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WCHS Preview - 11/22

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Ware County head coach Jason Strickland doesn’t want his unanimous top-ranked team to get caught up in a revenge mode as the Gators prepare for Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with visiting ninth-ranked Calhoun.

The then sixth-ranked Yellow Jackets knocked off then third-ranked Ware County 49-42 last year in a second round shootout inside Memorial Stadium propelling them to a Class 5A runner-up finish to Warner Robins. It’s the only meeting between the two programs.

“We can’t get caught up in a revenge thing,” said Strickland, who has led his team to an 11-0 record for the second time in school history joining the 2014 edition of the Gators. “This game will come down to which side can get it to a game and not loose sight of their discipline. That’s going to be expecially critical for us.”

Region 7 champion Calhoun, ranked fourth in MaxPreps and fifth by Maxwell Ratings, enters riding a five-game winning streak and sporting a 5-0 road record. Friday’s game is the Yellow Jackets’ first road game in seven weeks (October 14 at Woodland-Cartersville).

Calhoun is making its 18th quarterfinal appearance since the turn of the century while the Gators are making their 12th overall and 10th since 2004.

The Yellow Jackets are 11-6 in the quarters and 4-2 on the road (three straight wins) while Ware County stands at 5-6 and 5-2 at home. This will mark the fifth Top 10 quarterfinal matchup for the Gators at Memorial Stadium. They are 2-2 in those pairings.

“We played as bad offensively against Chamblee as we have in a while,” said Strickland referencing to the come-from-behind victory in the second round last Friday. “We played good defensively and on special teams. Offensively, there was one mishap or mistake after another. At times I thought we were playing with 10 players.

“This group is resilient and figured out a way to survive and advance, though. If we play offense like that again this week we’re probably going to be done. We must correct our mistakes.”

The fourth-year head coach pointed out this year’s Calhoun team is a little different than years past meaning not to lean on last year’s game plan.

“They’ve (Yellow Jackets) always been very well-balanced with running and throwing the ball. They are built for the run this year. They (offensive coaches) give you a lot of different looks, but they run the same plays.

“There are a lot of formations. What they are trying to do is get defenses mis-aligned and get leverage. They will also use some tempo.”

Junior Caden Williams (5-foot-11, 200 lbs.) is the featured back closing in on 1,000 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving. Sophomore tight end Emaree Winston (6-3, 230) is a big target when quarterback Trey Townsend does pass the ball (1,890 total). Senior Brody Balliew (6-5, 275) anchors the offenive line.

“Williams didn’t play last week against Kell so I don’t know what his status is,” stated Strickland. “I can tell you he is electric. He had a good game against us last year. He doesn’t go down on first contact so we have to have multiple hats around him. He’s the total package and the focal point of their offensive game plan. The tougher the situation the tougher he runs.

“The tight end is one of the best in the country and will also play on the defensive line. They (coaches) will also use him in the wildcat formation.”

The Yellow Jackets scheme out of a 3-3 stack look in front of a Cover 3 in the secondary.

“They do a good job with their movement up front and disguising blitzes,” said Strickland. “They run to the ball and create turnovers with fumbles to steal possessions. They have some length in the secondary.

“We’ve got to be accurate throwing the ball which we weren’t last week. Our receivers have to run great routes and catch the ball. We’ve just go to be efficient in what we do and take what the defense gives us.”

Strickland added Calhoun has great special teams play.

“This is going to be a three-phase game,” he said. “It’s about be efficient offensively, and solid defensively and in special teams. We’ve got to protect the ball.”

Ware County suffered four turnovers in the win against Chamblee while forcing one. The Gators excelled defensively allowing just 10 yards rushing on 30 attempts. William Bates had a field goal and three extra points and Alex Justice provided another big punt return following a 91-yard touchdown in the first round.

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