Savannah Christian entered the playoffs with a 9-1 record, with its only loss coming in a 34-28 setback against crosstown rival Calvary Day — an undefeated squad that was ranked No. 2 among Class 3A teams as the playoffs commenced.
But SCPS hadn't cracked the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Class 3A Top 10 all season and Raiders coach Baker Woodward made sure to use that as motivation for his squad.
After beating visiting Hephzibah 41-26 in a first-round matchup, the Raiders went on the road and knocked off Peach County, which entered the playoffs ranked No. 5 among Class 3A teams in Georgia.
Now the Raiders (11-1) get another home game as they are set to host Sandy Creek (10-2), ranked No. 3 in the state, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pooler Stadium.
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The Raiders, who have allowed an average of 11.58 points per game, beat Peach County with another strong defensive performance in the 23-7 victory. Sophomore Elijah Griffin, the four-star defensive lineman, had 11 tackles, including two for losses, and senior linebacker Austin Saylor had a season-high 15 stops.
SCPS coach Baker Woodward said defensive back Kenry Wall was the defensive player of the game as the sophomore picked off a fourth-quarter pass to put things away, and had six tackles.
"Peach County had been in the state quarterfinals for the last seven years," Woodward said. "So for us to come up from Class A Private to 3A and end that streak of theirs on the road was a huge accomplishment for our team. Now we have Sandy Creek, which is probably one of the most talented teams we have faced all year. We respect them, but feel like we can match up well with anyone we play."
Sandy Creek scores an average of 37 points per game and allows 17 per contest. The Patriots' losses came against No. 1 ranked Cedar Grove in a 49-34 home loss on Oct. 21 and in an 23-20 overtime road setback against East Coweta, a Class 7A team, on Sept. 9.
The Patriots' defense is led by senior linebacker Marcellius Pulliam, who has offers including Auburn, Georgia Tech, Miami and Mississippi State, and defensive back Kaleb Cost, who has committed to North Carolina. He is also a standout receiver with 32 catches for 541 yards and five scores.
Senior quarterback Geimere Latimer has thrown for 2,231 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions and has rushed for 10 touchdowns and 571 yards. He is being recruited as a defensive back and has offers including Georgia Southern, Marshall and Tulane. His younger brother, freshman Amari Latimer, leads the team with 607 yards rushing and seven scores.
Senior Cameron Watts is another stellar two-way players with 34 catches for 681 yards and 11 touchdowns, with three interceptions on defense.
The Patriots have significant size on both sides of the line — including Mikalin Warren, a 6-foot-4, 350-pound defensive tackle who will go head-to-head with SCPS junior Noah Lewis, who weighs about 190 pounds.
"They have the fastest defense we have faced all season," Woodward said. "And they create a lot of turnovers with strips and interceptions. We need to hold onto the football and play our game."
Woodward praised the work of SCPS quarterback Paulus Zittrauer and his decision making. Zittrauer has thrown for 1,722 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions, while running for 376 yards and nine touchdowns.
Sophomore Zo Smalls is one of the top running backs in the state with 1,389 yards rushing and 22 total touchdowns on the season. Jayden Hester, Wall and Tyler Penrose have combined for 1,167 yards rushing and 24 total touchdowns.
Zittrauer's favorite targets are David Bucey, who has 36 catches for 721 yards and six touchdowns, and sophomore tight end Logan Brooking, who has 24 receptions for 367 yards and a score. Both double as defensive stoppers with Bucey at linebacker and Brooking on the line. Brooking has picked up offers from South Carolina and Virginia Tech.
"It's going to be awesome to have another home game because we get so much support from our fans when we play at Pooler Stadium," Zittrauer said. "We've seen film of Sandy Creek and I was impressed with how aggressive they are on defense. That linebacker No. 8 (Pulliam) is really good.
"But I think we match up well. It's been fun to watch Zo (Smalls) develop as a sophomore. Whenever they send in a play that has the ball going to Zo, I think he has a chance to score a touchdown. And Bucey has improved so much as a receiver. I know I can throw it to him and he'll go up and get it every time. Winning the game at Peach County showed that all our hard work is paying off, and we'll be ready to go again Friday night."
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Dknight@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Unranked Savannah Christian hosting Sandy Creek in state football Elite 8