High school football: Week 4 previews
Blessed Trinity at White County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Warrior Stadium, Cleveland
Coaches: Blessed Trinity, Tim McFarlin; White County, Bill Ballard
Records: Blessed Trinity (2-1, 0-0 Region 6-AAA); White County (3-0, 1-0 Region 7-AAA);
Key players: Blessed Trinity, DB Chris Keegan (6-2, 185 Jr.); LB Pat Jasinski (6-2, 200 So.); QB Spencer McManes (6-2, 215 Sr.). White County, QB Will Brock (6-3, 198 Sr.); WR/FS Clay Rider (6-0, 175 Sr.); RB/LB Dalton Whitfield (6-3, 232 Sr.).
Prediction: WHITE COUNTY. The Warriors have the winning formula behind a balanced offense.
White County senior lineman Dakota Lewis knows there is something special brewing within his program. Even better, he feels like it will continue for the Warriors (3-0, 1-0 Region 7-AAA) long past the time he graduates in the spring.
The Warriors are 3-0 and have a chance to go to 4-0 for the first time since 1975, if they beat Blessed Trinity tonight in Cleveland.
Lewis is sure that the program is in good hands for the long-term under second-year coach Bill Ballard, who previously led both Peachtree Ridge and Tucker on multiple deep playoffs runs during the last decade.
“There’s a lot of excitement right now with our program,” Warriors senior quarterback Will Brock said. “There’s not been success like this at the school in the time that we’ve been alive.”
White County’s second year coach says that the Blessed Trinity game will be important for a couple of reasons. He says it will give the players a playoff-caliber opponent early in the season to properly gauge where they stand in September.
Also, it will provide the chance for a potentially large home gate for the next two seasons against the Titans in Cleveland.
“Playing Blessed Trinity is a tough assignment against a program that is perennially in the playoffs,” Ballard said. “But there’s nothing to lose for our program in the sense that it doesn’t determine whether our season ends or not.”
White County’s wins this season trace back to its success moving the ball out of the triple-option attack. The Warriors have posted more than 30 points in each game, led by Brock (226 rushing yards, 206 passing yards). Meanwhile, White County’s defense has only allowed five touchdowns this season.
Junior Dalton Whitfield has a team-high 39 tackles (four for a loss) for the Warriors, and Will Stonecypher is second on the team with 21 stops.
The season started on a high note for White County, topping Class AAAAAA’s Habersham Central 31-0 on Aug. 31 in Mount Airy. On the first drive of the second half, Brock’s toss sweep to Stonecypher produced a touchdown from the 5. After that, White County scored on every possession for the remainder of the game, Brock said.
White County’s quarterback said that was a good indicator of good things to come.
Last Friday, the Warriors won the region opener 35-28 against Fannin County in Blue Ridge, after jumping out to a 35-6 lead early in the third quarter.
“At 3-0, coach Ballard has them playing very well on both sides of the ball,” Blessed Trinity coach Tim McFarlin said. “They do a great job with their offensive and defensive schemes.”
Meanwhile, Blessed Trinity has played a challenging nonregion portion of the schedule, beating Westminster 25-20 and Hart County 24-10.
“Playing Blessed Trinity is a big deal for us momentum wise,” Brock said. “We know they have a playoff-level team every season.”
In his former post at Peachtree Ridge, Ballard coached against Roswell, then led by McFarlin, in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs in 2007. Roswell won that game 23-20 in overtime. Since then, the two coaches have maintained a friendship, which is how the matchup for the 2012 and 2013 seasons — both in Cleveland — came to be.
Ballard has made it clear he’s in it for the long haul at the Cleveland school, having been brought in prior to the 2011 season by White County principal John Osborne. Both Osborne and Ballard previously worked together on the coaching staff at Oconee County High.
Ballard says his approach has been embraced by the community in Cleveland. He says that the players at White County are equally enthusiastic to make the program successful year in and year out. He’s already seeing his approach yield results in the numbers of the football program, led by a freshmen class of 32 players and 25 sophomores.
White County’s senior class has about 15 players, according to Brock, but many of those players saw varsity action in 2010 when it won its first home playoff game in school history.
“I think the biggest change under coach Ballard is what he expects out of the players,” Lewis said. “He wants us to give it everything we have all the time.”
One of Ballard’s main goals is to sustain roster depth so that even in a so-called down year, they can still get into the playoffs. White County last posted back-to-back postseason appearances in 1988-89.
After some time, Ballard says that it’s possible to build White County to the point where it has 100-120 players in the program, great numbers for a Class AAA school.
And when he took over, Ballard had the support of the school’s administration to make some big changes. First, he had a separate middle school weight room organized. Then he implemented a ninth-grade program with its own complete schedule. He feels having the youngest high school players with their own separate schedule makes them more well-prepared to play on the varsity program as juniors and seniors.
Ballard also has players participate in track and field in the spring, if they’re not already playing another sport.
The players have bought in to Ballard’s philosophy and the changes he’s made at White County.
“The amount of work that coach Ballard puts into the program makes it easier for us to be successful,” Brock said.