When Prince Avenue Christian School’s football team runs out on Brad Akins Field to meet rival Athens Academy for the annual Backyard Brawl on Friday night they will do so with the opportunity to of a season.
A win over the Spartans would be the first since they beat the Spartans in 2016, which coincidently was the last time they hosted the Backyard Brawl.
Winning Friday’s game would give the Wolverines control of their destiny in the hunt for the Region 8A championship crown.
If they lose, well, it won’t define their 2019 season and neither does winning.
“It can’t be the only thing we base our season on,” junior Brock Vandagriff said. “We’re looking at the big picture. If we beat them, we beat them. We’re trying to win a state championship.”
The Wolverines expect to be a different team by the time the playoffs begin regardless of what happens on Friday night.
They’ve changed as a team in the last three weeks. The biggest and most obvious change to the casual eye is that junior quarterback Brock Vandagriff hasn’t been on the field for the last two games due to an injury.
“It’s a big game and a big week, but it’s not the season,” PACS head coach Greg Vandagriff said. “Anytime you lose your leader or your best player, you challenge your team and we have to become a different football team... I think we’ve responded well. Athens Academy is big, strong and physical. They’re across the street. It’s our backyard brawl as they say. It’s one of those deals where you’re going against your best friend but you’re still going to go out there and play. You’re still going out there to do your best to win the football game.”
The Wolverines have still had their passing attack, but they’ve found a rushing attack in recent weeks. The Wolverines ran for 300 yards last week against Riverside Military Academy. That was their season high.
“I think it’s going to make us a much better football team,” Vandagriff said. “We’re not just relying on the superstar and telling him to go make a play. Now, the running backs are stepping up, the offensive line is stepping up the defensive line has stepped up and the linebackers have stepped up. We’re learning to compete and play hard and win. We scored 70 points without Brock. Now, instead of looking to run that pass play on fourth and two, we’ve got several run plays we can run now. I think the last few years where we’ve struggled to run the football, we’ve now discovered we can run the ball.”
The underlying, hidden and undervalued change has been what’s happened since the losing their star quarterback and losing to Wesleyan. The Wolverines’ locker room has unified and rallied around their freshman quarterback Lucian Anderson III.
Immediately after the loss to Wesleyan junior wide receiver Logan Johnson sent a text to Anderson. Johnson wanted his freshman quarterback that the team had his back.
“That night I texted Lucian (Anderson) and I was like ‘hey bro, I know this loss hurts, but you’re the guy until Brock comes back and we need you and I’m going to get everyone behind you and we’re going to fight,’” Johnson said.
Players have stepped into the spotlight ready to contribute more, do more and play differently than what they had expected to have to coming into the season.
The Wolverines’ ability to find new ways to win and pull together in the face of their early season adversity is one of the more encouraging things seen by the PACS coaching staff so far.
“We’ve had some of adversity and instead of pointing fingers, they’ve pulled together,” Vandagriff said. “When attacked, how are you going to respond? We responded by pulling together and unifying which is what you want your team to do. Any good team is going to unify.”