Coaches often refer to the phenomenon of “peaking at the right time,” but rarely do they have the data to prove it’s occurrence. John Paul II coach Kevin Wald sees it happening with his team, and he has the stats to show it.
The Golden Warriors go into every game with 13 goals, and the checklist serves as a report card for how well they executed, regardless of the final score. Even during their five-game winning streak earlier this season, they were only checking off six to eight boxes most weeks.
“We were winning, but we weren’t playing our best football,” Wald said.
That changed in the playoffs. JPII achieved nine of its 13 goals in a 28-14 win at Greenwood Christian in the first round, then ticked 11 boxes in a 49-6 pummeling of Lee Academy in the semifinals, their best all-around effort of the season. Wald hopes the trend continues when the Golden Warriors face Florence Christian for the SCISA 2A championship at noon Saturday at Benedict College.
“We’re playing our best football at the right time. If we can do that one more time, I don’t see why we can’t win Saturday. If we don’t play well and play unmotivated, we’ll get beat.”
The Eagles also have put together their best two games of the year in the postseason, hammering Hilton Head Christian Academy 49-19 in the first round and avenging a 42-point loss to Trinity-Byrnes with a 42-35 win last week.
Neither of these teams was supposed to be in Columbia this weekend — they were both the No. 3 seeds from their regions — and certainly not both. If not for SCISA’s controversial handling of the games lost to Hurricane Florence, they would have played one another in the first round.
The matchup is one of similar styles — both teams run the ball first, are tough up front, defensively sound, strong in the kicking game, and limit their mistakes.
JPII features a trio of running backs who can pile up the yardage in Zach Doe (1,183 yards, 15 TDs), Melik Frost (689 yards, 8 TDs), and Freddie Aiken (571 yards, 8 TDs). Frost also anchors the defense, leading the team in tackles (109), tackles for loss (22), and sacks (6).
Florence Christian has its own dynamic duo in the backfield in Eli Brayboy (1,288 yards, 18 TDs) and Marshall Brown (1,082 yards, 11 TDs), and the defense has played well in the postseason.
With such an even matchup, Wald feels the difference will be which team is ready for the moment. That’s why JPII traveled to Columbia on Friday to take advantage of an opportunity to practice on the game field and get a good night’s rest to be ready Saturday.
“I really believe it’s the team that can handle being out of routine, a noon kickoff, the team that can be mature enough to come out motivated and have enough self-discipline,” Wald said, noting his team’s itinerary, which includes lights out at 10:30 p.m. tonight. “We’re going for business. This is not a vacation.”
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