Tift, Lee mix Thursday

Tift County running back Chrishon Stephens (12) finds a defensive wall in front of him at last week’s Soap Bowl. He’ll be in the Blue Devils’ mix Thursday.

TIFTON — Thursday, Tift County will have its final tuneup before football season formally begins. The Blue Devils travel over to Lee County to meet the two-time defending Class AAAAAA football state champions.

Kickoff will be at 7 p.m. A 7:30 p.m. start time is usual for high school games, but Anders said the scrimmage has been moved up 30 minutes because it is a school night.

“I hope the weather cooperates,” said Tift head coach Ashley Anders. The Weather Channel gives Thursday a 50 percent chance of rain, with the potential of thunderstorms. The rain rate drops down to 20 percent at night. If the weather turns sour, Tift can turn around Friday and try again.

A second chance was not in the cards last year. The Devils and Trojans were to scrimmage on a Friday night. Torrential rain and lightning bolts caused the game to be abandoned at 6:27 in the opening quarter.

The scrimmage was not made up, a situation Anders said they cannot repeat in 2019: “We gotta get it in.”

He feels Tift was not ready for their opening game against Warner Robins a year ago. The Devils started slow in that game, hampered by turnovers and an injury to quarterback Patrick Felton. They got as close as a three-point deficit (23-20), but ultimately lost 40-29.

No score will be kept on the scoreboard. He said a score would be difficult to assess because of the nature of the scrimmage.

“It’ll be somewhat scripted,” said Anders. One school will match their No. 1 offense against the other’s No. 1 defense and vice-versa. This will continue for a few series before the second strings get their chance. The pattern will repeat in the second half.

Scrimmages serve a purpose for coaches and players. Besides an opportunity to show mettle, the players work as a unit with teammates. For coaches, Anders said scrimmage games allow them to work on finer points of the game, such as sideline management.

The opponent on the other side of the field, Lee, is coming off the best season in school history, a difficult feat to accomplish considering the Trojans were 14-1 in 2017 and outscored opponents by an average of 36-14. In 2018, Lee went 15-0 through the state playoffs (they fell to St. Frances Academy, Md., two weeks after winning state). The average game score increased to 40-8 and, along the way, they delivered Valdosta its largest margin of defeat in Wildcats history, 63-7.

Anders said the Trojans have “the best defense in South Georgia.” They also return quarterback Kyle Toole, who currently has a verbal commitment to Troy University.

While score won’t matter Thursday, the teams won’t be holding back. “We’ll play everything live,” he said. That includes special teams. Tift kickers made the field at the Soap Bowl, but had no pressure against them. All punt returns were fair catches, without any pressure.

The Soap Bowl went to Anders’ satisfaction. What stood out most to him was “our effort.”

“I thought we played with great effort,” he said. Team spirit was a plus, too. “The team chemistry is getting better and better.”

Tift County will start regular season play Aug. 23 against Warner Robins at Brodie Field.

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