Class A playoff preview: Pacelli, Brookstone and Marion County looking to take step forward

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 20, 2013 

Joe Paull The Pacelli defense smothers Brookstone's Jack Raines Friday night at Pacelli.

JOE PAULL — Joe Paull

The Class A football playoffs will feature a couple of playoff mainstays trying to take the next step and a team playing in its first postseason since 2007.

Marion County had one of its most successful regular seasons in 2013, winning nine games and earning the 2-seed in Class A public. Brookstone’s record isn’t as good as in past years, but players and coaches believe they are battletested and ready to make a name for themselves in the playoffs. Pacelli is having its best season in years, but is unsatisfied with the seven wins it earned in the regular season.

Here’s a look at each team’s first-round matchup on Friday.

No. 15 Pacelli at No. 2 Mt. Pisgah Christian (Class A private)

Proud, but not satisfied.

That’s the description Pacelli coach Randy Grace had for the Vikings’ season so far, which has seen it win seven games and make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.It faces Mt. Pisgah Christian in the first round of the playoffs, a team that is undefeated so far in 2013, but Grace said he thinks his team has a shot to have some success.

“We’re in a place where a lot of people didn’t think we could be,” Grace said. “But we want to survive and advance like everyone else.”

Again, the so-called odds have been stacked against Pacelli. Some score predictions have Mt. Pisgah has a 30-point favorite in the first round. Predictions like those make Grace scratch his head. After watching the progress of his team against a tough region schedule and knowing how it matches up against Mt. Pisgah, Grace said he knows his team can do some good things.

“We feel like coming out of our region, we can match up with them,” Grace said. “A lot of people look at us and write that off because of the seeding, but we feel like we’ve played in a little tougher region.”

Grace described Mt. Pisgah’s spread offense, led by a quarterback committed to Tulsa, as a faster-paced, finesse offense that can have plenty of success. He thinks his grind-it-out, physical triple-option can shorten the game and give his team a chance, as well.

He made no promises and knows Mt. Pisgah has the potential to put together a great performance, but said his players, led by quarterback Wyatt Peterson, are excited to have a chance to take another step as a program.

No. 12 Brookstone at No. 5 Prince Avenue Christian (Class A private)

The playoffs are nothing new to Brookstone. This season marks the 10th in a row that the Cougars have played in the postseason.

But that isn’t where the team wants to be. Coach Brad Dehem said that, despite the obvious challenge of facing the defending state runners-up, he wants his team to start chasing some loftier goals.

“I think the playoffs are familiar for us, but we’re trying to create an atmosphere of moving a lot farther than we have,” Dehem said. “Prince (Avenue) played in the Georgia Dome (last year), so they understand what’s out there. We want to have those loftier goals.”

That, obviously, starts on Friday.

It comes against a 9-1 team that has won eight consecutive games. Prince Avenue has allowed 20 or less in every game this season and less than 15 in eight. Offensively, its Wing-T attack has generated 40 or more in eight games and 50 or more in five.

“Anytime you play a team that runs the Wing-T as well as they do, you’re going to have to be disciplined,” Dehem said. “What makes that even tougher is how talented they are. They can make you miss even when you’re in the right spots.”

At 6-4, though, Brookstone is a battletested team. Senior receiver Leye Olubowale said Prince Avenue’s talent just lets Brookstone know how hard it has to work.

“I think it makes us realize we have to step up our level of play, which is never a bad thing,” he said. “Usually, against good teams, you can play at a level you didn’t know you were capable of.”

Dehem said the team knows how important that will be in a game like this.

No. 2 Marion County vs. No. 15 Turner County (Class A public)

The Eagles (9-1) have had a ton of regular-season success over the three years Mike Swaney has been head coach. It went 10-2 in 2010, 11-1 in 2011 and 9-3 last season. It has nine wins thus far in 2013 and is ready to stay more than just a couple rounds in the playoffs. It faces Turner County (4-6) on Friday.

“People don’t realize how hard it is to get to that final game,” Swaney said. “Any number of things can affect it. The bottom line is we still have to play them one at a time. To take the next step, we have to play our best every Friday from now on. We understand that.”

That hasn’t been a problem this season. Marion County has lost just once this year, 14-10 to Hawkinsville. A win likely would have given the Eagles the top seed in Class A public, but the 2-seed doesn’t change much.

“We still have three home games if we can win,” Swaney said.

That, of course, will be a difficult task. With only 16 teams alive, the first-round is equivalent to the second round in higher classifications. Swaney said he knows Turner County will present a lot of problems for his team.

“They’re very athletic,” he said. “They’re eight points away from being 7-3. They played a tough schedule and they’re battletested. They’ve got speed all over the field and good size. Their record is not indicative of what kind of football team they have.”

He’s right. Turner County took Clinch County (No. 3 Class A public) to triple overtime in a 30-28 in its regular season finale.

“When you cut it to 16 teams, there are no easy games,” Swaney said. “We’ve got our hands full.”

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