BAKER – Last year, Holmes County was a 30-29 loss away from competing for a 1A regional title and Final Four berth
The Blue Devils outscored foes by 87 points and finished 7-4.
Entering Week 1’s 7 p.m. kickoff versus the Blue Devils at Doug Griffith Stadium, Baker is choosing to remember them as just this, a playoff contender. As the team that handled Walton in last week’s preseason Kickoff Classic.
Not as the team Baker routed Week 1 of last year in a 35-6 win, just the beginning of a 12-1 Gators campaign where they outscored foes 557-245 en route to a third straight Final Four.
“Kevin Womble led this team to the region semifinals last year and they handled Walton last week,” said Matt Brunson, Baker’s football coach. “This team is a lot better than the one we beat last year.”
Problematic is that Holmes County runs the Wing-T, an option offense predicated on lining up multiple backs in the backfield. Last year the Blue Devils’ ground game averaged 221.3 yards with 30 touchdowns.
“Defensively we’re going to find out where we are,” Brunson said. “They’ll show us a lot of looks, so really we just have to keep the energy level high and make plays.”
Leading the “undersized but athletic” defense is Kenny Williams, who has moved to middle linebacker. They’ll face a Holmes County offense that graduated its top three ball carriers, who accounted for 19 of those touchdowns and 2,000-plus rushing yards.
Baker returns its bell cow in Junior McLaughlin, the consummate dual-threat tailback. The reigning Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 1219 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior and hauled in 27 receptions for 704 yards and nine scores.
Creating space for him between the tackles is a stacked offensive line that includes center Dustin Oglesby, guards Zach and Carter Mason, and tackles Matthew McClure and Taylor Barrow.
Replacing Kalee Ciurleo under center is Payton Rockwell, who last year rushed for 392 yards and four touchdowns and completed 26 of 39 passes for 502 yards and four scores. He’ll have Derek Peoples and Bradley Inscore as his main weapons at wideout.
“Rockwell is gonna have a great senior season. He’s a leader who knows the offense," Brunson said. "Offensively, we just can’t get behind the sticks and we have to limit the turnovers.”