Morgan football hopes to win another Region 8-AAA championship
This story appears in the 2018 Smith Communications Inc. Football Preview Section, available inside the Aug. 23-24 editions of Lake Oconee News, The Eatonton Messenger and The Baldwin Bulletin.
The game started gloriously but ended in agony.
Morgan County’s football team hosted East Hall in the first round of last year’s Class AAA state playoffs. The Bulldogs steamrolled their way through Region 8-AAA – save for an epic, 1-point win over Monroe Area – and appeared poised to win their first playoff game in years.
Morgan jumped on the Vikings, leading 21-6 by the 2:24 mark of the first quarter.
But then, East Hall quarterback Austin Parker caught fire and led the Vikings to 32 unanswered points. They eventually won, 50-36, stunning the Bulldogs on their own turf.
“I didn't throw that game away for a while,” Morgan defensive coordinator Brett Bell recently told Lake Oconee News. “I kept watching it because I think you can learn more from losing than you actually can from winning. … I went back and looked at scheme things. I also feel like we took that game as an example of how to simulate that style of offense in practice and how difficult it really is to give your defense a good look. I think we've made some adjustments in practice.”
That’s where Bell and the Bulldogs found a means of moving on: spring ball and summer practices.
There was a major hurdle to clear first. Overall, the team lost 26 seniors to graduation, most of whom comprised the program’s full-time starters.
In an effort to help the team jell, Morgan’s coaches took them to Fellowship of Christian Athletes football summer camp at Georgia Southern. There, the Bulldogs were able to wear pads for the first time since last fall.
They played a handful of scrimmages against teams such as Bleckley County, Howard (Macon), Perry, Monticello and others. The effect the camp had on the team was significant.
“We wanted to get these guys in the fire, get their feet wet as fast as we could because, with the limited experience, we felt like communication's huge,” Bell said. “Also, you can't get in the pads too much so you sort of figure out what people are really made of and what kind of grit they have.”
Wade Woodall, offensive coordinator of the Bulldogs, noticed errors being made but said they were not surprising given the team’s lack of experience.
“We played some good competition down there,” Woodall said. “We made a lot of mistakes, which is to be expected – it's the first time that you're really doing anything against somebody else – but the mistakes that we made were not schematic mistakes, they were more mental mistakes: drops, one guy would bust a route assignment, a lineman would not work to the proper linebacker.”
The FCA camp helped Morgan’s coaches assess the situation regarding the replacement of last year’s seniors.
On the offensive side, the Bulldogs lost the likes ofTrey Patterson, who last year threw for 2,537 yards and 29 touchdowns against only four interceptions, Anthony Cooper, who caught 15 touchdowns, Rambo Rambus, who was the team’s leading rusher (589 yards), the versatile Brandon Smith and almost the entire offensive line, which consistently protected Patterson and the running backs.
“We lost a lot but we've got some guys that have really stepped up and have done just about everything they can do for us at this point,” Woodall said. “What I mean by that is they've given us everything they've got and have done everything that we've asked of them and have been steadily making improvements.”
A few of those key players, according to Woodall, include junior quarterback Trent Folds and wide receivers Boone Bruce and Denver Laughlin.
Folds broke his wrist during last year’s season opener against Greene County. That cost him significant playing time last year. Woodall said the new first-team quarterback is healed and impressing on the field.
Jordan Huff, a senior who plays well on both sides of the field, said he think Folds is prepared to lead the offense.
“He's adjusted pretty well,” Huff said. “I work out with him just about every day after practice. We get our throws in. … Practice is practice – you can't really give a final judgment until the games start– but he's been on his Ps and Qs, if you ask me.”
Defensively, Morgan must replace the likes of Quin Williams and Tre Davis, who ravaged offensive lines with regularity, and Tre’Mon Moore, who was solid in the backfield, among others.
K.J. Wyatt is one of the few senior defenders. He said he enjoys being looked upon as a leader by his younger teammates, much like he did last year’s graduates.
“It's really cool,” Wyatt said. “When I was younger, I used to always look up to people like Quin and to finally be one of those guys the kids look up to is an honor, having kids be like, 'I want to be like him when I get to a senior.' It's cool being a leader.”
Bulldogs head coach Bill Malone said he has not necessarily set a third-straight region title as the team’s goal for the year. He said that approach “may sound crazy to some people who are in the coaching business,” but Malone wants to take things slow and work on improving little by little in chase of the region championship.
“I am perfectly confident that our football team will be better at the end of the football season than it is right now,” Malone said. “We are going to continue to improve, we are going to continue to work hard, the attitudes are going to continue to be great and that is what I am confident in. I wouldn't say that I was confident last year or the year before in saying we were going to be region champs because that's not necessarily what it is that we set out and say, 'This is what we've got to do and, if we don't, we're unsuccessful.'”