Sandy Creek has put up long drives for touchdowns, but it’s no stretch to label them a big-play team.
Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker doesn’t dispute the notion.
“I think we can be. I don’t necessarily think we have to be,” said Walker. “I would say that we have big-play capabilities, and we make a bunch of them.”
Indeed, the Patriots have excelled at game-changing plays. Thirteen times in 14 games they’ve had five plays of 20 yards or longer. The five so-called explosive plays per game was one of Sandy Creek’s goals going into the season, the linchpin to wiping away some of the hurt of falling short a year ago.
“As a coach they’re always tougher to swallow when you don’t think you played as good as you could have,” Walker said. “It’s been good for us to get back to that level again.”
So perhaps the key factor in the Class AAAA final will be whether Ridgeland can level off Sandy Creek’s big plays.
Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis acknowledges as much.
“We just hope we can keep them from having one- and two-play drives,” said Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis. “Nobody wants that.”
Which brings us to Vonn Bell. The Ridgeland safety, perhaps the top uncommitted recruit in the state, has been everywhere for the Panthers. He’s a multi-talented offensive player, the team’s second-leading rusher and its leading receiver, but he’s basically got one function on defense: Eraser. He’s the guy who can keep 20-yard plays from becoming 50-yard plays, though he has confidence in his teammates to keep from getting to that.
“I trust my guys to make plays,” Bell said, “but I’ll make big plays for you.”
Bell leads the team with 136 total tackles, has three interceptions, has forced two fumbles and has five tackles for loss.
Said Mariakis, “Vonn makes us all look real smart.”
Regardless of which team has the ball, Bell is a focal point for Sandy Creek.
“He’s one of those guys where you always have to be aware of where he is on the field. He gets involved in the run game, plays back there and plays center field a little bit,” Walker said.
On the other side of the line, Sandy Creek junior reciever Demarre Kitt almost certainly will come up against Bell at some point. He’s not the only weapon the Patriots have. To the contrary, he’s one of four 1,000-yard players on the Sandy Creek offense.
But he may be the most dangerous. Kitt, who has 68 catches for 1,151 yards and 11 touchdowns, is the guy who with one missed tackle is on the fast track to the end zone. He turned the game against Burke County in the semifinals on just such a play.
“I think it may come down to a big play,” Kitt said. “It might not be necessarily me. It might be Kyle (Wilson), it might be Eric Swinney, might be Delvin (Weems). ”
Or it might be Bell.
“It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had to date, but we have a chance because we’re in the game,” Mariakis said.