Game: No. 4 Darlington (9-0, 6-0) at No. 5 Fellowship Christian (9-0, 7-0)
Last meeting: First meeting
All-time series: N/A
On the air: WLAQ-AM 1410, FM 96.9
With a first-round bye and a home playoff game all but wrapped up, the Darlington football team has one last stop before heading into the postseason.
Working to complete a perfect regular season for the first time since 2015, the Tigers hit the road Friday to face Fellowship Christian in a matchup of unbeaten teams for the Region 6-A championship.
“We’ve earned the opportunity to be in a big game by virtue of what we’ve done over the course of this year,” Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence. They’re still hungry. This team is still really hungry. It’s been a fun week. It’s been a good week. This is when it’s fun for me. I enjoy this. I enjoy the preparation. I enjoy the time being out here with the guys.”
The Tigers have mowed through most of their competition this season as they take a No. 4 state ranking and the No. 1 spot in the Class A Private Power Ratings into Friday night’s contest.
Though the playoffs aren’t here just yet, Atha said this contest has the feel of a playoff game as the two teams have never met before.
“It’s like a playoff game,” Atha said. “In the playoffs, you might play a team you’ve played several years ago, but you don’t play the same team every single year. It’ll be a playoff-type atmosphere against one of the best teams in the state.”
The Paladins likely won’t be a pushover and could be one of the toughest challenges the Tigers have faced all season. The team is ranked No. 5 in the state and owns the No. 7 spot in the Class A Private Power Ratings.
Fellowship Christian is coming off a 31-9 win against Whitefield Academy, handing the Wolfpack one of its only two losses on the season. Murphy Reeves rushed for 219 of the Paladins’ 438 yards on the ground, giving him 1,190 yards on the season.
The Tigers are coming off a 21-6 win against North Cobb Christian where Darlington quarterback Griffin Brewster was 24-of-36 passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Kolin Rogers rushed for 77 yards on 22 carries and now has 1,111 yards rushing for the season, while lineman Tate Ratledge ravaged North Cobb’s front line.
While Atha saw things his team needs to work on after last week’s matchup, he’s continued to see progress from his team throughout the season.
“We still made way too many mistakes Friday night, but at the same time, we did some things that were very good,” Atha said. “We’ve just got to eliminate those mistakes. I feel like we’re continuing to improve. You want to keep improving every week and be better in November than you were in August. I feel like we’re doing that. We have to do that Friday night, because we’re playing a very good football team.”
One of the top-scoring teams in the state, Fellowship is averaging 46.1 points per game and had it’s lowest score of the season last week. It’s defense is allowing 12 points per game.
“They’re very good at what they do,” Atha said. “They’re certainly a huge challenge for us.”
The Paladins’ offensive scoring may eclipse the Tigers’ 35.3 points per game, but their opponents’ for the season only come up with a .388 winning percentage, while the Tigers’ have faced foes with a .531 winning percentage and a record of 43 wins and 38 losses.
The Tigers also continue to be one of the stingiest defenses in Class A, allowing just 8.3 points per game and holding all but two opponents to single-digit scoring this season.
— Jonathan Blaylock