When: 7:30 tonight
Where: J.P. King Memorial Stadium, Dahlonega
Coaches: Stephens County, Travis Noland; Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones
Records: Stephens County (5-2, 2-1 Region 8A-AAA), Lumpkin County (5-2, 2-1)
Key players: Stephens County, RB Chaz Thornton (5-10, 160 So.), LB Zach Butler (6-0, 200 Sr.), WR/DB/KR Cassadine Blassingame (6-2, 175 Sr.). Lumpkin County, FB/LB Michael Flanagan (6-2, 230 Sr.), QB Taylor Guthrie (6-4, 190 Sr.), WR/RB/DB Ian McIntosh (5-9, 170 Jr.).
Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. The Indians win one for their injured teammate, Dorsey.
DAHLONEGA — Lumpkin County football coach Tommy Jones is savvy enough to know the scenario for getting his team into the playoffs; he just doesn’t want to make it a conversation topic.
With a program that hasn’t tasted the postseason since 2003, his primary goal is to look at the next game like it’s the most important.
“We really haven’t been talking about the playoffs, we’ve just been focused on playing Stephens County,” said Jones, referring to Friday’s game in Dahlonega.
That kind of feedback might not make for the best newspaper fodder, but it does keep his program from being attached to bulletin board material for saying the wrong words to stoke a fire with the opposition.
However, the truth is the winner between Lumpkin County (5-2, 2-1 Region 8A-AAA) and Stephens County (5-2, 2-1) will have a substantial advantage over the other with regard to making the region play-in game, even though both teams could realistically qualify with three spots available.
“This is going to be a very tough game,” Lumpkin County senior lineman Jonathan Whitehead said. “It’s going to come down to who is more physical and who wants it more.”
Lumpkin County’s road to a region play-in game is in its own hands. If the Indians win out, they’ll play for a postseason spot against a team from the south subregion on Nov. 5. The chances of a subregion title seems unlikely at this point for the Indians, with White County (6-1, 3-0) needing only one more win to secure that honor.
“Our team is pretty excited right now, but we know we have to take it one game at a time,” Lumpkin County senior lineman Gus Jones said. “We can’t afford to get big heads about things.”
However, Jones feels like all these what-if conditions will all work themselves out. He has enough to think about playing against Stephens County, a team loaded with offensive weapons and quick to make the big play.
“Stephens County is a very good football team,” Jones said. “They’re balanced on offense, like to run the ball and can also execute the play-action pass.
“Then on defense, Stephens is very athletic, aggressive and very good at tackling.”
The respect between these two teams is mutual.
“Lumpkin County is going to be a challenge for our team,” Stephens County coach Travis Noland said. “They’re a very good, strong, physical team on both sides of the ball.”
One unfortunate twist for Lumpkin County is how injuries have hit this team extremely hard. Following a collision with teammate Travis Burton last Friday against North Hall, junior defensive end B.J. Dorsey was forced to have surgery Wednesday for a torn meniscus and MCL.
Dorsey, one of the area’s leading pass rushers and already a Division-I prospect, will miss the remainder of the season with an expected recovery time of 6-8 weeks.
Burton, a starting lineman, will miss this game with a sprained MCL, according to Jones. In Burton’s place, sophomore Tyler Flatt will take over at his tackle spot for Lumpkin County.
“These injuries are a chance for our team to draw together and a chance for some young players to step up,” Jones said.
Lumpkin County will be looking to clamp down on a pair of the Indians’ offensive weapons. Stephens County sophomore running back Chaz Thornton has been the workhorse with 1,119 yards this season on 161 carries.
Also, senior Cassadine Blassingame has two kickoff returns for touchdowns, a punt return for a touchdown and a pass reception for a TD.
“We know Thornton is a very good athlete for Stephens County,” Whitehead said. “We’ll have to have a great mindset to come out and try to win this game.”