Game: Pope (3-2) at Dunwoody (2-3), 7:30 p.m.
Last year: Pope 26, Dunwoody 0
All-time series: Pope leads 3-0
Prediction: Pope 27, Dunwoody 14
Even with a slow start and without one of the best running backs in the county, Pope was able to double up Chattahoochee 34-17 last Friday.
The game was tied 17-17 at the break. Then, the Greyhounds went into the locker room and came out a changed team. Pope responded to coach Tab Griffin’s halftime talk just as he hoped they would and came out and blanked the Cougars for the last two quarters.
“I had a little ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting with them,” Griffin said. “I felt like we just came out flat, kind of soft, and we didn’t play our normal physical game. I told them it was one of the worst first halves I’ve witnessed. They responded in the second half. They started playing physical and pretty much just took over the game.”
Getting off to a quicker, more physical start has been Pope’s focus all week. With star running back Joe Stellmach likely out again due to injury, the run-heavy Greyhounds will turn to a new look, more balanced running attack against Dunwoody.
Jasper Merriman was Pope’s leading rusher against Chatahoochee with 137 yards on 14 carries. He’s more of an elusive, speedy runner than Stellmach, which led to the powerful Paris Cameron getting 13 touches of his own, largely carrying the ball on the power plays that Stellmach usually excels at running.
Will Zegers carried 11 times against the Cougars from his usual wide receiver position, where Pope likes to get him the ball both through the air and on sweeps and counters. He picked up 118 yards and a touchdown against Chatahoochee.
“We became more balanced,” Griffin said. “In the past we kind of went as Joe went and we put the load on Joe. We became a different team and that may have been partly the reason why the first half was the way it was. In the second half we became a different team, we became more balanced.”
Griffin thinks he sees similarities between Chattahoochee and Dunwoody. Both teams feature a dynamic quarterback, one that can make plays with both his legs and his arm. Dunwoody also features size outside at receiver that will challenge Pope’s defensive backs.
“They’ve been pretty much throwing the ball all over the place,” Griffin said. “They’re more of a passing team than they are a running team. For us, we’ve been concentrating a lot on that, how the quarterback throws, how he releases, when he gets in trouble who he looks for.”
Defensively, it’s Dunwoody’s linebackers that give Pope the most to worry about. They’re the focus of the Greyhounds run-heavy attack, and dealing with the playmakers at that level will be key to giving Merriman, Cameron, and Zegers room to run.
Pope wants to get its running backs through the first defenders and force the Dunwoody secondary to make tackles. If the Greyhounds can get their three ball carriers matched up in one-on-one situations against cornerbacks and safeties, they like their chances to repeat the 380 yard rushing day the team had in its win over Chattahoochee.