Ronnie Jones has seen it all in his 39 years as a football head coach.
The 63-year-0ld head coach at Westfield has felt the sting of losing four state championship games at Westfield, before finally winning one last year by defeating Stratford in the championship game.
Jones has the Hornets back in the GISA Class AAA championship game this year, and they will face Pinewood Christian at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mercer University Stadium.
“One of the toughest things as a coach is to be on that losing side of a state championship game, because you work so hard to win and get so close, and then in one night it’s all over,” said Jones, who has more than 300 wins in his career, including 205 in his tenure at Westfield. “This week is different than any other week of the year, because I sit in my office and just wish we could play the game right now. We prepare for a very good football team, but when it comes down to it, we are just going to do what we have been doing all year and hope we are good enough to win.”
Pinewood enters the game with an 11-2 record and has won nine straight games. The Patriots are led by workhorse Preston Campbell, who ran for 190 yards on 30 carries in the team’s semifinal win over John Milledge. But Pinewood is by no means one dimensional, as quarterback Brenly Hagan has thrown for 1,687 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Westfield is coming off an emotional 28-7 win over rival Deerfield-Windsor, which handed the Hornets their only loss.
“I don’t know how good of a football team we were the first time we played them, especially on defense, but our coaches have done an outstanding job getting these kids ready to play,” Jones said. “We feel like we are very strong up front, with Walker Davison and John Walker Moore at defensive tackle and Matt Moore and Ben Murphy at defensive ends. Those guys have had great years, and then our linebackers, Wade Walker and Conner Cawthon are our leading tacklers. We have just continued to improve on the defensive side of the ball.”
Westfield’s offense has had another strong year. Josh Jenkins is averaging 11 yards per carry with 19 touchdowns, while Tanner Westbrook averages more than 10 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has turned into a dual-threat, throwing for 1,214 yards and 12 touchdowns, while running for another 13 touchdowns.
“Last year we had very vocal senior leaders, but this year it’s a different kind of senior class,” Jones said. “This is not a rah-rah kind of senior class. But once those light come on they are every bit as competitive as any team I have ever have. These are the type of kids that if you have a son, you want him to be just like these kids. I could not be more proud of this team.”
GISA championship games
WESTFIELD (12-1) VS. PINEWOOD CHRISTIAN (11-2)
Time: 7:30 p.m., Saturday at Mercer.
Series record: Westfield leads 5-2.
Last meeting: Westfield won 25-0 in 2013.
PIEDMONT (10-1) VS. MEMORIAL DAY (9-2)
Time: 3 p.m., Saturday at Mercer.
Series record: Memorial Day leads 4-1.
Last meeting: Memorial Day won 28-27 in 2009.