Blue Devils battle for state tournament spot

Tift County’s Chrishon Stephens (12) picks up rushing yardage against Colquitt County The Blue Devils will fight Camden County for the third playoff spot out of Region 1 at Brodie Field tonight.

TIFTON — Tift County head football coach Ashley Anders summed up the Blue Devils state playoffs chances this week: “We gotta win to get in the playoffs.”

The Blue Devils host Camden County tonight at 7:30 p.m. The winner will be the third seed from Region 1-AAAAAAA in the upcoming state tournament. The loser? It depends.

Since Region 1 only has four teams, the GHSA decreed that only three of the teams make the state tournament. Every other region gets four representatives. The fourth seed is up for grabs in the power ratings, that being a points system which pits the fourth seed from Region 1 against every other team in the classification that finishes fifth or lower in their regions.

Tift County’s power rating number as of Thursday was 9.94; Camden’s is 13.49. Should Tift win tonight, Camden gets the at-large bid as their number will be better than everyone else’s in that position. That might not be the case for the Blue Devils, who earned the at-large seed in 2018.

Tift’s number could fluctuate, depending on how the Camden game goes. The 9.94 may be something different in the last calculation. As of right now, they would not advance to state. North Paulding’s rating is 10.99. South Gwinnett is at 10.04 and Rockdale County is still in the hunt at 9.88.

The wait may be over tomorrow night. It may not be.

Anders would rather the only numbers game be one that has him ahead of the invading Wildcats at the end of the fourth quarter. The order is a tall one, however. Camden is 7-2, their only losses being to Lowndes and Colquitt County.

Camden’s offense hinges on running back Jamie Felix, a sophomore Anders described as “fast and strong.” Felix’s numbers aren’t the fanciest — 558 rushing yards — but he gains 5.5 yards per try and has scored eight touchdowns. The Wildcats’ offensive line has been so successful that the entire team gets 4.9 yards per carry. Twelve players have been credited with an attempt.

Felix has caught 11 passes out of the backfield for 157 yards. He’s one of several targets for quarterback Logan Watson, who’s thrown for 1,430 yards and 19 scores. Shawn Hardy leads receivers with 532 yards and seven touchdowns. Six players have 10 or more receptions.

Defensively, Anders highlighted nose guard Hunter Guarino. He has four sacks and 12 quarterback hurries for the season.

Both teams come in rested, having had a bye last week. That’s given the Blue Devils time to heal some nagging injuries (“It was well needed,” said Anders), though they still won’t be at full strength tonight. Jake Mullis’ ankle is looking better, but Anders has had to switch the line around a bit during the season, moving Archer Hathaway to guard.

Tift will also have to get the second halves of the last two games out of their mind. They held No. 1 Lowndes to a scoreless tie in the first half. Two weeks ago, Tift and Colquitt were knotted at 7-7 at intermission.

Anders said the tide turned with Colquitt’s touchdown on the first possession of the second half. “We gave up that big play early,” he said. That awakened Colquitt’s scoring machine, turning a close game into one that wasn’t.

“We gotta put it behind us,” he said.

The Devils’ first half touchdown was a short run by Walter Jackson in the second quarter. That capped a 15-play drive that took off nearly 10 minutes of play clock.

Tonight’s game will also be Senior Night at Tift County for not just football players, but also band, JROTC and cheerleaders.

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