we just didn't finish.'
On Friday, though, Trinity has a second chance to finish against Westfield.
'I'm excited to see them play Friday night,' Hanson said. 'I think they understand the consequences if they don't win and the reward if they do.'