Washington's Generals strive to reclaim perch
A two-year journey culminates for the Washington School football team Friday.
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When the Generals hit the field at Mississippi College's Robinson-Hale Stadium in Clinton for their 2 p.m. state championship matchup against Starkville Academy, they'll be looking to reclaim the perch that they have practically made their own in recent years.
After Washington won back-to-back Class AAA-II titles in 2008 and 2009, the Generals fielded an inexperienced team under then-first-year head coach Philip Wasson in 2010, scuffling to a meager 5-6 overall record.
A year later and now Wasson has the Generals on the cusp of their third state crown in four years, a feat made more remarkable by the fact Washington is primarily relying on the same individuals who struggled throughout last year.
"The same kids that played last year are the same kids that played this year," said Wasson. "We just played a lot of 10th and 11th graders last year and we knew we'd be going through some growing pains, but these kids now have a lot of experience."
All the playing time and lessons learned a season ago helped Washington blossom back into one of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools' elite programs this fall, relying on pure teamwork to get back to the top.
"We don't have any superstars, we just have a team," said Wasson. "We've got a lot of kids who play well together and do what the coaches ask. We don't have one guy to really pinpoint. We've got a couple of guys who are outstanding, but we could live without any of them because we play as a team."
It's a concept that has boded well for the Generals, who enter Friday's game with an overall record of 10-1.
Washington's only loss this season was a road defeat at the hands of Class AAA-I power Jackson Academy.
Such a strong year gave the Generals their division championship and a first-round home playoff game last week against East Rankin Academy, who Washington defeated 20-14.
Now, the Generals look to polish off the year by winning the big one, something Wasson knows won't be easy against Starkville Academy.
Though Washington beat SA 37-7 last year in the regular season, Wasson knows this year's Volunteers are not the same group as 2010's version.
"You can tell the coaches did a wonderful job," said Wasson. "They've got some of the same players, but the players are playing differently. The kids are very, very sound.
"We're facing a great team on Friday."
Wasson believes he has the weapons in place to potentially overcome SA.
Washington is paced offensively by running back Ryan Gober, who has ran for more than 1,000 yards this season.
"He's a hard-hitting runner and a slasher," said Wasson. "He's got the speed to take it the distance, but he's not looking to take it the distance. He's just looking to get hard yards."
Linebacker Read Kelly leads the Generals defense.
"He's a physical guy," said Wasson. "He had a good game against Starkville last year. When you play a running team, he really steps up a lot just because he's a real physical kid."
Behind Gober, Kelly and the rest of his team, Wasson is eagerly anticipating battling the Vols on Friday. As for who will come out on top, Wasson says that will probably be determined based on a pair of football's most basic factors.
"Whoever turns the ball over the least and whoever has the field position, that's going to be the team that wins the game I believe," said Wasson.