Thoughts from coaches of teams flying under the radar: Irwin’s Nobles, Mt. Paran’s Jordan

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

While practicing on Thanksgiving can cause some logistical challenges for some athletes and coaches, it is also a privilege because it means your team has advanced to the state quarterfinals.

Today we hear from two coaches fortunate enough to still be playing football on the fourth Thursday in November – Irwin County’s Buddy Nobles and Mt. Paran Christian’s Mitch Jordan.

While both teams have championship pedigree – Irwin has played for the public school state title two consecutive seasons, while Mt. Paran went undefeated (14-0) in winning the private school crown in 2014 – they went into this year’s post season without a lot of fanfare. Irwin (8-4) is seeded No. 21 on the public side while Mt. Paran (10-1) is seeded No. 6 on the private side.

Still, don’t be surprised to see either or both teams in the Dome the weekend of Dec. 9-10.

Buddy Nobles, Irwin County

How did being seeded No. 21 sit with your team?

“We’re fortunate to be where we are. The fact is that we lost three important games early and a fourth one late in the season, and the teams we beat didn’t win a lot of games. That’s how the power ratings work. We have a coach on our staff who kind of keeps up with it for us. But our guys are mature enough to not let that bother them. Our senior class has been fortunate enough to practice on Thanksgiving all four years. They’ve faced great competition in our region and in the playoffs. To be honest, our kids play hard every Friday night, so the power rating doesn’t provide any more motivation. They play with a chip on their shoulder every week.”

What is your team’s mindset having won your first two playoff games relatively easily and advancing to the quarterfinals to face Emanuel County Institute, a team you defeated in last year’s semifinals?

“We were fortunate to get up on Dooly early and put a number up on them (42-0), but against Mt. Zion, we were leading 10-7 at the half but we hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown. We were able to pull away a little bit in the second half (34-17), but that was a game that wasn’t over until it was over. It says a lot about the team Mt. Zion has and the type of team we have. Our kids are focused. We were very fortunate to have beaten ECI last season, but our kids know that now they have a bullseye on their backs. Having done what we’ve done the past couple of years, we feel fortunate for what we have accomplished. But our guys are resilient. They want to play well every Friday night.”

What has been the key to the team’s success this season?

“Our offensive line has done an exceptional job, especially when you consider that we’ve had to go without [all-state player] Tristan Billingsley, after he got injured. Our coaches have done a great job and the kids have played well for us. Defensively, we’ve had to switch from a four-man front to a three-man front because we didn’t have the depth we needed due to injuries. But our coaches did a great job changing our scheme and it has helped us get some smaller guys on the field but put them in positions where they can be successful. We’re not as big as we have been in the past and we’re not tall. But we’re very fast this year and we’ve been able to use that to our advantage.”

Who are some of your key players who have stepped up this season?

“Nathan Tucker (5-11, 215) is a kid who has moved from linebacker to the defensive line, and he also starts at guard for us. He has thrown everything aside and said he will do whatever the team needs him to do. He’s been great all season. It has been great to see Ty Hogan (DB/WB, 5-10, 170) come back from the knee injury he had last season to play as well as he has all year. And of course Jeremiah Ashley (RB/LB/DB) has been phenomenal. He has 1,300 yards rushing and 25 total touchdowns. He’s having a very impressive year.”

What will it take to go to Twin City and beat ECI on Friday night?

“They are a great team. They are long and athletic, and very well coached. They are really great offensively. For us, everyone just has to do their job and we have to protect the football. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

Mitch Jordan, Mt. Paran Christian

How is this year’s team different from those of the past few seasons?

“We’ve been fortunate to win a lot of games the last couple of years. Each team is different, but I would say this team is a team of great effort. Not a lot was expected from this senior class and I think they took it upon themselves to go out and be as good as they can be. We don’t have guys like Dorian Walker (RS-Fr. DB at Georgia Tech), Taylor Trammell (35th overall pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft by the Cincinnati Reds) or Emoni Williams (So. WR at West Georgia, previously at Jacksonville), but our kids play with great effort. I’m extremely proud of this group and what they’ve accomplished.”

This senior class is 43-6, including this season, with a state championship. Has all that previous success helped?

“I think it has. Our kids have that confidence to pull some close games out. When you play teams like Darlington (24-22 win in Region 6 crossover game) and Athens Academy (17-10 win in second round of the state playoffs last week), you’re able to make those plays you need to make down the stretch in order to win. It has given our kids a lot of confidence.”

Who have been some of your key players this season?

“Jared Knox, our quarterback, has been very solid each week. Connor Hinkle is a junior we moved from linebacker to defensive end. He sets the tempo for us from a defensive standpoint. He plays with tremendous effort and really sets the tone for our team. Our offensive line has played very tough all season, on Carter Smith is the leader. He’s a four-year starter there for us and he’s been great all year.”

After losing to Fellowship Christian (11-0) in Week Two of the regular season, do you think you have an advantage, having played them already?

“You know it’s never fun having to face a team twice. We’ve had experience with that in the past. I think it’s a situation where we both really know each other and have a lot of respect for each other. They’re a team with not a lot of weaknesses. They have great leadership and you can’t make mistakes against them because they will capitalize on them. I think we have improved each week and they have as well.”

Quarterfinal Matchups – Private

Upper Left Brackett

No. 8 Wesleyan at No. 1 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy

Lower Left Brackett

No. 5 Tattnall Square Academy at No. 4 Calvary Day

Upper Right Brackett

No. 7 Landmark Christian School at No. 2 Prince Avenue Christian

Lower Right Brackett

No. 6 Mt. Paran Christian at No. 3 Fellowship Christian

Quarterfinal Matchups – Public

Upper Left Brackett

No. 8 Manchester at No. 1 Macon County

Lower Left Brackett

No. 21 Irwin County at No. 4 Emanuel County Institute

Upper Right Brackett

No. 7 Commerce at No. 2 Clinch County

Lower Right Brackett

No. 14 Greene County at No. 6 McIntosh County Academy

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