Never before had the school ventured beyond the first round of the GISA state playoffs, but that changed on Friday night in Hogansville when the Wildcats beat Crisp Academy 22-18 to reach the Class A semifinals.
Dawson Street now is 7-5 on the season and has a six-game winning streak heading into the second round of playoffs against Frederica Academy.
The game will be played Friday at 7:30 p.m. on St. Simons Island.
Frederica brings a 9-2 record into the game, with its only losses coming to Memorial Day (38-3) and Pinewood Christian (31-14).
“They’re deeper than we are, they’ve got numbers and they’re a bigger school than we are,” Dawson Street head coach Tory McCray said during a break at practice on Tuesday. “The numbers really don’t matter anymore. We’ve got to be ready to play 11 on 11. That’s all that matters.”
Despite the players being in uncharted territory, McCray said he and his coaches have tried to keep things as normal as possible as they prepare for the game, yet instill a sense of urgency for the situation.
“We’re making sure we’re manned up right and we put the kids in a situation where they’re going to succeed,” McCray said. “We’re preparing first, then we’re preparing physically.”
The coaches have been hard at work helping the team prepare for Frederica’s dive-option offense, similar to what Georgia Tech runs.
“Frederica is more of a Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech offense,” McCray said. “They’re just as fast as we are, just as big as we are, just as strong as we are.
McCray added that “a lot of people in GISA believe they’re actually a Class AA team playing down. We’ve beaten Class AA teams playing down before so far this season.”
McCray said Frederica’s defensive lineman and linebackers have outstanding speed.
Dawson Street will also have its hands full dealing with Frederica’s offense, and McCray plans to move Mark Gray from linebacker to defensive tackle and nose tackle, which he hopes will counteract the dive run Frederica likes to run.
“I think what they’ve been doing so far is been winning for them and I think they’ll stick with that,” McCray said. “On offense, our backs are going to be active. Shaq (Shaquille Tiggs) is going to get the ball. They have to stop Shaq. In the passing game, I think we match up favorably too.”
Leading the way for the Wildcats are four seniors, including Shaquille Tiggs, Devonte “Snack” Nelson, Brandon Johnson and Gray. All four know the end of their football careers at the school are near and three of them reflected on their feelings at practice on Tuesday.
Johnson was unable to be at practice, but is expected to play Friday.
“We’ve got a shot at winning state and I hope we come through and play like we’ve been playing all season,” said Tiggs, who can reach 2,000 rushing yards for the season with a big game Friday night. “I think we can do it. I hope it’s not the last game. I hope we can win Friday and bring the state on home.”
Nelson is happy to be in the second round of the playoffs after recovering from a severe sprained ankle a few weeks ago. Nelson is playing center and nose tackle on short-yardage situations.
“It’s going good, I can move better, back to normal,” Nelson said. “We’ve never been here before. I’m going to play hard for my team, for my family and for the school.”
Gray, who plays fullback, outside linebacker and defensive tackle, commented on the team’s good fortune heading into Friday’s game.
“It would set history, taking home the trophy,” Gray said. “It would make the school proud. I think we’ll be all right if we just practice hard and play hard and just be there and do what we’ve got to do.”
The team plans to leave in the early hours of Friday morning and have breakfast later in Macon, before heading into Brunswick around 3:30 p.m. where the team will have its pre-game meal before heading to St. Simons Island.