High School Sports

High school football playoffs: Wilcox County a difficult test for Marion County

When Marion County and Wilcox County meet on Friday, it will be the first time in the schools’ histories.

Despite the lack of on-field experience, Marion County coach Mike Swaney said he was familiar with the Patriots’ reputation.

Wilcox County has won 11 or more games in every season since 2007. It won a state championship in 2009 before “slumping” to 11 wins in each of its past two seasons.

Swaney said he knows how good the team is, and expects it to be well-prepared and play as hard as it has all season.

The Patriots lost two of their first four games this season, 28-14 to Monroe-Albany and 32-26 to Charlton County, the latter of which Marion County beat 31-12 in the first round of the playoffs last Friday.

But you can throw what I like to call the Transitive Property of Equality out the window. Just because Marion County beat Charlton County and Charlton County beat Wilcox County doesn’t mean Marion has a distinct advantage going into this game.

There are a handful of things that make Wilcox County so dangerous. It starts on offense with quarterback Makail Grace.

Grace is a dual-threat under center. This season he has completed 61 percent of his passes for 2,702 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. With his legs, he has led the team in rushing with 736 yards and nine touchdowns.

The threat of Grace’s mobility is what concerns Swaney most about the Wilcox County offense.

And it should.

A mobile quarterback makes opposing defenses account for an extra man on the field, taking away a player that could stay back in coverage. As Swaney said, you can either try to pressure the quarterback, or you can concentrate on coverage. You can’t do both.

The next threat, and it may be equal to that of Grace, is the size and receiving ability of wide receiver Jonathan Howard.

This season, Howard has caught 86 passes for 1,280 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is a 6-foot-5 pass-catcher with speed, making it especially dangerous to leave him in single coverage. With Grace’s running ability however, that’s sure to happen at times.

Lastly, Maurice Edwards is also capable of running the ball. He has 115 carries for 585 yards (5.1 per carry) this season as well as 30 receptions for 383 yards. He’s also scored five times on the ground and twice through the air.

It’s a balanced offense with a number of threats that Wilcox County presents. Certainly, it will be a challenge for Marion County, which is in the quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

If it is to move on to its first semifinals round, Marion County must find a way to minimize the damage of the Wilcox offense. The easiest way to do that is to keep the Patriots defense on the field.

The Eagles have a talented and balanced offense of their own. If they can manage to sustain drives and keep the Wilcox County defense on the field for long periods of time, they will give them a great chance at a victory.

Come back Thursday and Friday for blogs on Harris County and Carver opponents, Gainesville High and Buford High. There will also be blogs previewing action around the state.

Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.