The Carrollton High School senior linebacker leads the fifth-ranked Trojans into a colossal Region 5-AAAA road showdown at The Battlefield in Tyrone on Friday night at 8, with the top-ranked Fighting Patriots averaging 45.5 points per game behind a plethora of play-makers that will ultimately be playing on Saturdays down the road.
“We can’t lie. Sandy Creek is an awesome team, they have an awesome program and they’ve beat us two out of the last three times we’ve played. But they’re not a perfect team. They have flaws like every one else. Focus is going be the key,” said Phillips, who is eager to suit up on Friday night after missing the past two games with an ankle injury.
The scary thing about No. 1 Sandy Creek (8-0, 5-0 Region 5-AAAA) is that its top skill players on the offensive side of the ball aren’t even seniors.
Quarterback Cole Garvin and his favorite target — University of Georgia commit Demarre Kitt — are both juniors, while sophomore sensations Eric Swinney and Delvin Weems provide a solid 1-2 punch in the Patriot backfield. Receiver Kyle Wilson is the lone senior headlining the top weapons in the Sandy Creek arsenal, while senior offensive tackle Alan Knott leads the way in the trenches. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound all-state candidate has verbally committed to South Carolina.
“They’re just an offensive juggernaut. They probably are the best offense that we’ve had to prepare against since I’ve been here,” noted 11th-year Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague. “They’re very balanced. They throw it 50 percent of the time, run it 50 percent of the time. They have a big, huge offensive line that blocks exceptionally well. They can pound it down your throat or they’ve got the play-action. So they’re very balanced and every thing they do, they shift into formations to do it.”
Garvin has completed 88-of-137 attempts (64 percent) for 1,586 yards and 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions on the year, with Kitt — the No. 1-rated receiver in the state for the Class of 2014 — hauling in 37 catches for 592 yards and six touchdowns.
Swinney (77 carries, 801 yards, 12 TDs) and Weems (55 carries, 390 yards, 8 TDs) are also Division I prospects that are enjoying breakout years out of the backfield in 2012.
Carrollton junior defensive tackle Dontavious Russell said it will be a physical battle up front, where the Trojans (6-2, 5-0) will do everything in their power to contain the Patriots’ rushing attack.
“We’ve got to come out and hit them in the mouth from the beginning,” Russell said. “They’ve got some big-time players, but we need to show them that we’re not going to give in at all on Friday.”
Teague emphasized how critical it will be to contain Sandy Creek’s ground game and avoid getting beat deep in the passing attack.
“I’ve watched about five to eight games and it took me five games before I saw them ever punt. Nobody’s even slowed them down this year. They gash people with the run and turn around and throw it over their head for touchdowns,” Teague said. “They’ll throw a hitch out there and they’ll break it. Obviously, we’ve got to try to slow down their running attack and not get beat by the play-action stuff. We have to put them in true passing situations, so we know what we’ve got. I think that’s important — we’ve got to stop the run and at the same time not give up the big, play-action pass.”
Garvin is already getting looks from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma State and Teague described the Sandy Creek signal-caller as a smart, headsy player with plenty of weapons at his disposal.
“He’s just a big, strong coach’s son. He has a cannon arm. Being a coach’s son, he understands the game, knows how to check in certain situations. He manages the game well. He can make a play with his arm and, of course, when you’re throwing it to wide receivers like they’ve got, it makes you look like a better quarterback, as well,” Teague said.
Carrollton, which is averaging 42.75 points per game itself, has only given up more than 21 once this year and that came against the No. 1 team in Class AA — Calhoun — in a 46-35 setback in the final non-region game of the regular season.
The Patriots have committed eight turnovers this season, and the Trojans will try to capitalize on any opportunities they can to keep Sandy Creek’s explosive offense on the sidelines.
“They have a great offense, great offensive coaches. But they stumble, they fumble like anybody does. I believe that hitting them first is key. Just continually showing them that we won’t stop. We know what to do and we know how to do it. We’re just never going to give up and I think it’s just going to be a great game,” Phillips said.
Of course, this is the first time the two teams have met since Sandy Creek won a 14-7 thriller in the Class AAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome in 2010.
But now playing in Class AAAA and in the same region, the 5-AAAA crown and a No. 1 state playoff seed is on the line Friday night in what should be an electric atmosphere with postseason temperatures in Tyrone.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better, playing Sandy Creek in one of the last games before we go into the playoffs. I told the team [Monday] to get their mind set right now. In the weight room, if you weren’t doing what you were supposed to be doing in the summer or the fall, it will show up right now. We’ve got to be really focused. This is a game like nobody on our team has played. None of us played in the [Georgia] Dome [in 2010]. I mean, Peach County was a big game last year, but this is an even bigger game. This is big-time,” Phillips said.