No. 1-state ranked Griffin High hosts Region 2-AAAA runner-up Ware County tonight in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
Steve DeVoursney-coached Griffin (11-0) is looking to reach the 12-win plateau for only the third time in school’s 99-year history — joining the 1978, 1980 and 1984 teams — and advance to the state quarterfinals for the sixth time in the last eight seasons.
Ed Dudley-coached Ware County (6-5), meanwhile, is looking to advance to the quarterfinals for the third time in the last six years.
“They are the best defense we’ve seen this year,” ninth-year Griffin head coach Steve DeVoursney said of the Gators.
They come into the contest allowing an average of 8.25 points per game against same or lower classification teams. Griffin, also known for its defense, is allowing 5 ppg.
The similarities, however, may end there. While the Gators average scoring 14.25 ppg against similar or lower classification teams, Griffin is averaging 37 ppg.
“They’ll run the spread offense, I-Formation and empty backfield — they do it all,” DeVoursney said of Ware’s offense.
Regardless of what formation the Gators line up in, Griffin’s defense will have its hands full.
“They’re big up front,” said DeVoursney, who estimates his defensive line may be outweighed by close to 40 pounds a man.
DeVoursney said the Gators run 70 percent of the time and pass 30.
“They have two good running backs and they use two quarterbacks — one, No. 14 (Bryant Hayman), who will throw it and the other, No. 10, (Jimmy Wilkins) who can throw it some but will mostly run,” he said
GHS defensive coordinator Rusty Easom said stopping Wilkins from running is the key to stopping the Gators offense.
Griffin’s defense is loaded with three players — end Xzavier Dickson and linebackers Cartavious Woods and Alan Frazier — who have 10 tackles for a loss each this season and a fourth, tackle Kent Yarbrough, who has 7 TFLs.
Ware County’s defense, however, remains Griffin’s largest concern.
“On defense, they’ll run 3 and 4-man fronts, 4-4 and 4-2 — they’re multiple in everything,” added DeVoursney.
He said their nose guard was their best player on defense, though all of their linebackers are skilled and they have an end who played on their 2007 state runner-up team as did the nose guard.
Trying to crack Ware County’s defense is a Griffin wing/spread hybrid offense led by quarterback Marcus Waller (1,190 yards and 13 TDs passing and 559 yards and 6 TDs rushing) and running back Buck Hancock (715 yards and 15 TDs).
Griffin, however, has also made judicious use of its passing game this season, turning frequently to wideouts Nile Daniel (25-320, 5 TDs), Denarius Appling (17-483 and 5 TDs) as well as wingback D.J. Morgan (329 yards and 4 TDs rushing and 262 yards and 2 TDs receiving) and tight ends Ty Turner (7-155 and 1 TD) and Dickson (4-94 and 2 TDs) to help spread out the field.
Both coaching staffs have comparable experience.
Dudley, in his first season at Ware County, has amassed a 139-64 record in 18 seasons, which includes stops at Buford (1992-1994) and Walton (1995-2008). He guided Walton to the state semifinals in 2004 and 2007.
Current Griffin offensive coordinator Will Orbin coached under Dudley’s assistant head coach, Shawn Campbell, last season at Campbell High School. Orbin was Campbell’s assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.
DeVoursney, meanwhile, who made Orbin the first coach he hired when he became the Bears head coach, has guided the Bears to a 83-27 record during his tenure. The Bears have reached the state quarterfinals in 2002 and 2004 and state semifinals in 2005 and 2008.
Tonight’s game marks the ninth state playoff game for Griffin’s seniors and the 10th such game for Ware’s seniors.