High School Sports

Redemption-minded Mary Persons opens playoffs against Westover

Mary Persons doesn’t have to wait long for redemption.

A week after falling short of their first outright region title since 1997, the Bulldogs will be eager to rebound Friday when they host Westover to open the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs.

Mary Persons (8-2) will to look move past last week’s 21-14 loss to West Laurens, one in which the Bulldogs turned the ball over five times and were held without an offensive score.

“We talked about it on Sunday with the players when they came in. It’s a new season. All that’s over and done with,” Mary Persons head coach Brian Nelson said. “We’re in the playoffs, we have the same opportunity everyone else has got, and we’re trying to win one and keep going.”

As the second seed out of Region 2-AAAA, Mary Persons hosts Westover (6-4), seeded third out of Region 1-AAAA.

“I think teenagers, kids especially, are probably a lot more resilient than us adults in their ability to bounce back quicker,” Nelson said. “We’ve had three good days of practice, and we’re excited to still be playing another week and have that opportunity.”

Westover will provide a golden opportunity for Mary Persons to regain a form that enabled it to win seven games in a row and defeat five opponents by at least 30 points. Eliminating miscues will be tantamount for the Bulldogs. Against West Laurens, Mary Persons had a touchdown run by Dee High called back due to a penalty. Of the five turnovers committed by the Bulldogs, two led to opposing scores with a pair of interceptions coming in the end zone.

Unlucky bounces played a factor in those turnovers. Of the four interceptions thrown by quarterback Jake Johnston, two were passes that were deflected within the opposing 10-yard line.

“Obviously, they hurt us. If we’re going to continue to play, we can’t continue to turn the ball over. That was really uncharacteristic of us. We’d been doing a good job of taking care of the ball,” Nelson said. “Those things happen in the course of the game, you have to just find a way to respond and react. Those things are going to happen, they just happened at a bad time for us.”

A Mary Persons defense that has held four of its region opponents without an offensive score will face a challenge against a strong Westover offensive line, a unit with a goal of paving the way for players at skill positions to make plays.

The Patriots’ biggest eye-catcher is on defense. Trent Thompson, a defensive tackle for Westover who has committed to Georgia, is ranked as one of the nation’s top overall prospects by multiple online recruiting services.

“Westover’s full of athletes. They have them all over the place and have big linemen and good athletic skill guys that can run and do a little bit of everything,” Nelson said. “They’ll present a pretty stout challenge.”

The Patriots are becoming postseason regulars under head coach Octavia Jones. This is their second state playoff appearance in a row, with a first-round victory the past two years.

Westover’s path is similar to Mary Persons. The Bulldogs are in the postseason for the fourth year in a row. A win Friday would advance them to at least the second round for the fourth straight season, as well, a feat most recently accomplished from 1995 to 1998.

BALDWIN BRAVES

Record: 6-4; third place in Region 2-AAAA.

Opponent: Worth County, 6-3; second place in Region 1-AAAA.

Series record/last meeting: First meeting.

Next up: White County or Cartersville.

Players to watch for Baldwin: DE Malik Clark, Soph.; OL Jalen Lumpkin Sr.; LB Shelton Graves, Sr.; DB Keldrick Bell, Fr.; RB Kentavious Thomas, Sr.

Middle Georgia Class AAAA playoff capsules

MARY PERSONS BULLDOGS

Record: 8-2; second place in Region 2-AAAA.

Opponent: Westover, 6-4; third place in Region 1-AAAA.

Series record/last meeting: First meeting.

Next up: Southeast Whitfield or Buford.

Players to watch for Mary Persons: DE/TE Malik Herring, Soph.; OL Amari Walker, Sr.; DB Dee Gaines, Jr.; LB/RB John Perkins, Sr.; QB Jake Johnston, Jr.

VETERANS WARHAWKS

Record: 3-7; fourth place in Region 2-AAAA.

Opponent: Cairo, 8-2; first place in Region 1-AAAA.

Series record/last meeting: First meeting.

Next up: North Oconee or Gilmer.

Players to watch for Veterans: RB Desjuan Harris, Jr.; DE Sam Dumas, Sr.; OL Logan Hurless, Jr.; DL Jamar Simmons, Sr.; LB Kori Walker, Soph.

WEST LAURENS RAIDERS

Record: 7-3; first place in Region 2-AAAA.

Opponent: Bainbridge, 6-4; fourth place in Region 1-AAAA.

Series record/last meeting: First meeting.

Next up: Stephens County or Pickens.

Players to watch for West Laurens: LB Matthew Turner, Sr.; RB Darius Bradford, Soph.; DE Mataio Elvin, Soph.; DB Austin Faulk, Sr.; QB Garrel Quainton, Sr.

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