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Rivals open region Friday night

Let the Battle begin

POSTED: September 3, 2014 10:00 a.m.

Now that the appetizers from Week One are out of the way, Apalachee and Winder-Barrow High School can focus on the main course: a region, rivalry match-up that could define the season just one game in.

Despite what fan bases will tell you, the two Barrow County programs actually share quite a few similarities to start the 2014 season. Both programs are coming off of disappointing 2013 campaigns. Both schools lost their opener after gaining plenty of preseason offseason momentum. Both teams need a win in Week Two to set the tone for how the rest of this season could go.

“For one, it is a region game and we need to get off on the right foot,” Winder-Barrow football coach Heath Webb said. “There is a big difference between being 1-0 in the region and being 0-1 in the region…so it is important to us.”

Apalachee head football coach Shane Davis, who was not available for comment at press time, has also frequently emphasized how important it is for his team to start the season with a win in the region column.

Another striking similarity between the two programs coming into Friday night’s Battle of Barrow is that neither team has settled the debate about who should take the starting snaps at quarterback. For Apalachee, the question sits between seasoned veteran Bryan Wilson and athletic senior Alantae Billings. 

Wilson had the majority of the snaps Friday at Woodland as he finished with 12 completions on 25 attempts, all totaling up to 129 yards through the air with one touchdown and two interceptions. Billings was 6-for-10 on his passes with just 85 yards and one interception.

What separates the two quarterbacks is more how they operate in the ground game than how they throw the ball around. Billings is more likely to pull the ball down and make defenses pay that way than Wilson, although he has been known to make a few impressive runs when he has needed to.

The Bulldoggs are yet to settle on whether Ryan Evans or Noah Chapman should be the starting guy, a problem made more difficult to solve based on the fact that neither was able to effectively pass against a state-caliber Jefferson defense last Friday. 

Evans had the most completions as he was 10-for-16 through the air and Chapman was just 7-for-13, but Evans’ passes amassed 43 yards with a long of 15 and Chapman’s tosses garnered 90 yards with a long of 43. Neither quarterback had any scores or interceptions Friday night.

In fact, the only passer to find the end zone for Winder-Barrow was Brandon Hayes on a trick wide receiver pass in the third quarter. 

The most worrying similarity for both coaches must be how many points the two teams gave up Friday night in their respective losses.

Woodland, a team that has traditionally struggled in Class AAAAA, was able to score 48 points on Apalachee. The Bulldoggs gave up 41 points to Class AAA state semifinalist Jefferson. 

In addition to those 41 points, the Jefferson Dragons earned 543 total yards and 31 first downs against Winder-Barrow’s defense.

“We’ve got to get off the field on third down,” Webb noted. “We had numerous opportunities where we held them to third down, some third-and-long, and we just couldn’t get off the field.”

Jefferson was 8-of-10 on third down against Winder-Barrow Friday night. 

Both Winder-Barrow and Apalachee did well in the turnover battle, though, as the Doggs recovered two Jefferson fumbles while the Cats had three interceptions and one fumble recovery against Woodland.

As similar as the two local schools are, they also bring quite a few differences to the table. For starters, Davis is starting his tenth season with the Wildcats and has been the Apalachee head coach in all but one of the contests against Winder-Barrow. On the other side of the field, Winder-Barrow brings first-year head coach Heath Webb into his first ever meeting against the Wildcats of Apalachee.

Accordingly, Davis’ 6-3 record against Winder-Barrow is far more telling than Webb’s 0-0 record against Apalachee.

At the same time, Webb’s Bulldoggs bring a certain depth to the field as Winder-Barrow is the single largest school in Class-AAAAA. It shows, too, as the Doggs have a much larger roster than the Cats and have the opportunity to play football with a slightly different mindset from Apalachee.

“If a kid plays one position all day, every day...he can become a master at that skill,” Webb explained. “The other part of that, especially early in the season, is the number of reps. It gives us an opportunity to be fresher late in the ball game because we’re not asking kids to play both ways.”

Webb has been adamant that his players should focus on one position and one major responsibility from the start. Davis and the Wildcats, on the other hand, continue the tradition of Iron Man football with multiple two-way starters.

Part of Apalachee’s reason for doing so is purportedly to get the best athletes on the field for the most time, but they also feature a smaller roster than some schools. Winder-Barrow, for instance, features 77 athletes on their varsity roster. The Wildcats have just 61. While that is a small difference, it allows Winder-Barrow a little more depth to focus on having players commit to one position.

While the quarterback position for both schools is still up in the air and could be for much of the season, the running back position is another story. 

At Apalachee, a committee six of backs moved the ball 284 yards in 64 carries Friday night. Two of those carriers spent time at quarterback Friday night in Billings and Wilson. Another, Ricky Wozon, will be out for much of the season due to injury.

One of the remaining three ball carriers is Dalton Bales, a young man who will continue to lead the Cats on offense down the stretch. Bales churned out 169 yards rushing on an enormous 36 carries with one touchdown. 

While those familiar with Barrow County football expected Bales to lead the Apalachee ground game, most people expected another name to grab most of the attention when it came to prominent rushers.

Winder-Barrow’s CeCe Green has been named the lead running back for Winder-Barrow all the way, and most people expected great things from him this season after his exploits as a back-up in 2013.

In his first and only start thus far, however, Green was stymied by Jefferson to the tune of just 3 yards on eight carries. 

Webb’s offense attempted just 14 rushes to 31 pass attempts Friday night and overall is more pass-heavy than the Bulldoggs of old, which will adversely affect Green’s production, but single-digit yardage is still surprising given Green’s speed. 

According to the head coach, though, Green’s performance against Jefferson should be seen as an outlier.

When asked what Winder-Barrow would need to do to get Green more yards on the ground, Webb initially had a simple answer.

“Not play Jefferson anymore,” Webb laughed. “Let’s not sugar coat it. They were really good.

“We’ve obviously got to get stronger up front, and that is a long term answer. That is not going to happen overnight. That is part of program building,” Webb answered more seriously. “As a program, we are not as strong as we need to be, and that’s not something we’re going to fix in a week.”

The workhorse of Winder-Barrow’s offense put up great numbers in the spring and preseason, so it may just be that he’s waiting for his chance to shine against a region rival like Apalachee. After all, Green introduced himself to Apalachee in a powerful way last season by running the game-winning kick return 72 yards. 

The biggest difference between Winder-Barrow and Apalachee, though, when individual performances and coaching records are ignored, has to be that one team is defending the Battle of Barrow trophy and the other wants it back. 

Apalachee holds a 6-4 overall series lead and has won five of the last six meetings between these two teams. Winder-Barrow, of course, won last season’s meeting 27-20 when Green’s return gave Winder the lead back just seconds after Apalachee’s Jody Mathis plunged in from two yards out to seemingly seal it for the Wildcats. 

Apalachee holds the overall lead, but history stands somewhat neutral on the matter. Since 2008, the Battle of Barrow has always been in October or later. The last time it was held before October, though, was Aug. 31, 2007 when Winder-Barrow beat Apalachee in W. Clair Harris Stadium 12-8. 

Then again, Apalachee won it at home the year before 21-7 on Sep. 1, 2006 to capture their first ever win in the series. 

As varied as the two teams are, the Bulldoggs and the Wildcats will look to settle their differences Friday night at W. Clair Harris Stadium in the 11th Annual Battle of Barrow game with a winning streak on the line and an early season region victory in the waiting. 


 

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