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Gambles paying off for Wildcats

WINDER -- Maybe Apalachee football players should try Vegas.

Their gambles lately have paid off big: First beating Marist on a two-point conversion run in overtime, then winning a coin flip to host tonight's Class AAAA quarterfinal against Griffin.

"You weigh your options at the time, when you have an opportunity to win," Apalachee coach Shane Davis said of running back Christian Hoard plowing the decisive three yards to beat Marist, instead of kicking a potentially tying extra point. "The way it worked out, I guess that'll go down in the history books of Apalachee football."

Not only have Davis' Wildcats reach their first quarterfinal on a risky conversion run, their gambles on a little-used hook-and-ladder play paid off against Marist, too, as did a pass on a faked punt.

The hook-and-ladder -- Mike Norman's 14-yard pass to Zack Gentry and his pitch to John Ansley for another 10 yards -- set up John Ansley's run the following play that forced overtime. Upback Jeff Haney's 19-yard pass on a faked punt didn't result in points, but undoubtedly boosted the Wildcats' confidence.

Apalachee enters tonight's quarterfinal riding its fourth victory by three or fewer points and its third in overtime. The win over Marist was the Wildcats' second consecutive in extra play, following another successful gamble, Guy Hunt's walk-off, 29-yard field goal against Starr's Mill in the first round.

Davis realizes coaches are maligned when gambles don't pay off, like when Loganville's conversion run attempt to beat the Wildcats failed in Game 7.

"(Potential criticism's) part of being the head coach," Davis said. "I just drive the ship; they're the ones who execute and make it happen."

Unlike Davis, Griffin coach Steve De Voursney joked his team might not be cut out for gambling. His 12-0 Bears called the flip but lost Saturday's coin toss. Likewise, they lost last year's coin toss and got a semifinal at Tucker.

"I've never won a coin toss," De Voursney joked. "We lost one this year and lost one last year, as well as the game last year."

But De Voursney said playing at Apalachee will test his Bears, who like the Wildcats, are hungry for their first championship. The young Wildcats previously have gone no deeper than the second round in its four consecutive playoff seasons; the Bears once tied Valdosta for a title in 1978, but own none outright.

"To get to a championship, you've got to win tough games on the road." De Voursney said.

Davis said Griffin poses a stiff challenge. As Round 2 winners over Ware County, the Bears are in their fifth quarterfinal in the past eight seasons.

"They'll put more athletes out on the field than we've seen at one time," Davis said.