Playoff football doesn’t see many rematches from earlier seasons – at least in the opening round – but the Daleville Warhakws (7-3) will get just that as they travel to Class 2A’s No. 3-ranked Leroy Bears (8-2) on Friday, Nov. 8.
In the second round of the 2018 Class 2A Playoffs, Daleville dominated Leroy for the first three quarters and went into the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter with a 26-7 lead.
Then, Leroy scored 20 unanswered points and prematurely ended Daleville’s lead 27-26 in frustrating fashion, despite Warhawk running back Jalen White ripping off his first-career 300-yard game.
“We’ve known for a couple of weeks that it looked like we were going to play Leroy again,” Daleville coach Desmond Lett said. “The kids are excited about it and we’re very familiar with what they do. You don’t always get a chance to avenge a playoff loss from the year before like this.”
Since that loss, the Warhakws have talked about “finishing” and have used it as fuel throughout this season.
“We’ve been talking about and stressing finishing to the kids all year long and that goes back to that Leroy game,” Lett continued. “We know they’re going to fight the whole game and we have to play our game and play a complete game for 48 minutes. 48 minutes of playing our game.”
Since last year’s game against Leroy, White has rushed for 300 yards or more in six games, including three 400-yard performances. Leroy’s defensive game plan will be no mystery this week as they – like every team Daleville has faced – will attempt to stop White by loading the box.
“We’re going to do what we do; line up, run it right at them and force them to stop us,” Lett confidently said. “Spreading the ball around and getting it to other guys will be big to open up that box, though. That will help us get Jalen more touches out in space, too.”
Daleville will likely look to playmakers like junior Sincere McKenzie and senior Melvin Matthews to make plays in the passing game for quarterbacks Peanut Bloodsaw and Robert Dees.
McKenzie is second on the team in rushing with 407 yards and three touchdowns, but he also has six catches for 138 yards and one touchdown. Matthews, on the other hand, leads Daleville with five catches for 153 yards and four touchdowns.
Bloodsaw has played a multitude of positions for Daleville this season – including receiver, quarterback, running back and cornerback – and his and McKenzie’s speed could help ease up the attention to White.
Coming into the playoffs White has amassed 3,383 yards and 47 touchdowns rushing, just 100 yards away from the state rushing record. That record doesn’t just mean a lot to White but is something the entire team wants. At the same time, Daleville doesn’t plan to force anything.
“It’s important to us but the way we look at it is we’re going into this game to win, and if the record falls in the process of executing this game plan then that’s awesome,” Lett emphasized. “We’re not going into it saying we have to do this or that to get it, though. We do think that if we follow our game plan and execute it (well) that record will definitely fall on Friday.”
On the defensive side, the Warhawks will have to deal with another top running back in Class 2A in Leroy’s Kelston Fikes who has 1,447 yards and 15 touchdowns on the year.
“Fikes is one of the better running backs that we’ll have played this year,” Lett said. “Facing guys like (Geneva County’s Emmanuel) Henderson and Nathan Hall from Abbeville has prepared us to play a guy like that, though.
“He’s a really physical player and he reminds me a lot of Hall from Abbeville. We’re just going to have to do a good job of getting more than one body on him and wrapping him up.”