The Buccaneers aren’t satisfied yet.
McIntosh County Academy (4-5, 2-3) all but guaranteed itself a playoff spot a week ago, but now the team has set their sights on opening the postseason at The Ship as they cap off the regular season in a Region 3-A crossover game against Treutlen (4-5, 1-4).
Kickoff from Darien is set for 7:30 p.m.
It’s been nearly three years since the Buccaneers last experienced playoff football. The seniors on the team were just freshmen when McIntosh earned a first-round bye before hosting Lincoln County in front of a roaring audience Nov. 18, 2016.
A 14-7 victory that night was the beginning of a finals run, but that year would be the last time anyone on the Buccaneers’ current roster played in a meaningful game in the month of November. MCA would go on to lose 15 of its next 19 games over the next two seasons.
Two coaching staffs later, the Buccaneers look primed to compete in Class A-Public once more.
Former head coach Bradley Warren’s reinvigorated the program at McIntosh, having already matched the win total of the past two years combined, and sitting in a tie for No. 16 in the classification’s power ratings, turning the team into a potential dark horse contender in the first season of his return to the place he first became a head coach job in 1999.
Before the season, the Buccaneers would have been more than content with a simple playoff berth. Now, they want more.
“When I first got here, the seniors were like, ‘Coach, all we want to do is go to the playoffs. We haven’t been there since our freshmen year; we want to go to the playoffs,’” Warren said. “So I talk to them right now like, ‘We’re in. Is that good enough?’ and they’re all like, ‘No, no, no!’”
But if McIntosh is to begin the second season in the friendly confides of home next week, it needs to first take care of business against Treutlen in an intriguing matchup of contrasting paces.
The Buccaneers have found their success this season playing a grinding, physical brand of football out of the wing-T. Long, methodical possessions are not only intended to drive MCA down field, but to also turn the opposing offense into spectators on the sideline.
However, when the Vikings’ offense hits the field, they’ll look to push the tempo while operating out of their spread attack and punish any mistake by the opposing defense.
“If we’re controlling the ball, we’re controlling the clock, their offense is cold,” Warren said. “If they’re controlling the tempo, and they’re scoring on us, it makes it hard for us to play catchup football.
“We want your offense over there twiddling their thumbs.”
Even if his individual numbers don’t jump off the page, junior quarterback Dalton McClellan has been the conductor of McIntosh’s wing-T offense, masterfully distributing the ball to the Buccaneers’ talented stable of backs.
Trenton Johnson has spearheaded a rushing attack that’s averaged 215.6 yards per game with 877 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground this season. Will Jones has rushed for 393 yards and six scores, Jareese Campbell has recorded 226 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Elijah Ellison is at 178 yards rushing on the year, and Miles Woods has chipped in 106 yards of his own.
A McIntosh running back has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in five of the team’s nine games this season — Johnson and Jones both accomplished the feat in a game against Calvary Day — and the team is averaging 22.8 points per game, including 33.6 in three contests against teams from Class A-Public.
Treutlen enters the regular-season finale averaging 26.1 points per game led by quarterback Sabo Mitchell, an athletic signal caller that can push the ball down field. The dual-threat rushed for 169 yards, passed for 185 yards and scored five total touchdowns in a game against Emanuel County Institute earlier this season.
But Mitchell was forced out of a game two weeks ago with a shoulder injury, leaving sophomore PJ Smiley to take over quarterback duties.
The uncertainty of the Treutlen quarterback situation has little bearing on McIntosh, which is looking forward to receiving a litmus test of their defensive progress against an offense similar to those it struggled against earlier in the season.
The Buccaneers took their lumps against a couple of non-region opponents from higher classifications, and they had to learn how to win close games against region foes from Class A-Private. Now, it’s up to McIntosh County Academy to apply its newfound knowledge.
“We’re playing much better football this half the season than we were in the first half,” Warren said. “And we’ve had some personnel things sort themselves out, so we feel like we’ve got kids in positions they need to be in now.”