Staff Photo: John Bohn Grayson's Devin Gillespie (14) runs the ball for a gain during the second half against Lowndes in the second round of state football playoffs Friday.
When the state high school football playoffs began, most observers looked forward to a potential quarterfinals matchup pitting two highly-ranked, undefeated opponents.
While No. 2 state-ranked Grayson has done its part, it will be West Forsyth visiting Grayson Community Stadium tonight instead of third-ranked Hillgrove after pulling off a come-from-behind 40-28 upset of the Hawks last week.
But if Rams fans are expecting their team to have an easier time reaching the semifinals for the third time in the last four seasons, head coach Mickey Conn says they should think again.
In fact, after viewing film of the Wolverines (11-1), Conn sees a lot that is very familiar.
"They're kind of like Lowndes, and a lot like us," Conn said of West Forsyth. "They're a wing-T team on offense and a 3-4 on defense, so they play what we do on both sides of the ball. ... But everybody plays (the wing-T) different. There are little nuances. And their kids are just playing good football right now."
Of course, there are plenty of differences between the Rams (12-0) and West Forsyth.
The Wolverines are in just their fourth full varsity season (fifth season overall) and making just their second postseason appearance, with last week's win over Hillgrove and the previous week's over Etowah were the first playoff victories in school history.
There are other differences that West Forsyth head coach Frank Hepler is quick to point out.
"Yeah, in that respect (offensive and defensive systems), he's right, but that's where it stops," Hepler joked about Conn's assessment of the two teams' similarities. "I think they're a lot bigger than we are. We try to play hard like they do, but they're a great team."
Still, it's hard not to notice the many similar components the Rams and Wolverines share.
Like Grayson, West Forsyth features a multi-pronged running attack, though unlike the Rams' five- or sometimes six-headed monster, the Wolverines focus primarily on senior Blake Roberts and junior Jake Wieczorek.
Each have run for more than 1,000 yards this season, and the pair combined for 217 yards and five touchdowns in last week's win at Hillgrove.
Like the Rams' Nick Schuessler, West Forsyth also features a quarterback capable of making defenses pay with his arm if they pack in too tight to stop the running capabilities of A.J. Erdely.
The junior completed 9 of 13 passes for 132 yards and ran for 54 yards and a TD last week, and definitely caught Conn's attention on film.
"He's got great feet and makes good decisions," Conn said of Erdely. "He can be real elusive and get to the corner, and then all of the sudden dump off a pass to an open receiver. He's very savvy."
The Wolverines are also tough on defense and special teams, with plenty of depth as linebackers Hunter Belue -- who, along with brother Lance Belue are nephews of former Georgia quarterback Buck Belue -- and Josh Salo coming up with big plays in the place of injured starters last week.
But Hepler remains concerned about the size and strength differences on both lines of scrimmage.
How will his Wolverines will be able to slow down Grayson's defensive line stalwarts like Robert Nkemdiche, Jack Banda and Sebasitan Rice?
How will they stand up to the Rams' powerful offensive line, led by seniors Grant Gorringe, Fred Zerblis, Harris Cesko and Ian Mangini?
"It's going to be tough," Hepler said. "But (controlling the line of scrimmage and the running game) is something we want to do. Maybe we can put some extra guys on their big guys, but they've got 11 really good players (on defense). Maybe we can line up and give them different looks."
The biggest difference between the two team comes down to playoff experience -- the Rams' wealth of it and West Forsyth's lack of it.
But Conn says he's cautioned his team not to rely on that with the Wolverines coming into tonight's game with plenty of confidence off last week's upset win.
"We've been playing this time of year the last five years, so the kids are accustomed to it," Conn said. "I don't know if its that big of an advantage, though."
Likewise, Hepler has cautioned his players to put last week's win behind them with another formidable foe in front of them.
"I think our kids are intelligent enough to know ... not to be confident to the point where they think we can go in there and Grayson will just lay down," Hepler said. "We know Grayson is a great team, and I've told the that we've got to be even better now (after beating Hillgrove last week)."