The game high school football fans wanted to see in the Class AAAAAA bracket happens Friday night in Leesburg.
No. 1 and unbeaten Dacula travels to play at Lee County, the classification’s two-time defending state champion. Lee County, after a slip-up in Game 3 that allowed Dacula to jump to the top spot in the polls, is No. 3 in the state.
It’s a matchup fitting of a state championship game, only it happens in the quarterfinals.
“It’s definitely not the easiest bracket,” said Dacula head coach Clint Jenkins, whose team reached the semifinals last season. “We knew that going into it. Our attitude is you’re going to have to play the best teams. It’s the playoffs. Everybody’s good when you start getting in the quarters and the semis. Obviously, there are some better paths you could see this year. For us, if you want to make a statement, you’ve got to beat the people in front of you. It’s just the way the thing fell this year.”
Dacula (12-0) wouldn’t mind facing Lee (11-1) a round or two deeper into the playoffs, and Lee likely feels the same way. But the Falcons entered the postseason with a state championship goal, and they knew long ago that the road there almost certainly will go through Lee, which has won 12 straight games in the state playoffs.
The Trojans have faced only one close game in the postseason in their last seven outings, a 14-0 win over Northside-Warner Robins in last year’s championship game. They won their first two playoff games this season by a 100-7 margin.
A victorious coin toss also gave them the home-field edge in the showdown with fellow region champion Dacula.
“They’ve got a really good football team,” Jenkins said of Lee. “It’s definitely a big challenge, the two-time defending state champs and it’s at their place. We’ve definitely got our hands full. You look at them and they’re big and fast. They’ve got skill kids. They’ve got linemen. They’ve got basically everything you need to be successful. They play two or three running backs. They have several good receivers. They play fast and they’re physical up front.
“Their defense is kind of like their offense. They’re fast and physical. They’ll blitz their way in and out of stuff, but they’re coming and they’ve some some guys to come with.”
On paper, the two match up very closely. Both have high-powered offenses and stingy defenses. Both have won the vast majority of their games in convincing fashion. The only glaring difference came in Lee’s third game, a 40-17 loss to Peach County, the No. 1 team in AAA.
Dacula has been equally impressive in its playoff wins, though their scores may not show it. The Falcons’ reserves allowed two late touchdowns to the Glynn starters in the second round, leading to the 42-20 final. Before those scores, the only points the Dacula defense gave up were two first-half field goals when the offense turned it over twice deep in its own territory (once on its own 3-yard line). The defense forced field goals from Glynn on both of those miscues, and added another goal-line stand in the second half.
“Obviously, we can’t turn it over twice inside the 20, we can’t put ourselves in that kind of situation this week,” Jenkins said. “But we did feel like defensively that we were able to bounce back and be able to hold Glynn to a couple of field goals and hold them one more time down close (in the second half). We feel real good about what we did defensively. And once we got some of the hiccups out of the way offensively, it was business as usual for those guys.”
Jenkins stressed to his team how detrimental mistakes are to the outcome, especially in the playoffs against good teams. The veteran players know that well from last year’s season-ending loss to Northside in the semifinals.
“We talked about the Northside game and the margin of error,” Jenkins said. “The lesson learned was really that (the Northside loss) came down to two plays. The deeper you get into the playoffs, the margin of error gets smaller and smaller. You really have to be focused on execution.”
Dacula’s offense, which returned nearly everyone from its Final Four team, has delivered as expected this year. Running backs Trenton Jones, Kaleb Edwards and Kyle Efford have combined for more than 2,500 rushing yards and 38 TDs. Quarterback Jarrett Jenkins has thrown for 2,124 yards and 18 TDs, a team-high 11 of those to Konata Mumpfield. Fellow wideout Chris Scott leads the team with 744 receiving yards.
An inexperienced Dacula defense has maintained its high level of play throughout the season, too. Linebackers T.J. Young (101 tackles) and Reggie Icilien (72 tackles), and Edwards (72 tackles) in the secondary are among the top performers.
Those Falcons will get their biggest test this week against Lee in a game that will happen maybe earlier than some wanted.
“Our kids are excited about it,” Jenkins said. “It’s a great opportunity for us.”