Frederica Academy faces a tall order Friday night when it visits Bulloch Academy in a game that will decide the Region 2-3A title in the Georgia Independent School Association.
For starters, the Gators are a really good team that owns an 8-1 record going into the showdown with the Knights.
Second of all, Frederica has struggled in its most recent trips to Statesboro to face the Gators. The Knights lost to Bulloch on its home field in both 2014 and 2016 with the game two years ago coming after a short week of practice for both teams as they played the game prior to the arrival of Hurricane Matthew.
The Knights led 7-0 late but saw the Gators score in the closing moments before winning with a two-point conversion.
Frederica still won the region title that season and did so again last year while knocking off the Gators 28-21 on St. Simons Island.
With the teams clashing in the final game this year, the winner is guaranteed the region crown as both teams go into their meeting with 3-0 region records.
“We better come with our physical game face on. They’re gonna try to beat us up by being very, very physical,” said FA coach Brandon Derrick.
The Knights are 6-3 on the season, but have lost to the best three teams on their schedule – Charlton County (28-21), Valwood (7-6 in overtime) and John Milledge (14-13 in overtime).
The loss last week to John Milledge ended a six-game win string for the Knights who hadn’t lost since that loss to Valwood in the second game of the season.
The winner of Friday’s Frederica-Bulloch matchup will earn a bye in the opening round of the state playoffs. The loser will have to play next week and will face what figures to be a more difficult path to the state championship.
Friday’s game will feature teams with contrasting styles.
Bulloch likes to play smash-mouth football with its split-back veer offense while Frederica wants to move quickly and generate explosive plays when it has the ball.
“It’s like daylight and darkness in what we do and what they do,” Derrick said. “They want to grind it out and run right at you. We want to go hurry-up and get as many possessions as we can.
“But, if we don’t get the off the field, it won’t matter what we do offensively.”
Derrick said FA’s undersized defense will have to get off blocks better than it did last week against John Milledge to have a chance at slowing down the Gators’ ground game.
He said the Knights have to be sound against the run to stop the option attack by Bulloch.
“We’re preparing for the dive, quarterback and pitch. If we don’t play disciplined on defense, it’s gonna be a long night,” Derrick said.
Derrick said senior star Jashawn Sheffield, who plays on both sides of the ball for the Knights, is expected to play after missing the final three quarter last week due to injury.
Even with him, though, the Knights must be ready for the challenge that awaits, the coach noted.
“We’re going into a hostile environment. It’s going to be very, very difficult to go up to Bulloch and pull off a win,” Derric said. “But if we go up and play well and play with some emotion and heart and get after it and play with that will not to lose, then we can pull it out.”