Lumpkin County at West Hall
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: West Hall Stadium, Oakwood
Coaches: Lumpkin County, Ty Maxwell; West Hall, Tony Lotti
Records: Lumpkin County (5-4, 4-1 Region 7-AAA); West Hall (8-1, 5-0)
Key players: Lumpkin County, DB/WR Cal Thrailkill (Jr.); QB/LB Zach Matthews (6-1, 190 So.); RB/DB Gunner Wood (5-10, 175 Sr.). West Hall, RB/DB Kwon Williams (6-0, 185 Jr.); RB/DB Tyquan Statham (6-2, 200 Jr.), C Cole Davis (Sr.).
In his first day on the job, West Hall’s Tony Lotti decided he needed to do a little decorating around his fieldhouse office.
It was a brisk day in January 2012 when Lotti, fresh off a move with his family from Stockbridge, hung a square, black picture frame on a wall close to the team’s meeting room. It has stayed empty for more than two and a half years.
“They all know it’s there,” Lotti said, before his team’s Thursday walkthrough on Spartan Field. “They see it every day. I told them one team is going to be up there after a region championship. Whether it’s this year or the next, or a string of them, they’ve got a chance to do something special.”
Lotti and the team (8-1, 5-0) were relaxed heading into their final regular-season practice before tonight’s Region 7-AAA title game against Lumpkin County (5-4, 4-1).
Statistically, the confidence is well-placed. Behind junior running back Kwon Williams (11 touchdowns, 609 yards), West Hall’s offense is on a record-breaking pace. The Spartans have scored an average of 37.5 points in each of their last four wins against region opponents, including a 49-0 rout of Fannin County two weeks ago.
Seven different rushers have combined for 29 touchdowns on the ground, far and away the most in the region.
Even when the Spartans have started slowly, a win has rarely been in doubt. West Hall rattled off 17 unanswered second half points at Banks County to overcome a 7-6 halftime deficit and set up what will be a raucous Senior Night atmosphere in Oakwood.
“We’ve just got to stick to the gameplan,” Williams said Thursday afternoon. “It was definitely our goal coming into the season for a championship, but we’ve taken it game by game this year. It’s all fell into place.”
The Indians will try to answer with a tried and tested rushing attack of their own. Quarterback Zach Matthews has rushed for more than 40 percent of Lumpkin County’s 3,131 total rushing yards this year, while senior running backs Bradley Womack (775 yards) and Gunner Wood (600 yards) will give an added dimension to coach Ty Maxwell’s offense.
Lumpkin County has been involved in tight matchups throughout the season. Out of the Indians’ four losses, the margin of victory in three of them has been seven points or fewer.
“They’re not here by accident,” Maxwell said. “They’ve got a lot of threats, but we want to focus on us and focus on our efforts. When I came here [in 2009], I wanted to bring a blue-collar mentality to the program. The kids have responded well and have taken pride in that.”
The Indians have forced 16 turnovers this season. Seven of those have been interceptions, including a trio of picks by Cal Thrailkill.
A West Hall win will give Lotti his second region championship and the first in the Spartans’ history. After opening the Union Grove program in 2000 in McDonough, he helped the Wolverines to a state quarterfinal berth in 2002 before moving to Woodland High School in Stockbridge seven years later.
Lotti said he’s gotten used to the “grind” that comes with a postseason run, and that the pressure will be on regardless of whether or not West Hall earns the No. 1 seed.
“It’s always a struggle, but you learn to appreciate it,” he said. “When you see the rewards, it comes with sacrifice. Kids have seen that and been molded by it.”
Junior running back/cornerback Tyquan Statham has been cleared to play against the Indians, as well as senior middle linebacker Cameron Millsap. The two have combined for eight scores while contributing heavily on the defense.
Statham’s crucial interception in the third quarter at Banks County led to a Bradley Hodgson field goal to give West Hall its first lead of the game.
“We praise our defense a lot,” Williams said. “We’ve had four shutouts this year and we’re going to try as hard as we can to keep our home (West Hall Stadium) safe.”
Starting center Cole Davis (knee) is expected to make snaps to quarterback Jacob Satterfield (32 of 58 passing, 358 yards) for the first time in four weeks, which will allow Devin Hughes to move back to his preferred guard position.
Lotti said he won’t feel the nerves when he walks out onto the field tonight, but that he knows there will be a lot of emotions, win or lose.
“Before, it’s business as usual,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to be in this situation before, so for me, I want the kids to go out and play the best they can. For me afterwards, it’ll be hard because of how I feel about these kids and coaches and students. A lot of hours have gone into this program every day. I want these kids to see the fruits of their labors.”