WAYNESBORO, Ga. — The offensive line knows the ball carriers don’t need much space. But the rushers anticipate they’ll get more than what’s needed.
The Burke County offensive line has bullied and blocked opposing defenses all season long, helping the Bears (13-1) average more than 45 points per game and leave them only 45 points away from setting the state record for points in a season.
Last Friday was perhaps the greatest example of their mastery: Almost 550 rushing yards for eight touchdowns on the ground with 9.2 yards per carry on the road against Gainesville in a 63-28 win in the Class AAA state semifinals.
“I love running behind that line,” said Montres Kitchens, who rushed for 161 yards on only 14 carries against the Red Elephants. “It feels good – it feels safe. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Starters Malcolm Aldridge (right guard), Deion Dukes (right tackle), Jay Dye (center), Juwan Gardner (left tackle) and Charles Petrea (left guard) have been doing it all year, with Aldridge and Petrea the two seniors of the group. They have been there since sophomore year.
Petrea said the blocking schemes don’t change depending on the rusher and on Friday five players had at least six carries. Three averaged more than 10 yards per carry while the other two combined to average more than six yards every attempt.
Though the rushers get most of the attention, Petrea cares about only getting yards and wins. He said the work and group cohesion makes the line so strong.
“They got all the battle scars, know what’s going on and what it takes to win big ball games,” offensive line coach Mercedes Hamilton said of Petrea and Aldridge. “With those two out there, I feel pretty confident.”
Hamilton was a captain and guard on the 1998 Tennessee Volunteers national championship team. Hamilton said his time there groomed him and helped him learn how to handle different situations, especially when it comes to adjusting to different defensive fronts and formations.
This Saturday, when the Bears meet Peach County in the Georgia Dome for the Class AAA state title, Hamilton said the Trojans’ defense has size and speed and is relentless. In other words, though defensive linemen might be blocked initially, “they don’t stay blocked.”
Hamilton and Gary Fulcher both coach the offensive line, and Burke County head coach Eric Parker said the two teach with a certain attitude that the players bring themselves to games.
“It’s kind of in-your-face, to a point,” Parker said. “They make life a lot easier.”
But this Saturday probably won’t be easy.
The Trojans (13-1) have given up more than 15 points in a game just once all year. Peach County surrenders only 9.1 points per game, with nine foes scoring in single digits.
However, Petrea knows the cracks in the line don’t have to be large for his team to have success.
“All we do is block, and hopefully they’ll find a seam or crease to run through behind us.”