Every night, Coey Watson lays back on his pillow and ponders the future, like how big the season could be and all the things that his team can do to make the future even brighter.
The junior starting quarterback for a hardened Dawson County Tigers group on the right track toward a bright future with a perfect mark in region play and the chance to match, if not top, last year’s success.
The 10th-ranked Tigers (5-1, 3-0 Region 7-AAA) have been on a roll since dropping a double overtime thriller to West Hall in Week 2. They are winners of four straight heading into tonight’s region game with East Hall in Gainesville, and a win this week would put them on a collision course toward a regional title showdown with fellow unbeaten region foe Greater Atlanta Christian on Nov. 4.
Last year, the Tigers set a school record in wins (9) on the way toward a the state quarterfinal appearance. Watson lived that success his sophomore season, and along with second-year coach Sid Maxwell, attributes this fast start to experience on both sides of the ball.
“Everybody who’s on the field right now had a lot of experience,” said Watson. “We have a really old team, there’s a lot of seniors, so everybody’s seen all these things, so we’re comfortable in what we do.”
The Tigers are clearly clicking, averaging 36 points per game behind the arm and legs of Elite 11 passer Watson (74 completions, 1,168 yards). Watson has connected for touchdowns with four different receivers this year, with slot receiver Austin Young (34 catches, 651 yards, 7 TDs) being his favored target. Young had seven catches for 222 yards and hauled in four of Watson’s five touchdown passes in the first half against Fannin County last week.
The Tigers are also well stocked on the defensive side, only giving up 14 points a game to date behind the leadership of senior linebacker Luke Martin (105 tackles, 15 TFL, sack, 2 INT), who as of six days ago led the state with 20.5 stops per game.
East Hall coach Bryan Gray expects tonight’s game to be a big challenge for his kids.
“They’ve got a very large senior class and it shows, because they are extremely well disciplined and they play very hard,” Gray said. “This is a very talented team that’s gonna have a long playoff run, and they’re playing some exceptional football right now.”
Two weeks ago, the Vikings defense witnessed firsthand the capabilties of Greater Atlanta Christian quarterback and Stanford commit Davis Mills, who tossed for 193 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Despite the obvious differences in the tangibles between Watson and Mills — Mills being a true pocket passer — Gray has kept the status quo in terms of preparation for Watson, who has dialed in 1,608 total yards and 24 total touchdowns this season in the Tigers’ spread scheme. Inside linebacker Brian Holcomb and defensive end Austin Haynes are two pieces Gray expects to slow down Dawson’s pursuit.
“It’s just trying to clean up the stuff you’re doing in your scheme, and you focused on the fundamentals,” Gray said. “At this point in the year, the kids know what they’re supposed to do. It’s about going out and executing to the best of your ability, and each and every play doing the things you’ve learned all year long, and that’s who’s going to be successful Friday night.”
The Vikings (2-5, 0-3 Region 7-AAA) managed to win out and earn a spot in the postseason despite a 3-4 mark at this point last year. A loss tonight would officially knock them out of playoff contention. Gray said the only concerns they have as a team are taking care of themselves and making sure they improve on a daily basis.
The Tigers are still very much aware of East Hall’s explosive playmakers. With that said, Maxwell can only have his guys focus on the next game played, as he fully anticipates another battle with East Hall.
“East Hall is a prideful school over there, as far as, they want to be good in everything they do,” Watson said. “So coming into that game, you can’t take East Hall lightly, especially coming off a few losses they’ve had, a few close losses. Once we go into that field we gotta turn our focus on and we don’t take them lightly at all.”
Last year’s contest featured multiple lead changes, but the Tigers sealed the victory with a late touchdown scored by senior Hunter Mitchell with 3:52 left in the fourth quarter. Vikings quarterback Austin Parker threw for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Watson dropped a pair of touchdown bombs of 51 and 40 yards.
Elite 11 passers Parker and Watson are set to face off once more. Watson (12 passing TDs, 2 INTs) earned the Times Player of the Week distinction for his first-half showing against Fanning County last week, throwing for 269 yards and five touchdowns, and adding a rushing score to the books against the Rebels. As he does every week, Watson will be looking for ways to find receivers other than his No. 1 Young.
“They’re hard to get behind because of how quick they are,” Watson said of East Hall. “They have a good linebacker corps. Pretty much anything to do through the air, they can cover well. So we’re gonna have to find different routes to hit them with so you can get by them.”
It’s no surprise to Maxwell that the key will be limit the big-play capabilities of Parker and the arsenal of athletes. The Tigers will have to wrap up in space and provide some additional help in coverage.
“He (Parker) extends the play with his scrambling ability, and we’re just encouraging our guys, to where he prolongs the play, that we gotta stay on our receivers,” Maxwell added. “And he’s gotta strong arm where he heaves it up there. ... So he extends the play, we gotta maintain our coverage and make a play on the ball.”
The Tigers have won eight of the last nine meetings with East Hall.