This Whale Branch Early College High School football team boasts an old-school brand, formed by first-year coach Jerry Hatcher.
Split backs and run between the tackles, play solid defense and grind out victories. And when you have a dynamic playmaker like Dee Delaney, the smashmouth pace is dotted with fireworks.
Delaney, a senior receiver, caught three touchdown passes Friday to help lead Whale Branch past St. John's, 36-12. Whale Branch showed off its balanced offense to win the non-region game, improve to 6-2 and set up a home showdown with Allendale-Fairfax next week to determine the Region 5-A champion.
"If we ain't fired up next week, we ain't ever going to be fired up," Hatcher said.
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Whale Branch won its fourth consecutive game, has locked up its second consecutive winning season and can win the program's first region title by taking down the undefeated Tigers.
Delaney now has nine touchdown catches on the season and averaged 32 yards per catch entering the game. As soon as the Islanders fell asleep stopping the inside handoffs, Whale Branch quarterback Brandon Morton looked to Delaney streaking down the sideline.
The Warriors defense recovered a fumble for a safety on St. John's opening drive and jumped on another one during the second quarter to set up another touchdown.
The Islanders loaded the box to stop the run early and were burned by Delaney. When St. John's adjusted to stop the pass, the Warriors busted the middle, moving the ball with the trap play. Mark Rivers, who sat the first half, finished with 93 yards rushing on nine carries. Backfield mate Michael Dantzler ran for 91 yards.
"We've done it all year," Hatcher said. "They pack the box, we're going to hit (Delaney). You've got to double-cover him."
Delaney said the Warriors slacked in practice Wednesday and that seniors held a team meeting to readjust the attitude. Other than a loss to Class 4-A Bluffton to start the season, the Warriors' only other slip came on the road at Denmark-Olar.
The Warriors' balance has proved the difference during the six victories but will be tested against Allendale-Fairfax, the top-ranked team in Class 1-A.
"I think we're in a real good position," Delaney said.
Hatcher said Whale Branch didn't look past St. John's, a playoff-bound team that had won four of its past five coming into Friday's game. Islanders quarterback Brandon Dickerson broke free for a 63-yard touchdown run and he later found receiver Dominique Robinson wide open for a 24-yard touchdown.
But the Warriors held in the second half.
Delaney recovered a fumble in his own end zone with the Islanders ready to score and returned it 43 yards. His 70-yard interception return for a touchdown on St. John's next drive was called back due to roughing the passer, but the tone was set.
The Islanders' second-half possesions ended with a blocked punt, two turnovers on downs and the fumble.
Whale Branch 36, St. John's 12
St. John's 0 12 0 0 -- 12
Whale Branch 9 14 6 7 -- 36
W-- Dee Delaney 24 pass from Brandon Morton (Devontae Simmons kick)
S-- Brandon Dickerson 63 run (run failed)
W-- Delaney 57 pass from Morton (Simmons kick)
W-- Braxton Bowers 1 run (Simmons kick)
S-- Dominique Robinson 24 pass from Dickerson (run failed)
W-- Delaney 5 pass from Morton (Kick failed)
W-- Michael Dantzler 14 run (Simmons kick)
First downs 10 16
Passing yards 140 123
Comp-Att-Int 9-18 7-11
Rushing 19-107 40-223
Penalties-yards 8-66 2-15
Fumbles-lost 3-3 3-2
Punts-avg 2-41 2-30.5
Rushing: St. John's-- Brandon Dickerson 6-65, Tresvon Coakley 8-30, Montel Hughes 1-19, London Brown 3-0. Whale Branch-- Michael Dantzler 18-91, Mark Rivers 9-93, Braxton Bowers 10-36, Brandon Morton 2-3, Stephon Eugene 1-0.
Passing: St. John's-- Dickerson 8-16-115; Brown 1-2-25. Whale Branch-- Morton 6-10-112, Devonte Glover 1-1-11.
Receiving: St. John's-- Dominique Robinson 2-47, Darius Clark 2-36, Isaac hamilton 3-27, Brown 1-20, Leland Rivers 1-10. Whale Branch-- Dee Delaney 6-112, Darrien Brown 1-11.