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Coaches change little for playoffs

Staff Writer
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Richmond Academy assistant coach Larry Lee makes a point during practice on Wednesday. The Musketeers play at Class AAAA power Thomas County Central in a playoff game tonight.
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Watching game film in preparation for a second-round playoff game at Thomas County Central, Richmond Academy coaches came away with a serious bout of deja  vu.

The four games they watched on the powerful Class AAAA team from South Georgia revealed one thing: the Yellow Jackets do not deviate from what they do best.

"They don't change," Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes said. "No matter who they're playing, they're going to run what they run and you've got to stop (them). That's the reason ... they're considered one of the best teams in the state year after year after year."

While playoff football might stiffen competition and spike intensity, coaches say their game preparations change little from the regular season. They swap films with opposing coaches on Saturday, develop a game plan from this film and hope that plan will seep in players' minds well enough to extend the season by a week.

Richmond Academy assistant coach Ron Porter traded film with Thomas County Central coaches in Statesboro. Ga., last Saturday, then delivered it back to fellow coaches. They watched it before the weekend was over.

"We wanted to see how they lined up in every formation," Hughes said. "But they haven't changed what they've done in 20 years. It's not like we're playing an unknown team. We've seen them year after year after year in the (Georgia) Dome. ... Although we haven't played them, we're familiar with that they do."

The film helped the Musketeers decide what they would emphasize in practice. An example: Thomas County Central often likes to run its veer option to the side of the field where two wide receivers line up side-by-side. This strategy is counter to convention because teams typically like to run toward the tight end, the strong side. Richmond Academy spent a segment of practice working to shed receivers' blocks.

Preparation can create mind games among coaches -- an offshoot of the game itself, where each set is guessing what the other might be thinking.

Lakeside closed its season with blowout wins over Josey and Butler. Since coaches typically swap film from their most recent games, the Panthers gave opponent Westside-Macon its wins over Butler, Josey and Statesboro. In theory, the Panthers didn't reveal many tendencies in two of those films because their games against Butler and Josey were decided before halftime. Lakeside coach Jody Grooms, though, didn't see an advantage.

"Word of mouth travels," Grooms said. "I'm sure their coach talked to other people this week. I think he knows he's playing a good football team; there is not a bad football team out there still playing."

Grooms said he was more concerned preparing to stop an offense that has a near 1,500-yard rusher (Robert Brown) and a wide receiver committed to the University of Alabama (Ronald Carswell).

Preparation can uncover the unexpected. GISA Class A semifinalist Thomas Jefferson Academy pummeled its semifinal opponent Fullington Academy by 42 points last year. Coach Chuck Wimberly watched the tape of this year's Fullington team and saw a bunch that had developed into a better team. He prepared his own team this week to sacrifice their bodies to create piles along the line of scrimmage so Fullington's bruising runners couldn't race around. That way, the Jaguars could use their speed to neutralize the attack.

"It's going to be a classic duel of size vs. speed," Wimberly said. "The most important part of our preparation was on our offensive and defensive fronts -- to maintain our blocks, hit them low and drive our feet."

Teams have spent the week guessing what to expect based on what they've seen and what they've been told. The grinds of a game begin tonight with film study and practice repetitions left behind.

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.

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