High School Sports

Special teams key to Peach County’s success

Omar Cervantes, left, and Mitchell Fineran form a talented kicking duo for the Peach County Trojans.
Omar Cervantes, left, and Mitchell Fineran form a talented kicking duo for the Peach County Trojans. sports@macon.com

For the first time since 2012, Peach County is practicing during the Thanksgiving break.

The Trojans are rolling along on an 11-game winning streak as they enter their GHSA Class 3A quarterfinal contest at Westminster at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

“(Practice) has been great this week,” Peach County head coach Chad Campbell said. “If you can’t get excited now, then I’m not sure what you play for. They’re excited, and they should be excited. Everybody is good that’s left. The ones that don’t make mistakes usually win the football game this time of year because everybody’s got a good football team.”

Waiting patiently on the sideline while Peach County has posted 40 or more points in six of its past seven games while winning by an average of 35 points are two specialists few teams in the state of Georgia can compete with.

Senior punter Omar Cervantes and junior place-kicker Mitchell Fineran are both Division I prospects and the type players who can separate two good football teams at this time of the season.

Fineran is 53-of-53 on extra-point tries this season and has missed just one field goal from less than 50 yards, while Cervantes has landed 14 punts inside the 20-yard line and recorded touchbacks on 86 percent of his kickoffs.

“We’re always competing at practice and trying to make each other better,” Cervantes said. “We have a really good long-snapper in Austin Brown, and that helps a lot. He’s really fast and accurate.”

“We can pin people back, and we can put points on the board when other teams can’t,” Fineran said.

Westminster enters Friday’s game with a solid kicking game of its own behind place-kicker Jack Schlafly. The Wildcats have won 10 straight games and swept through arguably the toughest region in Class 3A with a perfect 7-0 mark.

The defending state champion Wildcats have been held below 40 points just three times and easily beat North Hall and Savannah in the opening two rounds of the playoffs.

Zay Malcome, Westminster’s running back generously listed at 5-foot-5, scored five touchdowns against North Hall on his way to breaking the program record for career rushing yards and career touchdowns. Malcome is lightning quick, and his success on the ground offers opportunities for quarterback Ward Croft to have success on play-action.

“Offensively, the key to the car is (Malcome),” Campbell said. “He’s as good as they come. He’s like their version of Darren Sproles. He’s so small that people say they lose him behind that big offensive line. Nobody has stopped him. You just have to limit him from making those big explosive plays. They’re multiple on defense, and you don’t know what you’re going to get. They’ll play three different defenses in one game, so you have to prepare for all of that also.”

Two more areas where special teams could prove key are on kickoff return and punt return. Malcome had a 50-yard score on a punt return against Savannah a week ago, while Peach County dynamic playmaker Kearis Jackson had three returns of more than 37 yards, including a 63-yard score against North Murray last week.

“Kickers can definitely make a difference in tight ballgames, and it’s good to have,” Campbell said. “(Westminster) has a good kicking game, too. They’ve got good returners, and we’ve got good returners. They’ve got good kickers, and we’ve got good kickers. It might be tit for tat in that area this week, and it could come down to something like that. We’ve got to take care of business.”