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October 31, 2012

Irwin tries to defend home turf

TIFTON — The Irwin County Indians are perhaps the hottest team in Region 2-A. They are currently 6-2, riding a five-game winning streak, are undefeated in Region 2-A, No. 8 in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution rankings and No. 4 in this week’s power rankings. But even though they are top, they have an arduous task ahead of them - beating a healthy team of Wilcox County Patriots.

“They’re at a different level than everyone else,” said head coach Jon Lindsey. “They’re on the high side now.”

While Lindsey agrees that this week’s game is a big one for his team, he added, “they’re all big for us.”

Even if Irwin, playing their ninth game of the season, wins Friday, they still will have to win one more game to go to bring home the region title. That will also be a tall task, as their final regular season opponent is Charlton County, in Folkston, with Irwin not having won a game against them since 1989.

The Indians nearly lost their winning streak last week. The Turner County Rebels jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Irwin would tie, then take the lead to start the fourth quarter, but surrendered two quick touchdowns to lose it again before Clay Paulk found Ryan Peterson for a 28-yard score with only 1:09 remaining to give them the 27-26 win.

Turner was not the first big second half comeback for the Indians. They were down 27-6 at halftime against Wilkinson County before outscoring them 35-7 the rest of the way.

“We seem to win the second half,” he said.

The Indians this week encounter a Wilcox team that has a four-game win streak in 2012 and a five-game winning streak against them. The last time Irwin saw the final score in their favor was in 2006.

It is the athleticism of the Patriots that scares Lindsey the most.

“They’re so much more athletically superior,” he said.

After seeing Camden County quarterback Brice Ramsey at a camp and Makail Grace, Lindsey believes Grace is every bit as good. Ramsey is bound for the University of Georgia, having been given a scholarship as a junior, before he had even started a game.

Grace put up scholarship-worthy stats last week against Class AAA Swainsboro. His arm was responsible for five scores as completed 26 of 32 passes for 333 yards and his feet picked up the first score of the night when he dashed 26 yards on a scramble.

The abilities of the Wilcox quarterback is not the only scary part of the offense for Lindsey.

“Our (defensive) guys are 5-9, 5-10. Their [receivers] are 6-3. It’s not a good matchup.”

Three of Grace’s scoring strikes last week were caught by Jonathan Howard, who finished with 193 receiving yards.

With the division of Class A into private and public school divisions, the GHSA and MaxPreps have set up power rankings to determine the teams in the state playoffs. The eight region champions automatically qualify, with teams from all over the state battling for the other eight slots.

“It’s a whole ‘nother scary issue,” said Lindsey.

In years past, the Indians just had to concentrate on winning games. Now, there is also an emphasis on how they win and who they play. Playing higher classifications results in more points, regardless of game outcome. Despite currently being on top of Region 2-A, Irwin trails Wilcox in the power rankings. The Indians are fourth, the Patriots second.

He is not complaining about the complexities, though. As he admits, “it beats having to play the private schools.”

He says Irwin has developed their own plan for dealing with the rankings.

“Win every game and that takes care of that.”

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