Posted: Monday, August 13th 2012 at 9:37am
Football 2012: Apalachee looking to turn around recent dip
By Jeff Hart Staff
BETHLEHEM -- It’s not how you start -- it’s how you finish.
That certainly rang true for Apalachee last season. The Wildcats wound up with a 4-6 mark in 2011, their first losing season since 2005, and coach Shane Davis said they were four plays from perhaps an 8-2 record and a trip to the playoffs, as Apalachee lost three games by five points or less and another by just a touchdown.
“We had the lead in every one of those games. The difference was that we couldn’t find a way to win the close games,” Davis said. “We competed in every game and I was extremely proud of how our guys played overall. We were disappointed in not having a winning record and missing the playoffs but I feel like we’re still headed in the right direction.”
Experience could play a factor for the Wildcats. They return seven starters on offense and defense, including senior quarterback Clint Ashe, who threw for over 1,000 yards in a system where they run the ball 80 percent of the time.
Davis said the key in the new-and-even-more-improved Region 8-AAAAA will be putting points on the board. The Wildcats scored 28 or more points seven times last season and should be just as capable in 2012.
“This has always been a region where you have to score points and/or control the ball to win,” he said. “I don’t think it will any different this year. Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Clarke Central, Loganville can all score quick, so you better be able to score to stay with them.
“We feel like our offense can score. We don’t have the explosiveness of some of those teams but we control the ball. Not to say defense isn’t important because it is. But there are so many good offenses in this region you can’t expect to shut teams down.”
That being said, the Wildcats may have more impact players on the defensive side, including six quality returning starters. The secondary is especially deep with senior cornerbacks Jermaine Smith and Von Heard and junior safety Jody Mathis.
“I like the guys we have coming back on defense,” Davis said. “Hopefully we can make a few impact plays at key times to give our offense more opportunities. Our (defensive) backfield should be very good.”
Still, Davis and Apalachee fans know the first month could set the tone for what kind of season to expect. After non-region games against Lanier and Greater Atlanta Christian, the Wildcats open region play at Gainesville and then play host to Clarke Central and Flowery Branch in consecutive weeks.
“That’s a tough start, no doubt,” Davis said. “But we’re not putting everything on those games. There is still a lot of football left after that. If we win all three and then lose the rest, it doesn’t matter. The key is to finish strong and that’s what we want to do in every game and as the season progresses. If we do that, things will work out for us.”
APALACHEE: NEED TO KNOW
TEAM COLORS: Navy, Blue, and Gold
CURRENT REGION: 8-AAAAA
HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Shane Davis, eighth season, 42-35
2012 RECORD/ ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-6, did not make playoffs for second consecutive season; first losing season since 2005
KEY LOSSES: Cory Riley OL/DL; F.J. Smith LB; Stanley Williams RB (transfer)
OFFENSIVE STYLE: Wing-T -- even with a traditional rushing attack the Wildcats will look to be more balanced in 2012.
DEFENSIVE STYLE: 4-3 -- Apalachee likes to attack but does not blitz much.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Return 7 starters; Sr. CB Jermaine Smith, Sr. LB Rakim Peters (moved from DE), Sr. DE Johnny Thompson, Sr. LB Chris Morris, SR. CB Von Heard, Jr. S Jody Mathis
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sr. PK, P Christian Vasquez
STRENGTH: Offense -- Coach Shane Davis said they have an offense that can score and control the ball, a must to win in the region.
QUESTION: Experience -- Several key starting players with no varsity experience. Offensive line is being reworked.
KEY GAMES: The Wildcats will know earlier whether a trip to the playoffs is in the cards. They open region play at Gainesville and then have back-to-back home games against Clarke Central and Flowery Branch, all playoff teams from a year ago. It could be the toughest schedule by any team in the state with all but one team, Winder-Barrow, posting a .500 or better record in 2011. Five teams – Flowery Branch, Apalachee, Clarke Central, Loganville, and Heritage – have all won or tied for the region title over the past four years. Gainesville won the Region 8-AAA title last season.
TRENDING: The Wildcats had posted five consecutive winning seasons until taking a step back last year, yet Apalachee is optimistic it can turn that trend with plenty of talent on the roster in 2012.
Aug. 31 at Lanier
Sept. 7 vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
Sept. 21 vs. At Gainesville
Sept. 28 vs. Clarke Central
Oct. 5 vs. Flowery Branch
Oct. 12 at Loganville
Oct. 19 at Cedar Shoals
Oct. 26 vs. Salem
Nov. 2 vs. Heritage, Conyers
Nov. 9 at Winder-Barrow
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