Alcovy plays its eleventh game of the season for just the second time in school history when the Tigers face Tri Cities tonight at Sharp Stadium for the opening round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Alcovy won the Region 3A-AAAA title to claim the No. 2 seed but are coming off its worst loss of the season. With a chance to win the school’s first region football championship, the Tigers fell flat against Northgate last week. Nevertheless the Tigers are poised to still make history if they can win tonight. Alcovy lost its only other playoff game at Thomas County Central two years ago.
The Bulldogs come in with an 8-2 record — good enough for third place in Region 4-AAAA. Their two losses came against Jonesboro in week one and Lovejoy, the sixth-ranked team in Class AAAA. They score 34 points per game and were the only team to score more than six points against Lovejoy.
“We’re going to see probably the biggest team we’ve seen this year,” Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. “Everybody I’ve talked to and from what I’ve seen on film, they have a couple of guys that are very big and can move. Traditionally they have speed and the thing about Tri Cities now versus maybe five years ago is that they are a lot more disciplined and they are well coached. You’re going to see what I consider a pretty good football team.”
The Tigers will have their hands full in the trenches. Hoffman said Tri Cities reminds him of Dutchtown with the athleticism of Griffin. That combination will test Alcovy’s front line both offensively and defensively.
“Their skill players canrun like Griffin and up front, they are a lot like Dutchtown,” he said. “We have to find a way to do something on the line of scrimmage on both sides. We can’t just let them come right at us with that size. We have two fairly good-sized kids but overall we don’t have a lot of size up front. So offensively we’re going to have to deal with the size factor and defensively we’re going to have to play disciplined football and when we do we play good defense. When we don’t we give up big plays.”
Alcovy has won games with an explosive offense. Cornell White has given the Tigers a much-needed passing game that keeps teams honest against the run. The Tigers still primarily hurt teams with the run but White threw for 835 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season and backup Marcus Williams threw for another 178 yards and two scores.
“He (White) has done a great job in some tough situations,” Hoffman said. “He’s taken some licks and for me, he’s grown a lot maturity-wise. A lot of the things that we’ve gone through, it’d be tough on anyone. I don’t care who’s playing quarterback. But I feel very good about Cornell being our quarterback.”
The heart of Alcovy’s offense though is the big play ability of Devon Edwards. After sitting out the 2010 season, the senior running back has been a one-man highlight reel. Out of the backfield, he’s rushed for 910 yards on 120 carries for a staggering 7.6 yards per carry. His 13 rushing touchdowns also lead the team and he has amassed 1,600 yards of total offense for the year. Both of those marks are single-season school records. But Edwards is equally dangerous in the return game. He’s returned three kickoffs for touchdowns and is averaging 40 yards per return.
“He’s a game changer, a real weapon,” Hoffman said. “He’s had a great season and is playing at a very high level. He’s tough to stop.”
The Tigers also have a healthy Tre Sorrells as a second option in the running game. Edwards is the speed threat capable of getting to the edge while Sorrells’ north to south running gives the Tigers a power element inside. White is also a threat on the ground as he chewed up 525 rushing yards and five touchdowns. As a team, the Tigers rushed for close to 2,000 yards and any of the three can break off big runs. Alcovy’s rushing game as a whole will put pressure on Tri Cities’ defense.
“We have to find out if they’re going to try to stop the inside (running) game or the outside game,” Hoffman said. “They have the ability to do a little bit of both with their size inside. They might be able to match me up with speed, I don’t know. We’re just going to have to go in with a gameplan and see how they line up and see what we can take advantage of.”
One thing the Tigers must improve on from last week in particular is making in-game adjustments. Against Northgate last week, things got out of hand quickly. The Vikings scored 28 unanswered points in the span of a quarter and put the Tigers in an insurmountable hole by halftime.
“I think the game dictates that,” Hoffman said. “We came out in the second half (last week) and had a nice drive but we were unable to capitalize. If we score there we’re right back in the game. The thing is, in high school, you are going to get four, maybe five possessions a half so those first drives of each half really dictates what you do the rest of the time.”
Ideally Alcovy would like to control the ball. Every coach will tell you the more time you have the ball on offense, the better chance you have to win games. That’s especially true for the Tigers given their penchant for scoring on big plays. Also with an inexperienced defense, Alcovy would like nothing better than to string together long drives and control the clock and keep this a low-scoring game.
“That’s kind of what we ran into last week,” Hoffman said. “We had to open (the offense) up and when you open it up, you don’t complete passes or you don’t get first downs and you throw your defense back out there against what I consider a really good offensive team. If you have a lot of seniors or you’re pretty good on defense, that’s not a problem. But in our case that’s our young group (the defense) and that’s what hurt us in the first half.”
Even though ball control is important, Hoffman knows the strength of his team is its offensive explosiveness and at this point in the season, there’s no reason to fix what isn’t necessarily broken. Besides that, if his defense can do its part, scoring quick can be used to Alcovy’s advantage.
“You take what you can get,” he said. “In high school because you’re playing 12 minute quarters, if you take a nine-minute drive and score and they take eight minutes and score, you’re maybe tied at halftime or whatever. But if you can score quickly then hold them, then score again you change the whole complexion of the game. You really have to be able to make your adjustments based on how the scoring is going.”
While the Tigers were a playoff team two years ago, this team is untested in the pressures of postseason football. Fortunately the Tigers do have two key players from that team to lean on. Edwards and Sorrells both played key roles in the success of the 2009 team. Beyond them though, Alcovy is as green as it gets.
“When you talk about senior leadership, I have some of that but when you’re talking about playoff experience, really only two kids played in that game,” Hoffman said. “Besides Devon and Tre, that team was senior laden. It’s not like we’re bringing in a playoff team that’s been there and done that and that’s a concern there.”
As bad as the Tigers played last week, Hoffman said they’ve turned the page. With a good week of practice under their belts, the Tigers aren’t dwelling on the past. Instead they’re set on giving the school its first playoff win.
“Everybody is 0-0,” Hoffman said. “You can’t worry about the last 10 (games) now because they don’t have anything to do with what’s going to happen (tonight). We’ve come in and approached it as, there are 32 teams in this thing and everyone is starting with the same record. I think for the most part the kids are buying into that.”