After their second and final bye week of the season, the Mary Persons Bulldogs will host West Laurens at Dan Pitts Stadium on Friday night with the winner squarely in the driver’s seat for the Region 2-AAAA title.
The Bulldogs, 4-3 overall (2-0 in Region 2-AAAA), and Raiders, 6-1 overall (2-0 in Region 2-AAAA), are two of the three teams, along with Perry, in a three-team tie atop the region. MP enters Friday’s contest on a program-record 23-game region winning streak, but it was West Laurens who gave MP its last Region 2-AAAA defeat, upsetting the Dogs 21-14 in Forsyth in the 2014 regular season finale.
The Bulldogs have dominated the series with West Laurens, winning 14 of 16 all-time meetings with the Raiders, all of which have occurred since 1994. MP’s latest pounding of the Raiders came in Dexter in 2019 when the Dogs’ prevailed 52-14. MP sprinted out to a 38-0 halftime lead en route to scoring seven touchdowns in the first three quarters. MP’s dynamic duo of quarterback J.T. Hartage and running back Quen Wilson had enormous games against West Laurens with Hartage passing for 272 yards, the fourth-highest single-game total in school history, and three touchdowns while Wilson ran for 117 yards and two scores in less than a half of work.
The Raiders, ranked No. 10 in AAAA in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) poll, opened the 2019 season with a 53-0 home thrashing of AA East Laurens before edging AAA Crisp County 16-13 on the road. West Laurens then outscored AA Dodge County 42-28 on the road before being dealt their lone loss of the season in a 31-30 home heartbreaker against AAAAA South Effingham. The Raiders then bounced back with a 21-7 road win at AAAAA Statesboro in their final non-region contest. Since stepping into region play, West Laurens has dominated its first two opponents, smashing Howard 43-7 at home on Oct. 4 and demolishing Spalding 49-6 on the road on Oct. 11.
The Raiders are led by third-year head coach Kagan McClain, who took West Laurens to the second round of the state playoffs in his first season at the helm in 2017. After advancing past the first round of state in four consecutive seasons from 2014-17, the Raiders missed out on the postseason in 2018 after losing four of five region contests.
Offensively, West Laurens is led by senior lefty quarterback A.J. Mathis, a four-year starter, who has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,425 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Mathis’ favorite target is speedy senior wide receiver Brent Carr, who has caught 51 passes for 807 yards and three touchdowns. Another top perimeter athlete is 6’5” junior wide receiver Tyler Franks, a star Raiders’ baseball pitcher, who has 22 receptions for 342 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the backfield the Raiders feature a pair of talented senior running backs, Daniel Dorsey and Christian Covin, who have combined for 827 rushing yards and 8 rushing TDs on 93 total carries.
Dorsey is also a standout defender at strong safety, having recorded 34 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. But perhaps the Raiders’ top defender is senior linebacker D’Eryk Jackson, who has a team-high 62 tackles, including five sacks. Jackson is not the only Raiders’ defender who has spent much of 2019 in the backfield. West Laurens has made things miserable on opposing quarterbacks, recording 36 sacks in just 7 games. Two defensive linemen, Spencer Dacus and Daniel Lindo, share the team lead with 7 each.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have exploded offensively in region play, averaging 37.5 points per game in their first two region games after averaging just 25.2 points per game during non-region play. Much of the newfound offensive success can be attributed to MP head coach Brian Nelson deciding on a quarterback as freshman Logan Hickman had his best game to date in a 37-28 home win over Upson-Lee on Oct. 11. Hickman passed for a career-high 231 yards and three touchdowns en route to being named the Macon Telegraph’s Middle Georgia Player of the Week. Since taking over the QB job full-time at the outset of region play, Hickman’s favorite target has been wide receiver Malikk Harris, who shared QB duties with Hickman in the season’s first four weeks. Harris, who leads the Bulldogs with 12 receptions, achieved his first career 100-yard receiving game against the Knights, highlighted by a memorable TD grab.
While MP’s passing game has only recently come alive, the Bulldogs’ vaunted rushing attack has continued to dominate in 2019. Top tailbacks William Stewart and Rico Harden have combined to run for 926 yards and 12 touchdowns on 127 carries despite each being hampered by injuries.
The MP defense has also risen to the occasion when it matters, limiting region opponents to 20.5 points per game after giving up a program record 31.4 points per game against non-region competition. Linebackers Andre Jackson and Thomas Warren are the Dogs’ top two tacklers with 52 and 50 tackles, respectively. But it’s the MP defensive line that has come alive in recent weeks, guiding MP to better results. The four D-Line starters, defensive tackles Jalen Germany and Sherriod Jordan and defensive ends Lamont Jones and Tra Jones, have combined for 71 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
If Friday’s game is as close as so many other Dogs’ games have been in 2019, the Bulldogs could have a special teams advantage with reliable senior kicker Julian Rivera. Rivera has made 7 of his 9 field goal attempts, including a 51-yarder, and 21 of his 22 extra-point tries.
Since Friday night’s game is MP’s final home regular season contest of the season, the Bulldogs will honor their 23 seniors prior to the game.