SOUTHEAST WHITFIELD RAIDERS
Coach: David Crane (7-23 here and overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 9/8/1
Remember these names: The Raiders have more offensive options than any team in the North sub-region, led by quarterback Levi Sams (Sr., 6-1, 160) and 1,000-yard rusher Coty Burch (Sr., 5-11, 175). What sets Southeast apart is three terrific receivers — David Rayburn (Sr., 6-4, 210), Blake Foster (Soph., 5-11, 170) and Rhett Harper (Soph., 5-11, 180) — that make this pass-first offense go.
Will be a memorable year if: The Raiders can improve last year’s porous defense. In a 1-9 season a year ago, they lost four games when scoring 30-plus points, including 66-38 to eventual region champ Ridgeland. The defense, decimated by injury and relying on several freshmen, allowed 49 or more points five times.
Aug. 26 at Murray County
Sept. 9 Allatoona
Sept. 16 at Cedartown
Sept. 23 Lithia Springs
Sept. 30 at LaFayette*
Oct. 7 Ringgold*
Oct. 14 Ridgeland*
Oct. 21 at Heritage*
Oct. 28 Dalton*
Nov. 4 Region play-in game
* Region 7A-AAA game
They are the orange in a crate full of apples, but being different in this case may turn out to be a blessing for the Southeast Whitfield Raiders.
Region 7-AAA, specifically subregion A, will be an old-school, wing-T-loving, run-heavy league in 2011 — except for the Raiders. Southeast’s spread attack averaged 24 points per game a year ago despite having a first-year starting quarterback, two freshman receivers and a freshman tackle.
Nine starters return for coach David Crane’s offense that features three dynamic receivers, a more confident quarterback in senior Levi Sams and 1,000-yard rusher Coty Burch. The offense’s pace is tough for most defenses to prepare for, according to senior receiver David Rayborn.
“The speed and intensity we have makes everything so much faster than other guys,” he said. “It gets the defense tired more. We just go as fast as we can and make plays. We have much more experience this year, and we’re improved at every position. If we can execute, I honestly believe we can score 50 a game.”
Everything starts with the passing game, where Sams has a bevy of options. The 6-foot-4 Rayborn is a difficult matchup over the middle. Sophomore Blake Foster is the best athlete and can break long gains on screens. Rhett Harper, another sophomore, is a precision route runner, and slot receiver David Cervantes provides a mismatch for linebackers.
“It’s a very versatile group and they all bring something different,” Crane said. “David Rayborn has a lot of experience and has great size, while the younger guys, Blake and Rhett, should improve on last year after getting thrown in as freshmen. We feel great about this group.”
Despite the team’s offensive prowess a year ago, the Raiders lost their last nine games by allowing over 40 points a game. Four key defenders were lost to injury early, and the youngsters who stepped in often wilted late in games.
Crane and his assistants have instilled a renewed effort to get tougher and be better prepared to finish games. It started with offseason workouts, which paid quick dividends.
“Last year we didn’t have a single player that could dead-lift 225 pounds,” Crane said. “When we tested them this spring, we had nine that could lift 250. Our main goal is to win the fourth quarter, and getting them stronger will help there.”
Rayborn echoed those thoughts following a recent tough practice.
“Our intensity went down after our first game for some reason,” he said. “If we keep playing hard the whole game, we’ll get more wins, no doubt. We’ve worked harder in practice to get tougher so we can play an entire game.”
If we can win the fourth quarter, we can do it. Last year if we had done that, we would have won five games.”
The 1987 Raiders appeared to be anything but special after starting the season 0-4. However, a 44-15 upset of Rossville, notable for the emergence of junior running back Patrick Fields (209 yards rushing and three touchdowns), spurred a five-game winning streak that put the team in rare playoff contention.
That streak was just two when Southeast visited mighty Dalton at vaunted Harmon Field. The Raiders had lost all eight previous meetings with Bill Chappell’s perennial powerhouse, and Dalton entered the game 6-0-1 after impressive wins over the likes of McCallie, Cartersville and Murray County.
However, the Raiders dominated at the start, going up 14-0 in the first quarter after Treg Hardson’s 57-yard scoring run and Fields’ two-point conversion. It was 14-7 with 2:43 remaining when Southeast fumbled at its own 45. A rare Dalton trick play moved the ball to the Southeast 3, where one play later Marcus Taylor scored with 1:09 remaining.
The Raiders’ shot at the monumental upset appeared gone until the snap for the point-after was high, resulting in a low kick that went below the crossbar.
Though Southeast won the game, Dalton had the last laugh when the Raiders lost in week 10 to Murray County, knocking them out of the playoffs. Dalton advanced to the region title game, losing to Villa Rica.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...