After getting a chance to watch some film on Fulton’s football team, Sullivan South head coach Sam Haynie didn’t pull any punches when he summed up the challenge awaiting his team tonight.
“Athletically, they’re every bit as good of a high school football team as we’ve seen in a long time,” Haynie said of the Falcons, who will host South tonight in the second round of the TSSAA 4A playoffs. “They’re the No. 1 ranked team and the defending state champs for a reason. They’re the complete package.”
There are plenty of numbers to back Haynie’s claim.
The Falcons have outscored their opponents 686-57 this season. Running back Daryl Rollins-Davis has carried the ball 127 times for 1,917 yards, an average of 15.1 yards per carry, with 37 touchdowns.
Receiver Xavier Hawkins, who has a scholarship offer from Oregon State, has 30 catches for 883 yards, an average of 27.7 yards per catch with 15 touchdowns. He has also run the ball 15 times for 444 yards, an average of 29.6 yards per carry, with six TDs.
Quarterback Penny Smith has completed 61 of 87 pass attempts for 1,460 yards with 23 touchdowns. He’s only thrown four interceptions and has also carried the ball 40 times for 344 yards and four TDs.
Hawkins, Rollins-Davis and lineman Akeem Cooperwood have all been nominated for the Class AA Mr. Football award.
The obvious challenge for a South team looking to avoid becoming the next team to be mercy-ruled by the Falcons is to keep from giving up big plays, especially early in the game. Fulton has outscored opponents 220-7 in the first quarter this season.
“In most games, if you make a mistake, it’s a big play,” Haynie said. “You get the guy on the ground and get a chance to regroup. Against them, a mistake is a touchdown.”
It will be up to South’s talented linebackers and seasoned defensive backfield to be in the right place at the right time.
Linebacker Kyle Bond has been the main playmaker on South’s defense this season, leading the Three Rivers Conference in tackles. The defensive backs, anchored by Josh Booker and Blake Christian, will need to keep their poise in order to slow the passing attack down.
But when you get right down to it, South’s offense might be the Rebels’ best defense.
With highly efficient quarterback Dylan Wieger at the controls, South will need to avoid turnovers and grind out long drives in order to win the time of possession battle and keep Fulton’s prolific offense sipping Gatorade in the sidelines.
“That’s the game plan, ball control,” Haynie said. “We’ve got to be able to catch balls when we throw them and convert first downs, chew up some clock and keep their offense off the field.
“But we still, even with that, have got to be able to execute and move the ball.”
Moving the ball will be easier said than done. Along with having to top scoring offense in the state (62.4 ppg), the Falcons also boast the second best scoring defense (5.2 ppg).
Among the keys offensively will be finding a way to run the ball to keep Fulton’s defense honest.
Christian has shown flashes of brilliance at the running back position, especially in recent weeks. His ability to run the ball will help open up the passing game, which has flourished thanks to Wieger’s amazing chemistry with receivers like Evan Headrick, Christian Comsa and Booker.
While the Rebels face a tall task tonight, Haynie said his players are heading to Knoxville with the intention of winning another football game. The key to doing that, Haynie says, is taking a step-by-step approach to the steep climb that awaits.
“We’re preaching effort and taking it play by play, series by series and quarter by quarter,” he said. “Hopefully, if you get a break or two, you’re in the football game in the second half. But most of their damage has been done early in the first half.
“If we could get there and play solid football, we’ll see what happens.”