TIFTON — Tift County will jump back on the horse tonight, ready to secure its first football win of the season.
The Blue Devils, smarting from a 37-0 loss to Valdosta last week, will line up against a 1-1 Worth County Rams team at Brodie Field at 7:30 p.m. Worth is coming off a 37-7 win over Dooly County at Bobcat Grove.
In beating Dooly, Worth has already matched its win total from a year ago. The last few seasons have not been kind to the Rams. When Tift played them last year, they were riding a 13-game winless streak, one that rose to 15 games before defeating Rutland. Last week’s victory snapped a six-game losing string.
“You can’t take any opponent lightly,” said Anders. “We have to execute.”
Anders had many good things to say about the Rams’ head coach, Frankie Carroll. A veteran of the sport in Florida and Georgia, Carroll helped rebuild Pelham’s program. Worth hired him as athletic director in 2015. Three years later, Carroll became head coach.
Carroll was tasked with a team that finished 0-10 in 2017. Slowly, but surely they’re coming along. Anders credits that to Worth players “buying in” to Carroll’s guidance.
The Blue Devils will see an attack that has, so far, been exceedingly ground-based. Carroll joked at July’s Kick-Off to Men’s Health that Sylvesterians were “ready to see the ball in the air, but that’s not going to happen.” He might not have been joking.
Only two players are credited with receptions on Worth’s MaxPreps statistics page. In contrast, nine players are listed as running the ball a combined 96 times. They have been successful in this aspect and are currently galloping along at 5.2 yards per carry.
Anders said they had a few explosive players. Among those who might qualify on offense are Joseph Jones, whose four touchdowns are half the squad’s total. Shaun Harrell is gaining 8.2 yards per attempt and has scored twice.
Worth defenders are credited on MaxPreps with four interceptions against Dooly.
While Worth was joyous with Friday’s result, the Blue Devils are looking for a fresh start.
Valdosta held a 10-0 lead at halftime, but four quick-as-lightning touchdown passes from Tate Rodemaker turned that into 37 points. Tift was shut out for the first time in seven years.
“The first half, defensively, we were lights out,” said Anders.
Wendell McClain recorded a second quarter interception and Blue Devils defenders had dropped Rodemaker twice in the backfield. For nearly all those first half minutes, the Wildcats held a mere 3-0 lead. Rodemaker threw for a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the second.
Then, said Anders, “The wheels fell off.”
Rodemaker and the Wildcats came out on fire, taking advantage of shortened fields to put the game out of reach. Anders has talked with his team, “I told the kids, ‘That’s not us, that’s not our identity.’”
Fortunately, for the Blue Devils, neither 2019 loss has been a region contest. Playing both teams can turn out to be a big boost for the postseason. Warner Robins and Valdosta are both 2-0 and might very well be contenders for the state championship in their respective classifications. Their strength can held Tift’s strength of schedule, which might come in handy if the Devils have to rely on the power ratings for the last state tournament spot.