TIFTON — Phase No. 2 of the 2020 high school football season begins tonight and, with it, the Tift County Blue Devils will travel in hopes for an upset.
Tift will play at Grayson tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the first round of the GHSA Class 7A state tournament.
Grayson is the Blue Devils' first venture into state since making the quarterfinals in 2018. That year, they went in as the No. 4 seed and demolished Roswell in the first round.
This will be the first ever meeting between the two schools, but Blue Devils fans will recognize one athlete on the Grayson roster: quarterback Jake Garcia.
Only a couple of months ago, Garcia was a member of the Valdosta High football team and slated to play against Tift. That game was canceled because Tift had to quarantine. Soon after, Garcia was found ineligible to play for Valdosta and he transferred to Grayson. In three games, Garcia has thrown for 514 yards and five touchdowns. Unlike other quarterbacks Tift has seen this year, Garcia rarely runs.
Garcia is considered one of the top players in the state. He's far from being the only one on the Grayson roster. Five seniors are among the top 50 in the state, according to the 247 recruiting website. While Garcia does not run, Phil Mafah does. The Clemson commit had 1,080 this season, along with 18 touchdowns. The squad averages seven yards per carry.
Grayson is ranked No. 1 by most polls in Georgia. In nine games, six of Tift's opponents have been ranked No. 1 in various classifications at some point in 2020. In addition, MaxPreps considers the Rams the fourth best team in America.
Tift enters with a bit more rest after their regular season finale against Salem was canceled by Salem because of COVID-19.
Chrishon Stephens is the leading rusher for the Devils. He had 322 yards going into the Colquitt County game. Tyler Parker leads with 10 touchdowns, six rushing and four receiving.
On the defensive side of the ball, Tift had 62 tackles for losses in seven games. Sixteen of those belong to Daniel Whitehead and 10 to Bubba Ellis, who has the team lead in tackles at 68. Tyre West has eight sacks.
Tonight's winner will take on either Harrison or Newnan in the second round.