Game: Heard County (4-6) at Pepperell (8-2)
Last meeting: Heard County 41, Pepperell 28 (Nov. 17, 2017)
All-time series: Heard County leads 2-0
On the air: WQTU-FM 102.3
Pepperell prides itself on being a tough, physical opponent, and head coach Rick Hurst expects the same from defending state champion Heard County on Friday night.
The No. 2-seeded Dragons welcome to No. 3-seeded Braves to Lindale this week for the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs, and Hurst says he expects both teams to play their hardest.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Hurst said. “It’s going to be a war. I don’t think it’s going to be anything other than a physical contest. It’s going to be one of those games where the toughness is going to come out of the winner. Whoever’s tougher, we’re going to find out.”
Hurst said what he’s seen from his team throughout the week at practice has shown him they have the right mindset and understand the importance of this game.
“I told our kids, at the end of that game Friday night, they’ve got to be emotionally, physically and mentally spent. They’ve got to bring those things to the table. And if they do that, we’ve got a really good chance of winning.”
Pepperell brings a host of weapons to the contest from quarterbacks Gage Moses and Shannen White to receivers Payton Rhoades and Tra Robinson.
The Dragons (8-2) also have a strong running game led by DJ Rogers and Josh Ross, all of which Hurst says makes them a difficult team to plan for.
“They haven’t played an offense like ours,” Hurst said. “They’ve got a lot to account for, but we’ve got to execute.”
The Braves (4-6) lost seven starters from last year’s Class AA state championship team that started the season 1-2 and closed with a 12-game win streak.
Heard got the 2019 season off to an 0-4 start and lost out on the No. 2 seed in Region 5-AA with a 17-16 loss to Bremen in the regular season finale last Friday.
Still, with losses to some of the state’s top teams like LaGrange, Rockmart, Hapeville Charter and Callaway, Hurst isn’t paying attention to the Braves’ 4-6 record.
“That’s very deceiving,” Hurst said. “They played a very tough non-region schedule. They played some tough teams. I think that is very deceiving in terms of how they play. They’ve gotten better each week.”
The Braves are in a rebuilding year having lost some key players off last year’s roster including All-State first team selections Aaron Beasley and Zaylin Wood.
The Dragons’ history against the Braves hasn’t been encouraging for Pepperell as Heard County knocked Pepperell out of the postseason in road losses both times the teams met.
Hurst, however, isn’t concerned with what happened in the past.
“These kids don’t remember two years ago,” Hurst said. “They just want to be around next week. They don’t care about how many times we’ve played them. You get a chance to play a defending state champion once in your lifetime, so this is a unique opportunity for us, and we’re just lucky we get to host it here at home. That hopefully, with the crowd and everything, will get us over the top.”
— Jonathan Blaylock