Outsiders may not have given new Dunwoody football coach Mike Youngblood much of a chance of duplicating the Wildcats’ record of a year ago.
But that didn’t matter as long as his players believed in the plan he and his staff put forth last spring. Heading into their second straight region championship game, a rematch with St. Pius, it’s obvious the Wildcats (6-3, 5-1 Region 5-AAA) have grasped Youngblood’s system. The first-year coach accomplished the feat with only five players who started at least five games a year ago.
“The players have embraced the hard work ethic I put before then,” Youngblood said. “It’s not really a surprise to me. I’m pleased with how they’ve responded and how they’ve done the things we needed to do to be up to speed in such a short time.”
Without an offensive superstar, Youngblood has implemented a running back-by-committee philosophy that has become the third-best rushing offense among public schools in the county. On top of that, it has fostered competition that has helped the team bond.
“Last year it was all about Treavor Scales (now at starter at Harvard),” Youngblood said. “We wanted to break that mentality and make them think that everybody was going to have a chance to touch the ball so everyone has to be sound.”
Dalen Clayton leads the offense with 562 yards and six touchdowns through eight games on a team that is averaging 240 yards per game. Tracey White, Will Crochet, Ishmael Adams and quarterback Justin King all have contributed to the success of the running game.
“We have a lot of skilled kids, and we wanted to give them all an opportunity to help,” Youngblood said.
On defense, the Wildcats have switched to a 3-3-5 defense with an emphasis to stop the run. That scheme will get its toughest test Friday against the Golden Eagles. St. Pius (9-0, 6-0) averages nearly 300 yards rushing in its wing-bone offense and is led by fullback Cole Moon and quarterback Trey White.
By winning their respective sub-regions in 5-AAA, both teams have earned home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs next week. Friday’s game will determine the No. 1 seed from the region.
“Their offensive line is very good and this will be a big challenge for us,” Youngblood said.
Here is a look at other region races in the county, heading into the final week of the regular season.
Stephenson (9-0, 6-0) has locked up the No. 1 seed from the region. M.L. King can secure the second seed and a home game in the first round with a win over Union Grove on Saturday at Hallford Stadium. Both teams are 8-1, 5-1 in the region.
Southwest DeKalb clinched the No. 1 seed with a win over Tucker last weekend. The loss dropped Tucker to the No. 3 seed, and Marist is second. Chamblee, Stone Mountain and Lithonia are still fighting for the No. 4 playoff spot. The Pirates are 5-3 in the region, but face Southwest on Friday. Lithonia and Chamblee both are 4-4. Lithonia plays winless North Springs, and Chamblee faces Miller Grove.
Towers and Cedar Grove will play for the final two state playoff spots from the region. Towers (6-3, 5-1) hosts Carver (5-3, 4-2) and Cedar Grove (5-4, 4-2) can clinch a playoff berth with a victory over Grady (8-1, 5-1) on Friday at Lakewood. Towers is looking for its first playoff berth since 2004, and Cedar Grove has not been in the postseason since 1999.
Avondale (5-4, 3-3) can clinch its first playoff spot in 20 years with a win over Cross Keys. The Blue Devils eliminated Decatur two weeks ago, then lost to region-leading Lovett last week 42-14.