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Chee poised for Woodland

POSTED: August 27, 2014 3:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Apalachee's Dalton Bales (#9) ran for 101 yards against Monroe Area in the Aug. 15 scrimmage win and will be crucial all season.

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The Apalachee Wildcats took advantage of dual scrimmages this preseason, and Friday night will show how much that work paid off as they travel to Stockbridge for their season opener against the Woodland Wolfpack this Friday night.

The Wolfpack (1-0, 0-0 Region 4-AAAAA) is a relatively new team, having just started varsity football back in 2007. They have been around half as long as Apalachee and have been not even half as successful with only 24 wins in school history against 46 losses.

Oddly enough, their best season was 2009 when they made the playoffs in Class-AAA for the first and last time with a 7-3 regular season record.

Woodland got an early start on the 2014 season with a 28-14 win against North Springs Friday night, so they come into their home opener against Apalachee with a perfect record.

The Wildcats, on the other hand, will look for their first chance to prove that 2014 will not be the same as last year in a pivotal early season test. The Wolfpack have struggled annually since 2009’s success with only two or three wins per season, but this season brings with it what could be a significant change.

Woodland released founding coach Scott Schmitt after last season’s 2-8 finish and announced former Savannah State University head football coach Steve Davenport as the new alpha for the Wolfpack.

Davenport, a former standout receiver and three-year starter at Georgia Tech, has bounced around the Georgia coaching circuit for several years. He took his first head coaching position at Redan in 1998 after serving as offensive coordinator to the 1995 state championship Southwest Dekalb Panthers, his alma mater.

After four seasons at Redan, Davenport eventually made the jump to Decatur in 2003 where he led the Bulldogs to a 13-1 record and an appearance in the state semifinals where they lost 42-13 to perennial state power and eventual champion Buford.

Davenport would leave Decatur after just two seasons for an opportunity serve as the offensive coordinator for Rockdale County High School in 2005, leading a team that had gone 1-9 the year before to a 7-5 record, a first round win in the state playoffs and a team that frequently scored more than 25 points.

The 2004 Rockdale Bulldogs scored just 111 points in ten games. Under Davenport’s offense in 2005, they boosted that total to 206 points. They had reached the previous season’s point total by the fifth game.

In his collegiate coaching career, Davenport was the running backs coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham before spending two unsuccessful seasons at Savannah State.

With Davenport’s understanding of and emphasis on offense, the 2014 Woodland Wolfpack will likely do better than their average of 16.6 points per game last season, but the offense was not their worst problem.

In 2013, Woodland gave up an average of 33.7 points per game, more than double the amount they were scoring. If Davenport’s squad is unable to stop the bleeding, a marginally improved offense will only serve to pad the still ugly score.

Then again, Davenport found a win at Woodland in his first regular season game as head coach, even if it was against a similarly struggling North Springs (0-1, 0-0 Region 7-AAAAA) team. The North Springs Spartans have won just twice since 2009, building a 34-game losing streak that lasted from Oct. 2009 until a 1-point win over Hapeville Charter last August.

At the same time, the win in 2009 was only by virtue of a forfeit. They actually lost the game 39-6, although they were forced to vacate a season opening 28-0 victory to Cross Keys, making the actual length of that losing streak 40 games.

In other words, the Woodland win says little about the quality of the team Apalachee will be visiting on Friday. Even if Woodland is greatly improved from last season, the Apalachee Wildcat football team seems to be greatly improved as well.

After going 1-0-1 in the preseason, with taking a 7-7 tie at Morgan County on Aug. 8 and a 17-10 win over Monroe Area High School on Aug. 15, Apalachee showed that they want to win and they believe that they can.

Despite Apalachee’s youth, as head football coach Shane Davis admits that his team is made up largely of young men who have never seen the field during a Friday night game, the Wildcats showed some promising maturity and ability in the scrimmage against Monroe.

After all, the Purple Hurricanes have shown a penchant for offensive explosiveness for the last several years and Apalachee’s defense only allowed one touchdown and 183 yards of offense.

On the other side of the ball, Apalachee’s offense displayed a more confident approach against Monroe’s defense than in any game last season. Dalton Bales, who ran for 101 yards against Monroe, helped the Wildcats move down the field with authority on a number of drives. In 19 carries, Bales gave Apalachee six first downs on the ground.

With that kind of reliability from a late downs running back, Apalachee has the ability to open up the passing game a little more frequently. Although quarterbacks Alantae Billings and Bryan Wilson only aggregated 89 yards passing against Monroe, they did so with exactly three receivers.

Kent Knowles, the lead receiver in the scrimmage victory, amassed 62 yards on five catches. His first four receptions were all for more than nine yards, once again giving Apalachee confidence that they can move the ball when they need to.

One advantage Billings brings to the table, too, is his own ability to move the ball. Against Monroe, he racked up 45 yards on the ground. Some of those runs were from quarterback while some were with Wilson behind center, showing off the unique flexibility that Apalachee’s quarterback battle gives them on offense.

 

Apalachee does have to deal with the fact that they will not play a true home game until Sep. 19, when they welcome season juggernaut Gainesville to town, but if the Wildcats can get at least one or two wins on this three-game road trip, which includes the rivalry game at Winder-Barrow and region contest at Salem, then they will be set up to make 2013’s winless woes but a distant and unpleasant memory.

 

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