Underdog Tigers eye state title

Published 3:41 pm Saturday, December 13, 2008

By Staff
By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
WILLIAMSTON — Yes, the Williamston football team will be riding in a charter bus, and without a doubt some players will have their cameras and cam-corders, but don’t get it confused, the Tigers are not heading to Raleigh like a bunch of tourists on a site seeing expedition.
They are headed to N.C. State’s Carter-Finley Stadium today with only one thing in mind, and that’s to return to Williamston with a state championship in hand.
Winning it won’t be easy for the Tigers (10-5), who were the third-seeded team in the east, as they get set to collide with the west’s No. 1 seed Mount Airy (15-0).
The Granite Bears have blowout teams all season. Armed with a staunch defense and a well-balanced offense led by running back Michael Dobson, who committed to East Carolina, Mount Airy has let up only 12 points through its four playoff games, while tallying an eye-popping 223 points.
On the season, the Bears have out-scored its opponents 808-80.
The Tigers head into today’s matchup as the underdogs, a role McGill and his crew don’t mind playing.
As far as Williamston is concerned, it has been playing that part all season.
Nope, no football contest has ever been decided on loose leaf.
However, it’s a good bet that defense will be more of a determining factor, and both teams bring a good one to the table.
Mount Airy’s 10-year coach Kelly Holder said that despite the gaudy offensive numbers, he consider’s his team’s defense to be its strength.
The Bears run a 3-3 stack, which is anchored up front by Northwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year Ronald Brown.
The Mount Airy defensive tackle is a menace to opposing linemen, and is joined by noise guard Will Mabry.
Mabry creates havoc at the line, and has a solid swim move that can make centers look foolish.
Behind them are two excellent outside linebackers in Justin Collier and Luke Wheeler. Both are capable of bringing a severe pass rush, but also do a nice job covering the flats.
Whatever those two can’t get to, fellow linebacker Aaron Culler usually does.
Mount Airy’s secondary is guided by Dobson, whom Holder said he used to lock down other team’s number one receiver.
Under the direction of defensive coordinator Chris Johnson, the Bears exhibit great team speed, discipline and a knack for always having three to five players buzzing around the ball carrier.
McGill, whose team just beat a 3-3 stack defense to advance to the state title game when the Tigers topped Jones, said that his team is familiar with the scheme.
The Tigers will counter with an all-out blitzing 4-3 defense led by twin senior linebackers DeBrian and DeBriant Everett that can make Saturday’s dream game seem like a nightmare for Mount Airy quarterback Aaron Wheeler.
The Bears like to roll out the 5-8, 146-pound senior quarterback and have him throw on the run, which he does well.
However, against the Tigers he might be running for his life.
On the season, Wheeler has passed for over a 1,000 yards, with a large chunk of those passes being thrown to senior Dorian Gwyn.
While Gwyn leads the team with 226 receiving yards, tight end Drew Joyce is Wheeler’s favorite target in the red zone and has a team-high three TD receptions.
Mount Airy lines up in a few different formations, but predominantly uses a spread, and an I. Adequate at both running and passing, Holder said he will attack with which ever option is best presented to him.
McGill said it’s a safe bet that his Tigers’ D will start out seeing a lot of Dobson, who has rushed for over 1,500 yards and reached the end zone 30 times this season.
Whether the Bears strike with the run or pass, the Tigers are going to bring it regardless and hope they get into the backfield before the play develops.
On either side of the ball, Williamston will not deviate from what got them this far.
Offensively, the Tigers are going to attack behind quarterback Emery Griggs, who has rushed for 2,142 yards this year, and has passed for over a grand.
Griggs isn’t the only threat the Tigers posses. Tight end turned running back Derek Everett has done a nice job in the tailback slot, and has ran for over 400 yards this season, while wide receivers Kareem Bell, K.J. Brown and Kenny Brown posses big play capabilities.
While the odds seemed stacked against Williamston, the one advantage they hold over Mount Airy is the fact that they have played in, and won close games throughout the season.
The Tigers last game, a 42-41 nail-biter over Jones Senior that was won on a late Cody Speller field goal, is the kind of victory that builds resiliency and fortitude.
The Bears closest games this season was a 48-20 win over North Surry in Week 3.
McGill also said he expects the kicking game to play a large role in today’s matchup.
For the Tigers to be in this game past two quarters, their pass rush and pressure will be the key.
For proof of that look back no further than last year’s Super Bowl, where a lot of comparison’s can be drawn to the Williamston’s battle with Mount Airy.
Like the Patriots, the well-balanced Bears enter the big game with a flawless record and have breezed through their schedule so far this season.
Williamston has more of a Giant flavor to them: a good defensive team that got hot at the right time, pressures the QB, and has a more than capable offense.
If the Tigers want to get back on their bus with a ring in hand, they will need get after the Bears’ quarterback for four quarters, and like the Giants, catch a break or two late in the game.