There may not be a bigger game this year than our Upstate Game of the Week; or Year if you prefer. This week the Stockton Blackhawks take their 18 game conference winning streak and lay it on the line at John O'Boyle Field as they play host to the Milledgeville Missiles. It is no surprise that these two teams are the favorites, just look back at a year ago, where Stockton edged out a 22-20 win against a Milledgeville team that lived up to its expectations. New year, same expectations for both teams as they will enter Friday's contest at 2-0 each. Stockton holds the lead 9-1 over Milledgeville over the past 10 years, with Milledgeville's last win coming during the 2008 season.
The Missiles had an explosive run attack, with a defense that blitzed a lot, and return 9 starters on each side of the ball. You can expect to see the same type of game plan on Friday. Stockton Head Coach Jesse Snyder is aware of what his team needs to do on both sides of the ball stating, "Milledgeville has a lot of weapons both offensively and defensively. They bring back almost everyone as well. Milledgeville uses many formations to set up their running attack. Defensively we have to do all the little things right. We have to be disciplined in our assignments, have relentless pursuit, and tackle." The Missiles bring a multi-option attack, which can be very hard to pick up on, especially considering the amount of experience they do return.
On the other end, everyone knows that Colin Dvorak powers the Blackhawk offense. In order to be successful you have to stop Stockton's leading rusher, or at least slow him down. To slow him down is of big importance, and Milledgeville Head Coach Jason Wroble can attest, "Dvorak's hard running was the difference in the game last year. We didn't finish our tackles last year and tried to tackle around his shoulder pads, which is a really bad combo against a hard running and strong back like Dvorak. Improving our tackling has been a focus from day one of practice. That has been a focal point of our practices all week and we will have to put those techniques to good use on Friday night to have a chance." Stockton will need to have other players step up to a bigger role for them to be successful against a hungry Missiles team. Look for Chase Rowe, Hunter Hille, Tyler Bartch, or Jason Hermann to help pitch in offensively.
Both teams know that offense is important, as the line play on both sides will dictate not only who can move the ball and score, but also who will have the field position advantage in what could be another big advantage in a slug fest, close game. Coach Snyder said, "From an offensive standpoint not much is different, we have to be disciplined in our assignments, take care of the ball, and play physical Blackhawk football. The team with the fewest mistakes gives themselves the best opportunity in the end. Milledgeville brings a lot of pressure based on specific situations. We have to identify blitz and pick it up." This game will come down to many facets, but taking care of the ball, limiting mistakes, and staying disciplined will be big factors between a win or a loss.
Last year Milledgeville stalled quite a few times, getting stopped on 1st down and not overcoming a 2nd or 3rd and long. Sustaining drives and protecting the ball will be keys to Milledgeville's success, as Coach Wroble points out, "Offensively, we will need to stay on schedule and keep our drives alive. Too often last year we had a tackle for a loss and we struggled to overcome a 2nd/3rd and long against Stockton's strong defense. Our backs have the ability to break long runs, but we have to grind out drives and get first downs to get our backs as many touches as possible. Lastly, ball security is going to big, we must win the turnover margin so we can earn extra possessions." With an offense that features Carson Boyer and Nate Rahn in the backfield, the Missiles have plenty of options to move the ball, as long as the line can make holes. And if a hole is made, watch out, as Milledgeville has the speed to take it to the house.
This game features a lot of weapons on offense, and fundamental discipline on defense. This may be the biggest game of the year, but neither can afford to look at this game as its "Bowl Game", as the winner may have the edge for the conference title, but the playoff picture will still loom large for both teams. It will be an exciting time in Stockton, and of course you can expect to see a large crowd close to the field as Stockton boasts one of the best places to watch a game close to the action.
This game will feature a radio broadcast by WCCI on 100.3, so if you can't make the game be sure to tune in, or follow our score updates on Twitter and Facebook. This one will be a treat, so get there early!