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Bulldoggs take on War Eagles to show readiness

POSTED: August 13, 2014 12:00 p.m.

The Winder-Barrow Bulldoggs have spent plenty of time practicing against each other and working on schemes and strategies, but now they get to put all of that preparation to work in their first game-speed event of the 2014-15 scholastic calendar.

"I think probably the biggest thing will be how we respond to their style of offense," Winder-Barrow head varsity football coach Heath Webb predicted for Friday’s scrimmage. "Also how fast our offense operates in a game with officials. Those are the two key things I’ve highlighted for us."

Winder’s Doggs will travel to Cumming for a Friday night scrimmage against the South Forsyth War Eagles, a team that finished one game out of the playoffs last season in a talented Region 6-AAAAAA. The 2013 War Eagles beat playoff-bound Lambert 21-14, the second team out of the region, but lost a de facto play-in game with North Forsyth 17-12.

Coach Jeff Arnette enters his fifth season with South Forsyth where he replaced Wendell Early, the new head coach at Heritage High School.

Friday’s meeting will be the first and last tune-up for both teams before they break off to a rowdy regular season. Winder-Barrow got to enjoy a spring scrimmage with the offensive units matching up against the defensive units, but Friday’s live game will be something else entirely.

"I think it’s important for us just because we have new schemes. Putting in new schemes in the full-speed action for four quarters is important just for the sake of understanding what it’s like to be in shape for a game and to understand how we operate during a ball game," Webb explained.

This year’s batch of War Eagles are led by senior quarterback Matt White and senior running back Tyler LaFlamme. LaFlamme was second for South Forsyth last season in yards, yards per carry and attempts, but he led the way in the ever-crucial area of touchdowns scored.

LaFlamme earned 766 yards on 147 attempts to stay runner-up to senior Isaiah Williams. When it counted, though, LaFlamme bested his senior’s eight scores with 13 of his own.

The senior will be supported by Grant Umberger who led on yards per carry last season despite a slimmer number of looks. Umberger’s 7.5 yards per carry came on 71 plays for 530 yards and five scores.

"It’s going to be pretty easy. We know where the ball is going, so there are no secrets there. We know that their offense runs through those guys and we know that for us to be successful we’ve got to be successful on first down stopping those guys...which is a great challenge for us because we want to see that great level of competition and we want to be able to play against it," Webb noted.

While the War Eagles generally prefer to do their work on the ground, having an experienced and accomplished senior quarterback like White could influence the play calling at times. White connected with his receivers on nearly half his throws with 81 completions on 166 attempts last season.

At the helm of South Forsyth’s offense, White threw for 1,210 yards going 8-for-7 on scores to interceptions. While that is just eight touchdowns, that is also just seven interceptions on 166 passes.

"He’s steady. He doesn’t make mistakes," Webb praised. "He’s a really good game manager. While they don’t put the offense on his shoulders...he does a great job of making sure the ball gets to the right place."

White will be short his favorite receiver this season, though, with Sam Walker and his 408 yards and three scores out of the equation. Walker’s absence could just pave the way, though, for tight end Cameron Kline and receiver Drew Witalis as they both had more than 250 yards last year. Kline, a junior, recorded 17 receptions with 265 yards last year, averaging 15.6 yards per catch. Walker had just 12.8 yards per catch.

White’s biggest concern, though, should be the relative youth of his offensive line. The War Eagles have seven seniors returning who are listed as offensive or defensive line players, but those seven are just a few out of the 29 who could be fighting in the trenches at any given time.

"Our defensive line is the key because, whether they’re running the ball or throwing the ball, our defensive line has to be able to make plays," Webb pointed out.

"I think our defensive line play is going to be a huge part of our success."

The senior quarterback lost 79 yards on the ground last season. While the line may not be South Forsyth’s weakest point, it should be exploitable for Winder’s eager defense.

As for what fans can expect from Winder-Barrow, well, last season’s numbers show little. For starters, not many are left. The starting quarterback, lead running back, lead receiver and several star defensive players have all gone their separate ways after graduation.

At the same time, Coach Webb’s arrival to Winder-Barrow has left the identity of this team looking very different from the 2013 edition. Although that newness could be seen as a problem, it also gives Winder-Barrow’s football program some relative anonymity when it comes to their opponents having to prepare for a largely new team.

"I think that’ll be an advantage for us early on," Webb acknowledged. "There are a handful of guys that got a pretty good bit of playing experience last year. They may be in some new roles now, but they have a good bit of playing experience."

One of the main changes for Webb’s program is that very few players expect to play both offense and defense. That change in philosophy opens up a lot of opportunities to get fresh faces on the field, too.

The main opening, however, has to be offensive line. According to Webb, the entire offensive line will be starting from scratch.

"We have a brand new offensive line all the way across the board, so that’s something to keep an eye on," Webb mentioned.

In addition to the offensive line, Webb pointed out two key areas, linebacker and quarterback, where some questions still need to be answered.

"We’re still going through a quarterback battle," Webb said, indicating Ryan Evans and Noah Chapman.

Chapman had one start at quarterback last season when he played the first two quarters.

"Both of those guys have had moments where they’ve been good."

On the defensive side, the linebackers are yet to play together as a unit, so Friday’s scrimmage should be key for them to get some time together.

"We feel pretty good about it. We think there are some guys there who can make some plays for us," Webb acknowledged.

The main linebacker group is made up of Santiago Carter, Jacob Lyle and Nathan Millwood, the only sophomore on the team who currently has a starting role.

Winder will return from South Forsyth to prepare for their season opener, a home contest against Jefferson two weeks later on Aug. 29.

 

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