TIFTON — Football season has officially begun in Irwin County.
The Irwin County Indians played their initial scrimmage of the season last week against Brooks County and are inching closer to games that count in the standings. The Indians have been stalwarts in Class A (public’s) Region 2-A, with 10 wins or more in five of their past six seasons.
A major reason for the success starts at the top.
Head coach Buddy Nobles is in his 31st year of coaching, sixth in Ocilla. His has been the most successful reign at the reins in Indians history. Nobles is 54-13-2, winning four Region 2-A titles (including the last two). He has been to the state championship game four times and never has his team played in fewer than 13 contests in any season.
During the season, Nobles passed Joe Compton as Irwin’s all-time leader in wins. Compton earned 44 from 1983-88.
Nobles credits his assistants for their work, as well as Indian Nation. “We have a booster club that’s unbelievable,” he said.
Irwin County’s 2019 motto is “make three more plays,” according to Nobles, which refers to how last year’s state final played out. Irwin led 7-0 and 13-10, the latter score being at the start of the fourth quarter. Clinch tied the game on a field goal at 10:29. Twelve seconds later, the Panthers had a lead they never surrendered.
The Indians come into the season relatively experienced, except in one key area: offensive line.
Sixteen seniors graduated, said Nobles, “Most on our offensive line.” Irwin’s line not only had experience, but size. The largest man currently listed on the roster is Edge, at 250 pounds. Noah Brown is 225, as is Lundy. Only three other players are given a weight above 200 pounds.
Irwin may have another setback on its hands.
Running back D.J. Lundy suffered a knee injury during the summer, according to Georgia High School Football Daily. The severity of the injury is unknown. Lundy averaged more than 10 yards per carry in 2018. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named him Offensive Player of the Year and the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association dubbed him the Southern Player of the Year for Class A.
If Lundy misses significant time, the Indians will be without their biggest ground-gainer. Fortunately, Nobles and Co. have a full stable of experienced players who can capably fill in. Among the returnees who ran the ball a year ago were Garland Benyard, Gabriel Benyard, Marcus Edwards, Eric Anderson and Jamorri Colson.
Colson is quite an all-around athlete for the Indians. Last season, he was named to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association South squad and rated All-State honorable mention by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Associated Press. Colson is listed as a wide receiver and cornerback, but can operate out of the backfield as well.
It was Colson who helped spring Irwin to the state finals last November. During a scoreless semifinal game with Pelham, he took a short pass from Zach Smith. With nearly the entire weight of the Pelham defense on top of his 160 pounds, Colson twisted and turned for a 23-yard gain late in the first half. Three plays later, the Smith kicked a field goal to give them a 3-0 lead at halftime.
Colson then opened the second half with a kickoff return to Pelham’s 12. Lundy finished the drive with a seven-yard run and Pelham never got closer than 10-6.
Colson’s athleticism seems to be turning heads nationally. The 247 Sports website said several major colleges are sending him scholarship offers, including Auburn and Tennessee.
Quarterback Smith has been with the team four years. This will be his second season as starting quarterback. He surpassed 1,000 passing yards and threw for 19 touchdowns in 2018, both pretty good, said Nobles, for a team that spends most of its time lined up in the Wing-T.
Defensively, Irwin returns names like the Benyards, Colson, Edge and Kam Ward.
The Indians had two scrimmages planned during the preseason.
Last Friday, they fell against Brooks County, 21-20. They are scheduled to travel to Worth County this Friday. The regular season starts Aug. 23 at Berrien. A week after, they host Fitzgerald.
The Fitzgerald-Irwin rivalry, which dates back before either high school touched a football, has largely been dominated by the Purple Hurricane in recent years. However, Irwin flipped that last season with a 16-10 road victory, their first in the series since 1999. Should the Indians win in Ocilla, it would be their first home victory over Fitzgerald since 1998.
Other opponents include Mount Paran Christian on Sept. 13. Mount Paran hails from Kennesaw and is only the second time Irwin has faced a metro Atlanta team in its own stadium. The last time was the 1968 state final at Roswell.
Irwin County is the fourth of a series of five football previews which will run in The Gazette in August. Turner County will be previewed Friday. Other teams profiled were Tiftarea Academy, Tift County and Fitzgerald.