West Hall vs. Fannin County
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: West Hall Stadium, Oakwood
Coaches: West Hall, Tony Lotti; Fannin County, Jim Pavao
Records: West Hall (6-1, 3-0 Region 7-AAA); Fannin County (4-3, 2-1)
Key players: West Hall, RB/CB Kwon Williams (6-0, 186 Jr.); RB/CB Tyquan Statham (6-1, 190 Jr.); OL/LB Ty Statham (6-2, 210 Sr.). Fannin County, QB Brad Davis (6-1, 160 So.); RB Tyler Beaver (5-11, 180 Sr.); WR/DB/P Cooper Earls (6-0, 172 So.).
Read previews for Week 9 football action here:
The three-year plan is working to fruition for West Hall football coach Tony Lotti and his confident, yet focused band of Spartans.
In his first three years on campus, Lotti has worked to instill a new culture in his program, build the trust between it and the community, and have those changes translate into wins on the field.
Halfway through his third year in Oakwood, Lotti is closing in on a major goal — West Hall’s first region title in the 27-year history of the program.
“It would mean so much to do it with these kids,” Lotti said after practice on Wednesday. “This was the goal, to stay in the control and if we control our effort and our attitude to keep it up, we can get there.”
The latest obstacle in West Hall’s path arrives tonight when the Fannin County Rebels (4-3, 2-1 Region 7-AAA) travel an hour and a half from Blue Ridge. Behind dual-threat running back Tyler Beaver (684 rushing yards, 7.6 average yards per carry) and quarterback Brad Davis (267 passing yards per game, nine TDs, six interceptions), coach Jim Pavao’s team could give West Hall (6-1, 3-0) its toughest test since the Spartans’ lone loss on Sept. 19 at North Oconee.
Since then, West Hall has given up just 12.3 points per game in wins over Dawson County, East Hall and Franklin County.
Should Lotti’s team win out over the next three games, or if rival Lumpkin County suffers a second region loss, the Spartans will clinch a No. 1 seed in Region 7-AAA and a more favorable first-round matchup in the state playoffs.
West Hall hasn’t won at least seven games in a single season since 2002, when it finished 9-2 after a playoff loss to Carrollton.
Junior running back Tyquan Statham (452 rushing yards, three TDs) said he and his teammates have no intentions of taking it easy in the home stretch of the regular season.
“Every day, we’ve got to work through it, work through the complacency,” he said. “We can’t get too comfortable of where we’re at. We’ve always got to get to the next step.”
The Rebels visit Spartan Field after a narrow 35-28 win last week against last-place Dawson County in Dawsonville.
But Beaver leads Fannin County with 866 all-purpose yards despite playing in only four games and has become a favorite target (14 receptions, 313 yards) for sophomore quarterback Davis, especially in lopsided home wins over Murray County (55-7) and Armuchee (35-0) last month. Davis has thrown his nine scoring passes to six different Rebels receivers.
While the offensive numbers point to a potential shootout, Fannin County hasn’t earned back-to-back wins since Sept. 12. West Hall, for its credit, has given up fewer than 13 points per game in each of its three region contests.
Davis has found solid protection behind senior offensive lineman Cody McPeek (6-foot-4, 315 pounds), who has received an offer from Eastern Kentucky.
“He’s a real good athlete and he has a good, strong arm,” Pavao said of Davis, who is currently No. 6 in the state in yards per game. “He’s really developing in our offense on going through reads and progressions. In a couple of years, he’ll be leaving here as a pretty good high school quarterback.”
Statham and fellow junior running back Kwon Williams (415 rushing yards, 8 TDs) will look to limit Davis’ impact tonight.
While Fannin holds the edge in the passing game, West Hall’s rush attack has given at least seven different Spartans significant opportunities to score. Senior Jay Crawford has been given the ball only 21 times this season, but has scored five touchdowns, just two behind Williams.
Lotti has used Williams in a variety of ways this season and always seems to be looking for new opportunities to utilize him as an offensive weapon. The junior threw for a 40-yard score on a reverse play two weeks ago in a win over rival East Hall.
“Kwon and Tyquan are both very talented and have proved that we can play them in a lot of different spots,” Lotti said. “We just need to look at what makes us most successful.”
Lotti told his team that it will be crucial to have a quick start tonight against the Rebels. In the past two weeks, the Spartans have fallen behind early to both the Vikings (7-0 early in the 1st quarter) and Franklin County (12-7 at halftime).
Controlling the tempo early, Lotti said, will be the most important factor in keeping West Hall’s high-octane offense on the field. Fannin County’s defense has made just one interception and has created two fumbles all year.
Junior Jerod Petty, a middle linebacker, leads the team with 13 solo tackles, including two for a loss.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Pavao, a former Gainesville High defensive coordinator. “They’re well coached and have a lot of speed in the skill positions. It’ll be a good challenge. I think they’re a good football team and probably the best rushing team that we’ve seen in terms of the numbers of players. It’s not just a one man show. It’s a good opportunity for us to see how we match up.”
The Spartans enter the toughest part of their region schedule next week when they travel to Banks County (4-3, 1-2) before returning home to face Lumpkin County (4-4, 3-1) in the regular season finale.