As much history as the football teams at both Parkview and Marietta have, it’s been a little while since each team has qualified for the state semifinals.
So when the No. 7 state-ranked Panthers (12-1) welcome the sixth-ranked Blue Devils (11-2) to the Big Orange Jungle for a Class AAAAAAA semi Friday at 7:30 p.m., both teams will be looking to add to some storied history.
For perspective, Parkview is the semifinals for the first time since a AAAAA state runner-up finish in 2004 on a team that featured Caleb King, while Marietta makes its first semifinal since 1996, Dexter Wood’s final season as head coach before moving over to Buford.
But those numbers represent the past.
In the present, the numbers both teams’ prolific offenses have put up suggest that Friday’s game could have the scoreboard lighting up like a video game.
As much as the Panthers can rely on putting up points — they’ve put up no fewer than 35 points over their last eight games behind explosive skill players like running backs Cody Brown (189-1,479, 18 TDs) and Tyler Curtis (84-868, 13 TDs), quarterback Jordan Williams (143-241-4, 2,164 yards, 20 TDs) and receivers C.J. Daniels (52-809, 8 TDs) and Jared Brown (46-862, 11 TDs) — they may need any and all points they can get Friday.
That’s because of Marietta’s arsenal of weapons — both high-profile like four-start Tennessee-committed quarterback Harrison Bailey, who has thrown for 3,577 yards and 39 touchdowns this season and five-star LSU-pound tight end Arik Gilbert (81-1,436, 12 TDs) and lesser-known stars like Michigan State-committed receiver Ricky White (82-1,107, 14 TDs) and Troy-bound running back Kimani Vidal (194-1,427, 27 TDs).
And coach Eric Godfree knows such firepower will pose quite a formidable challenge, even to a Parkview defense that has been playing well lately behind Memphis-bound linebacker Kobe Wilson (119 combined tackles and assists, 16 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 INT), defensive lineman Mason Huntley (44 tackles, 9 TFLs, 8 sacks) and safety Terian Williams (3 INTs, 5 PBUs).
“It’s an enormous challenge,” Godfree admits. “Player-wise, it’ll be the best overall talent we’ve had to play (all season). But the way our scheduled (played out, starting with a Week 2 game at Lowndes and going) all the way through region (7-AAAAAAA) play with Central Gwinnett’s passing attack and Colquitt (County’s) passing attack and Archer’s passing attack, I feel like it really has helped us prepare.
“Obviously, they (Marietta) have endless talent over there. It’s not one, two or three, it’s five guys. And their run game is phenomenal, as well. They’ve got a good offensive line. (Vidal) does a good job running the ball.”
Godfree is right to note that the Blue Devils are more two-dimensional than people might think, they still lean more heavily on the pass.
So a repeat of last week, when the Panthers harassed Archer quarterback Carter Peevy for seven sacks and several other pressures, which helped result in two interceptions, is essential.
Of course, that task may not be as easy as it sounds.
“In the past few weeks, I really credit our D-line and secondary,” Godfree said. “Our secondary’s done a good job of taking (opposing) quarterbacks off their first reads. Then our D-line has done a great job of applying the pressure when given just a little more time.
“So this week, it’s just as important as ever (for) our D-line is able to get pressure on the quarterback. If we’re not able to get pressure on the quarterback, it’s going to be a very tough night for our secondary.”
Which brings the focus back to Parkview offense, and while Panthers offensive players like Curtis have confidence in their defensive teammates, they are also prepared to try to outscore Marietta, if necessary.
“I feel great about it,” Curtis said. “I trust my line, every single one of them. They will do their jobs. We know there are certain players we have to watch out for on Marietta’s defense. .... Once me and Cody get to running, Marietta will bring more people into the box, and that can open things up for our receivers.”