Tigers set for state opener
By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
The Troup Tigers are heading to apple-picking country in search of a playoff win.
Troup (6-4), after finishing third in Region 5-AAAA, will take on Gilmer County (8-2), the second-place team from Region 7-AAAA, in a first-round game Friday night in Ellijay.
While Troup is in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 when it lost in the second round to Sandy Creek, Gilmer County is back in the playoffs after a second straight 8-2 regular season.
A year ago, Gilmer County was routed by Marist 56-0 in the first round, but Troup head coach Lynn Kendall said the Bobcats are an extremely capable opponent.
“Their guys are well-coached. They’ll be in the right position, where they’re supposed to be,” Kendall said. “They execute well. They’re not in the playoffs by chance. Everybody that goes to the playoffs, it’s earned. That’s the focus we have. Nothing is given. We have to earn everything. Here we are. We’ve earned the right to be here, and now we have to do something with it.”
Gilmer County has lost two games this season, both to the Dalton Catamounts.
In the first meeting, Dalton blanked Gilmer County 31-0.
The two teams met again last week in the region-championship game, and it was much more competitive, with Dalton hanging on for a 24-10 victory.
Gilmer County earned its spot in the region-title game with a dramatic 38-35 victory over Cedartown on Nov. 8.
Gilmer County tied the score with just 38 seconds remaining.
Whether than sit on the ball and play for overtime, Cedartown tried to pass the ball, and Gilmer County’s Johnie Flakes came up with the interception.
Manny Lopez then made a 36-yard field goal to win it.
That was Cedartown’s only loss of the season.
Wes Tankersley, in his sixth season as Gilmer County’s head coach, called the Cedartown win his biggest during his tenure at the school.
“This has got to be No. 1. Just because of the hype of the game, them being ranked seventh and 8-0,” Tankersley told the newspaper in Ellijay. “The Dalton win a couple years ago and the Northwest win last year are right up there, but this one is huge because we won the subregion and secured a home playoff game.”
Gilmer County is primarily a running team, and Flakes and Tyler Bertolini lead the way with nearly 2,000 combined yards.
Defensively, the Bobcats have been stingy this season, giving up just 13 points per game, although they have surrendered a combined 59 points the past two weeks against Gilmer County and Dalton.
Troup, which missed the playoffs after going 3-7 last season, carries a four-game winning streak into Friday’s game.
“You have a lot of goals, and this is one of our goals to get to the playoffs,” Kendall said. “And now our goal is to continue into the playoffs. I keep saying it over and over, it’s one game at a time. People talk about, who will you play. We’re playing Gilmer. We can’t worry about who we play next.”
Troup is a well-rounded team.
The offense is averaging 27 points per game, with the running-back tandem of Daryl Dunlap and Dre Towns combining for 2,000 rushing yards and more than 20 touchdowns.
Troup’s defense has been stingy, giving up 17 points a game, which is impressive considering the caliber of offenses the team has faced this year.
Defensive lineman Dikembe Billingslea is leading the Tigers in tackles with 65, and he has 26 quarterback hurries.
Linebacker Travaski Callaway has 64 tackles, and Dunlap, also a linebacker, has 57 tackles.
Linebacker Devonte Swanson has 46 tackles with six sacks, and defensive lineman Devonte Cofield has 42 tackles and seven sacks.
“One thing you see when you’re playing better team defense, you have a lot of dispersion in tackles, it shows that we have a lot of people affecting the play and producing,” Kendall said. “I’m real happy when you see that and you see a lot of tackle dispersion. You’re getting a lot of production from a lot of different people. We’re real proud of those guys.”
Kendall said the team will get to Ellijay Friday in plenty of time to allow the players to get to know the field, and be ready to go strong when 7:30 p.m. rolls around.
“Going into the Gilmer game, we need to get up there, get stretched out, get acclimated to the situation,” Kendall said. “And go through all the things we do. All that will take care of itself.”
And when the game kicks off, Kendall said it’ll be business as usual.
“When the lights come on, it doesn’t matter where you’re at,” Kendall said. “It’s a football field. It’s exactly the same size.”
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