October 24, 2021

Nick Simon previews Braves’ round one playoff match-up with Hurricanes

Courtesy of Nick Simon and the Times-Georgian

(Franklin, GA) — After heating up in the home stretch of the regular season to claim its second straight Region 5-AA championship, the Heard County High School football team will begin its yearly dive into the Class AA state playoffs this Friday at 7:30 p.m. when hosting Monticello for a first-round tilt.

The top-seeded Braves (8-2) got to this point by clearing a major hurdle in its season finale, toppling Bremen 20-7 last Friday to claim the league crown.

Senior quarterback Alijah Huzzie was happy that his team was able to go into a hostile road environment, take the 5-AA title and secure themselves a coveted one-seed for the playoffs.

“It felt good,” Huzzie said on Tuesday. “It felt like we proved a point and took care of business.”

Snatching two second-half touchdowns against the Blue Devils was fellow senior Quincy Shepherd, who talked about his team overcoming early mistakes to pull away late.

“We kept fighting and kept pushing through adversity. We were messing up on the little things, so we just fixed those after halftime, stuck to our roots and played well,” Shepherd said. “We’re trying to go harder and get better in practice so we don’t have to face as much adversity in the playoffs.”

Head coach Tim Barron offered his takeaways from the top-ten clash.

“I thought our kids played extremely hard, I thought they understood the gameplan and I thought they communicated really well,” Barron said. “I was very pleased with how we executed defensively. Of course, they got us on some things, but good-coached football teams are going to get you sometimes and you’re not going to go through a football game where they don’t figure some things out.”

The 17th-year HC head man also noted the problems Bremen gave them up front with their collective speed and how they can learn from it heading into the postseason.

“Coach [Kyle] Yates talked about how the biggest battle was how it took our kids a while to understand how fast they were playing. It was a great learning experience and it’s always better to have teachable moments after a big win than have teachable moments after a big loss,” Barron said. “We spoke on it [Monday] when we watched film as a group and we told them that they need to be their toughest critic and need to find something to get better at every day from here on out.”

Barron talked about the hungry, focused mindset required of the postseason and if there’s a team that understands what it takes to survive at this point of the year, it’s this one.

The Braves roster features several seniors who have made multiple playoff appearances throughout their career, including last year’s trip to the state semifinals.

“Experience is really everything,” Huzzie said. “We made some mistakes last year [versus Hapeville Charter], so we have to make sure we don’t mess up again. We just have to take it one game at a time.”

His head coach gleamed over the veteran bunch.

“Over the past few years, they’ve been in so many close ballgames throughout the regular season and the postseason. They understand that it’s not always the last play that makes the biggest difference” Barron said. “They also understand that they’re playing good football teams and they’re not always going to have success. It’s about being resilient, lining up and moving on to the next play regardless of what just happened.”

Rolling into Staples Stadium on Friday night eager to spring the upset is fourth-seeded Monticello (5-5), who’s already had a win-or-go-home playoff attitude for the past two weeks.

Fighting for the final playoff spot out of Region 8-AA, the Hurricanes emerged triumphant in back-to-back nailbiters over Banks County and Social Circle to punch their ticket to the big dance under first-year head coach Rydell Jackson.

“They have a very athletic quarterback (Jaymerious Fleetwood) that can hurt you when he gets you in space. They also have a handful of really good running backs and their d-line stands out to us,” Barron said of Monticello. “It’ll be a challenge defensively to contain that quarterback and those running backs and it’ll be a challenge for us up front to block better than what we did a week ago against a good defensive team.”

The HC starting QB described what his Maroon and White have to do to guarantee another game.

“Perfect what we’ve been doing and get better,” Huzzie said. “It’s just about getting better in practice to perfect our craft.”

And come Friday, they’ll have the benefit of hosting round-one on their home turf, something that Coach Barron hopes plays to their advantage.

“Playing at home is special and it’s special for our kids. They’ll get to play a game at Staples Stadium and how they execute in this game will buy them another one,” Barron said. “There’s definitely pressure when it’s a one-and-done scenario, so they know that they have to be prepared mentally and physically.”

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