The fans are beginning to believe in them. The opposition is starting to get uneasy. The sports writers are starting to take notice and realize that they aren’t a pushover team anymore. One thing has remained constant, however: The “Never-Say-Die” Knights have continued to believe and constantly overcome obstacles in their way throughout the season. This isn’t some short list of all the adversity that the squad has dealt with, either:
- Getting pummeled 38-3 by next-door neighbor Lovett in the season opener
- Senior quarterback Kevin Johnson’s foot injury that caused him to miss three games
- Facing a 2-5 record and missing the playoffs for the third straight season
- Seeing freshman halfback Realus George go down with an ACL injury
- Losing 16-3 at halftime against B.E.S.T. Academy in a game that would decide the final seed in the playoffs.
Lots of ordinary teams would have taken their ball and gone home. Not the Knights. Led by a group of talented, influential seniors, they rose to the challenge and responded to the doubts and criticism. After dominating the so-called powerhouse that is Bowdon High School, the Knights marched into Louisville, Georgia and hung 57 on the Warriors of Jefferson County, who many writers claimed the Knights didn’t deserve to be on the same field with.
Senior quarterback Kevin Johnson, Class AA’s best quarterback, has led an offense that has scored 205 points in the last five games (41 points per contest). Johnson’s group of receivers, led by seniors Noah Brooker and Trevor Cefalu, might be the finest in Georgia when they are playing at their best.
It’s time for people around the state to wake up and realize this isn’t some ordinary ball club . The Pace Knights are not another “Cinderella” team with nothing to lose. They aren’t little sisters of the poor who lack skill and ability. This six-year program is the real deal with an overwhelmingly talented bunch of guys filled with potential.
The Knights continue their playoff march as they travel 192 miles for a date with 11-1 Fitzgerald. The Purple Hurricanes are led by third-year signal caller Jason Strickland who owns a career 28-10-1 coaching record at the school. On the gridiron, Fitzgerald’s main man is senior Gerald Morgan, a 6’2 dual threat quarterback who leads the team in all-purpose yards (1950 yards) and has 37 touchdowns (24 touchdowns rushing, 13 touchdowns passing).
Fitzgerald boasts a speed option attack that looks to utilize Morgans’s speed and quickness. Morgan’s favorite target is 5’11 speedster Trey Graham, who has caught 31 passes this year for 708 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, the Purple Hurricanes 3-4 defense is led by strong-side linebacker Michael Jackson and defensive end Michael Wilson.
Pace head coach Chris Slade said his defense is ready to contain the Hurricane offense. “I feel like we are pretty prepared going into the Fitzgerald game,” said Coach Slade. “We have a solid game plan going into the matchup. In order to execute the game plan and win, we have to be physical and make open field tackles on #31 (Morgan) and whoever else they put out there.”
The Knights will try to dominate the line of scrimmage with their normal standout players. Junior sack-master Anthony Trinh will look to take on double teams and control the line of scrimmage, while second-year cornerback Ross Cefalu looks to maintain his outstanding level of play. However, sophomore lineman Andrew Thomas has provided a spark as of late and looks to make plays against the Fitzgerald offensive line. Coach Slade is very pleased with Thomas’s progression and development as a defensive tackle. “Andrew has really improved as of late. He is going to be crucial to our success defensively going into this game,” he said.
Offensively, junior lineman Timothy Coleman had a simpler approach to the Fitzgerald matchup. “Just score,” said Coleman. “Who can stop us if we score at will?” He’s right. The Knights’ offensive line dwarfs the Fitzgerald defensive front. With a clean pocket, that will give quarterback Kevin Johnson time to make plays. If the defense can hold up and limit big plays from Fitzgerald, the Knights will torture the Purple Hurricanes and write another dynamic chapter in this epic season’s book. The Knights square off against the Purple Hurricane of Fitzgerald High School at 7:30 p.m. at Jaycee Stadium in Fitzgerald for a berth in the GHSA Class AA Final Four. For those who can’t make it to Fitzgerald, the game will be broadcast on KnightFlix.