With a win in the Region 7AAAAA play-in game, Creekview (8-1) would earn no worse than a top-two seed for the state playoffs — it would be region champion if Kell loses to Forsyth Central — and a home game for the first round of the playoffs.
With a loss, the Grizzlies’ season — and their coach’s career — would end.
Creekview coach Al Morrell considers Friday’s contest to be the first part of the Grizzlies’ postseason play.
“We aren’t putting any extra pressure on our players for this one,” Morrell said. “We are preparing for it as if it was the first round of the state playoffs.”
Facing the Grizzlies will be a Riverwood squad that, despite finishing fourth in the southern half of the region, has amassed a winning record and holds a victory over the northern subregion’s second seed, Sequoyah.
Had the Raiders (6-3) not been upset by a Sprayberry squad that has only three wins this season, they would be seeded third and hosting Sequoyah on Friday rather than the Grizzlies.
Riverwood will present much more of a challenge than its seeding indicates, Morrell said, with the biggest concern coming with stopping the Raiders’ triple-option attack.
“When you’re defending against the triple option, it comes down to playing assignment football,” Morrell said. “After reading the defense, their quarterback can either decide to give it to the dive running back, pull it and run it himself, or option it. It is their bread-and-butter, and they make a living off of it, so we’ll have to play sound defensively and make sure to call the right assignments.”
Creekview’s last opponent to utilize the triple option was Forsyth Central, which the Grizzlies routed 47-14 on Oct. 26.
“We gained some good experience against the option against Forsyth,” Morrell said. “On their first drive, they drove about 90 yards and scored a touchdown, but once we adjusted, we defended the option very well.”
Morrell believes the Raiders will line up in a 3-3 stack defensive formation — a formation often used to confuse an opposing team’s offensive line by mixing up gap blitzes from their linebackers.
“Somebody is going to be flying into each gap, so our offensive line will have to know their rules and when to pick up the right guy,” Morrell said. “It’s the kind of system that can be effective for pressuring the quarterback or for stopping the run.”
On the injury front, Morrell has received mixed updates concerning key players.
Connor Dulmage, an outside linebacker and wide receiver, will not play due to a cracked rib that he suffered two weeks ago in practice. However, leading receiver Hunter Udall is expected to play after suffering a concussion against North Springs last week.
“It is a huge boost to have Hunter back,” Morrell said. “I believe in a balanced attack, and to throw the ball, we need Hunter, so it’s a big relief to have him.”
Linebackers Zack Henson and Trent Gilleland, neither of whom played against North Springs, are expected to start.
Will Morrell’s impending retirement, Friday could very well be the last game of his coaching career, but he insisted that thoughts of his time at Creekview ending have not been on his mind.
“My focus is totally on preparing this football team and giving them the best opportunity to win the game,” Morrell said.
Morrell also doesn’t expect the Grizzlies’ season to be ending so soon.
“I’m always one the think positively,” he said. “I think we have a great chance of moving forward if we execute and play well.”