Asked which phase of his Greenbrier Wolfpack he found more impressive Friday night, coach Mickey Derrick seemed at a loss for words. Too many choices for one man to digest, a buffet of individual stars highlighting Greenbrier's decisive 33-14 win over Hephzibah at Levels Field.
"Who do you single out first?" Derrick asked. "All I can say is this was one heck of a team effort tonight."
Game balls easily could have been doled out to every member of the Wolfpack passing attack, especially quarterback Will Caywood. The area's leading passer, Caywood threw at will against an overmatched Rebels secondary that seemed perplexed trying to defend Greenbrier's spread offense.
"Matt (Jackson) was getting open early for me, but the difference is that I had all day to throw," said Caywood, who tossed three touchdown passes, two to Jackson, and has 11 TDs in four games. "When you can sit back there and pick out a receiver, it makes my job easier."
Balls could have been delivered en masse to the Wolfpack defense, which stifled Hephzibah's offense for three-and-a-half quarters, forcing Rebels quarterback Thomas Payton into "the worst game of his career," coach Bill Navas said.
"I think that might have been the best defensive effort we've seen at Greenbrier in several years," Derrick said after watching his 11 hold Hephzibah to no points and 69 yards through three periods before two late scoring drives skewed the statistics.
And Derrick, if he had more footballs to spare, could have awarded his three-pronged running back attack of Al Simmons, Nick Wandless and Ronney Bussey, each running with a different tempo. The three helped shorten the game after halftime, compiling 208 yards as Greenbrier controlled the clock and methodically added to its 21-0 halftime lead.
A game filled with Region 3-AAAA implications proved to be overwhelmingly one-sided in the Columbia County team's favor. The Wolfpack improved to 2-0 in the region, 3-1 overall, as they prepare for next week's showdown with Thomson.
Hephzibah hoped to use this game as validation after winning its first two region games, but the Rebels played as if they were intimidated by the challenge. They dropped to 2-1 in region play, 2-3 overall and have a week to simmer.
"They came after us tonight, and we didn't respond to their effort," Navas said. "We left our defense on the field for most of the first half, and against these guys, you can't do that."
Caywood struck on nine of his first 10 passes, finding his flanker Jackson on deep curls, or tight end Kent Adcox as an outlet to beat Hephzibah's corner blitzes. The Pack scored on both of their first two possessions, Caywood finding Jackson from 12 yards, then Caywood sneaking in from the 1.
Leading 14-0, Caywood's eighth completion would set a milestone. He found Graham Posey on a 28-yard touchdown bomb, helping the 6-foot-2 senior eclipse the 1,000-yard passing mark through four games.
"I've thrown twice as much, so I probably should have that many yards," said Caywood, who broke his wrist two games into the 1999 season and played only four games.
"I never thought I'd have that much through four games, though."
Caywood's 16th and final pass came midway through the third quarter, when he connected with an open Jackson on a slant from 26 yards, giving Greenbrier a 27-0 lead.
Payton, the Rebels junior quarterback, had hoped to give more of a quality showing against Caywood, even trying to build this game up as a battle of gunslingers. It backfired on him, as he completed just nine of 26 passes, with three interceptions.
"I think the pressure got to him, and he showed his immaturity as a junior," Navas said. "He tried to make this a battle of QBs, but I think we all saw that the better quarterback won. Thomas is a good quarterback, and hopefully he'll learn from this mistake."
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219.