High School Sports

Macon County riding young but fast defense to semifinals

Senior linebacker Kentarius Felton (10) and the Macon County Bulldogs host ECI on Friday.
Senior linebacker Kentarius Felton (10) and the Macon County Bulldogs host ECI on Friday. photo@macon.com

When the topic of Macon County football comes up, the conversation generally steers toward offense.

From the start of the 2014 season, when the Bulldogs went 9-3 under then-head coach Larry Harold, through Friday’s 28-14 win over Manchester in the GHSA Class A public quarterfinals, the Bulldogs have been known for scoring. In that span, they have cracked the 35-point mark 22 times. Only twice this season have the Bulldogs failed to score that many points.

Yet, lost in the flurry of points and yards, as well as the performance of quarterback K’Hari Lane and a talented corps of receivers, is the defense.

“When we play schools our size, we play pretty good defense,” head coach Dexter Copeland said. “We had the two bad games. Of course, that was against Northside and Fitzgerald.”

This season, only four teams have scored more than 15 points on Macon County: Class 6A semifinalist Northside, Class 2A semifinalist Fitzgerald and Taylor County and Turner County in Class 1A.

Taylor County finished 10-2, and Turner County’s season ended at Macon County in the second round.

That stat will get a major test at 7:30 p.m. on Friday when Macon County welcomes Emanuel County Institute to Adams-Maffett Field in a GHSA Class 1A public school semifinal. But the Bulldogs from Twin City will have to cope with the speed of the Bulldogs from Montezuma.

“We’re not big at all,” Copeland said. “We’re gonna run you down and chase you down. We’re gonna get our hands on you, and we’re gonna hit you.”

Kentarius Felton is something of the poster child for the defense. He’s undersized and fast and plays hard.

“He’s a leader, now,” Copeland said of the 5-foot-10, 205-pound first-team Georgia Sports Writers Association All-State pick last year. “He’s an undersized Mike linebacker, but he’s a strong Mike linebacker. He makes plays for us all over the field.”

Felton struggled to single out who he thinks is the Bulldogs’ best defender.

“Oh, man,” he said, then citing a lineman and defensive back. “That’s really tough. Marquell Jackson, he’s rough, he makes a big impact on the game. Curt McDonald, he’s bad, too. He’s a playmaker, too.

“We’ve got a lot of them.”

The Bulldogs lost about half of the starting unit a year ago but have improved throughout this season. They held only one team to single digits a year ago competing in Class 2A but have done that four times this year.

Copeland and Felton each cited defensive lineman Nathan Oliver as a surprise impact player.

Macon County also expected to have Merrell Crawford and Tyrique Ridley in the lineup, but they suffered early season-ending injuries.

“We’re young,” Copeland said. “We’re playing four, five, six sophomores and a freshman most of the time. We have guys playing all over the place.

“We’ve had to kind of be real creative with our defense.”

Macon County gave up a late touchdown to Manchester last week after the game had been decided, allowing the Blue Devils to reach double digits.

Now, the Bulldogs face a team that has yet to score fewer than 38 points this season, and that was in its season-opening win over Metter. Since then, ECI’s minimum is 42 points. According to Maxpreps stats, which are based on games reported by schools, ECI averages 50.2 points per game to 46.3 for Macon County, putting the pair of Bulldogs 1-2 in the state in Class 1A.

But the host Bulldogs have played five games against four teams in the top 15 — Irwin County, Taylor County, Manchester twice and Turner County — and held them to an average of 21.2 points per game.

ECI hasn’t played quite the same number of high-powered offenses, but the visiting Bulldogs have a tradition-laden program, having won state titles in 2007 and 2012 as they prepare for their second straight semifinal.

So Felton knows how sharp practice must be for the group of gang tacklers who he thinks will be more physical than ECI is used to.

“Our defense will hit you,” he said. “We ain’t scared to hit you.”

Macon County is in the semifinal round for the first time since 1996 when the Bulldogs went 15-0 and won the Class 2A title.

GHSA Semifinals

Class 7A

Roswell at Westlake

Mill Creek at Grayson

Class 6A

Northside at Tucker

Valdosta at Dalton

Class 5A

Stockbridge at Rome

Kell at Buford

Class 4A

Mary Persons at Cartersville

Thomson at Jefferson

Class 3A

Greater Atlanta Christian at Peach County

Cedar Grove at Crisp County

Class 2A

Callway at Benedictine

Hapeville at Fitzgerald

Class 1A Public

ECI at Macon County

McIntosh County at Clinch County

Class 1A Private

Tattnall Square at Eagle’s Landing Christian

Fellowship Christian at Prince Avenue Christian

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