Game: Marietta (12-2) vs. Lowndes (14-0), 8 p.m. Saturday, Georgia State Stadium TV: GPB Radio: 93.7 FM
Last meeting: Marietta 30, Lowndes 27 (Nov. 16, 2012)
All-time series: Marietta leads 1-0
Prediction: Lowndes 35, Marietta 28
Marietta’s Richard Morgan has coached football for 25 years and is set to coach his fifth state championship game when the Blue Devils take on Lowndes on Saturday for the Class AAAAAAA state championship at Georgia State Stadium.
Morgan led Oscar Smith of Chesapeake, Virginia, to two state championships in 2008 and 2011 and settled for runner-up finishes in 2013 and 2015.
He would like to bring a championship trophy to Marietta for the first time in 52 seasons, but there is a difference between wanting the prize and wanting it too much.
“I learned to let kids relax and don’t psyche them out because, once the ball is kicked off, it’s like they are playing any other football game,” Morgan said. “The prize at the end is greater, but you can’t focus on the prize at the end. You’ve got to focus on the process at hand. You can’t be looking into the future or thinking about anything but the process at hand.”
For Morgan and the Blue Devils, being in the state championship game is not so much about staying healthy or catching the right breaks. It is about peaking for the playoffs.
Marietta has beaten Camden County, defending state champion Milton, Mill Creek and Parkview to advance to the state championship, and it beat each team by double digits. The Blue Devils have turned the ball over only four times in the postseason. They haven’t given up big plays on special teams, and Morgan said they are tackling well and are keeping mistakes at a minimum.
To have his teams play its best, Morgan and the coaching staff have been making tweeks to its offense and defense and improve on technique. While the Blue Devils are still running the basic spread offense and 4-2-5 defense, coaches present them in different ways toward the end of the year. Morgan said they want to show different formations, different motions and take advantage of blitz concepts to throw teams off.
Just before halftime against Parkview last week, Marietta caught the Panthers off guard when running back Kimani Vidal reversed a toss to Arik Gilbert, who threw it to quarterback Harrison Bailey for a 1-yard touchdown with 3 seconds left. They had not called that play before.
“In different weeks, we’ve done different things that provided big plays that we haven’t shown on film,” Morgan said. “Everybody has our film, so everyone kind of knows our basics, but we’ve got to throw something different every now and then to keep them off balance.”
Morgan also said the Blue Devils are going to have to keep Lowndes sophomore dual-threat quarterback Jacurri Brown off balance to have success.
Brown has 1,253 passing yards and nine touchdowns this season to go with 1,508 yards on the ground along with 20 touchdowns.
He has been essential in helping Lowndes top Gwinnett County powers North Gwinnett and Grayson en route to the state championship game.
“We’ve got to find a way to slow him down because he makes their offense go,” Morgan said. “He’s a very good athlete. He’s very elusive, and he breaks long touchdown runs almost every game. We have to keep him in check.”
Lowndes also has Israel Mitchell who has run for 741 yards and seven touchdowns, and Justin Lee, who has run for 780 yards and nine touchdowns.
Also, it appears as if running back and middle linebacker Gary Osby will return from injury.
Morgan said Lowndes plays man-to-man defense. Marietta’s success will hinge on the offensive line giving Bailey time to throw down the field. If the Blue Devils can get Vidal in space like they have in earlier playoff games, he’ll have a chance to break long runs.