Devils, Demons fire up season opener

Walter Jackson (1, shown in the 2019 spring game) was one of many Tift County running backs to excel in last week’s scrimmage against Lee County.

TIFTON — August’s heat gets a little hotter tonight. Blue Devils clash with Demons as Tift County faces off in a high school football game with Warner Robins at Brodie Field. Kickoff will be at 7:30 p.m. This will be the regular season opener for both schools.

The good news for the Blue Devils is that Dylan Fromm has graduated. Fromm threw for 441 yards and three touchdowns. The bad news is that his No. 1 receiver, Marcayll Jones, has returned. Jones did not score against Tift last year, but did pull down seven passes for 153 yards. He had a total of 2,046 yards last season and has already committed to play football at Memphis.

Anders did not hesitate in calling Jones “probably one of the best receivers in the state.”

With Fromm graduated and playing at Mercer, Tift County might get some relief from Jones. The Demons’ new quarterback, Jalen Addie, attempted only six passes last year, completing three of them. Anders said he is looking for them to establish the run, especially with Jahlen Rutherford. Rutherford, a junior, was their best in that department last year with 1,074 yards.

Warner Robins rode that powerful offense all the way to the state finals in Class AAAAA in 2018, falling to Bainbridge in overtime. Tift plays both teams this year, part of an extremely loaded schedule. Lee, their scrimmage opponent from last year, won Class AAAAAA for the second straight year. Colquitt County was a finalist in AAAAAAA.

The Blue Devils have had a quarterback battle going on since the spring. Only one man can start in that position and Anders said that Joe Almond will get the nod. Tift used all three of its varsity quarterbacks against Lee — Almond, Weston Clamp and Jacob Beach.

Anders liked what the run game did against Lee County, a defense that allowed an average of 7.5 points per game in 2018. K.D. McCormick was the leading ground-gainer — his big run was a 66-yard touchdown — and Walter Jackson, Chrishon Stephens and Zach Carter all gashed the Lee defensive line for 30 or more yards.

“I was very pleased,” he said.

Jackson is a converted linebacker and Lee was his first real experience against an opponent. McCormick and Carter had never carried in a varsity game. Stephens had a touchdown against Worth County last year, but only 13 attempts for the season.

Defensively, Willie Brown recorded an interception in the scrimmage. The Devils had multiple sacks, with Tyre West and Charles King both dropping Kyle Toole in the backfield.

“The secondary flew around,” said Anders. They held Lee to two touchdowns, none in the second half. Tift was missing linebacker Daniel Whitehead for the contest. His replacement, Bubba Ellis, acquitted himself well in relief.

Late game highlights came from an unlikely source: punting. Sophomore Azaria Smith attempted three punts in the second half. One landed inside the 20. The other two traveled approximately 50 yards each, with one directly leading to a turnover. Special teams also received a boost from Pedro Mendoza, who connected on his only field goal try as well as an extra point.

Possibly the biggest thing, however, was that Tift was able to have the scrimmage. Each team only played a series last year before storms brought it to an early end. Anders felt the lack of a scrimmage hindered them against Warner Robins.

Lee County was one of the hottest games in recent memory, but both teams were able to keep their feet throughout.

“I thought our kids handled it well,” said Anders. The weather is predicted to be slightly more agreeable tonight, with the Weather Channel forecasting partly cloudy skies and a temperature around 85 degrees at kickoff time.

Tift moves from the Warner Robins game to Valdosta, a rivalry so old it precedes Warner Robins’ creation as a city.

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