This week is going to present a new experience for Tanner Ennis and his Bryan County teammates: for the first time ever they’ll be playing in an Elite Eight game in the Class A-D1 state playoffs and they’ll be practicing on Thanksgiving Day.
Holiday travel plans for the Redskins and their families were placed on hold thanks to a convincing second-round 34-6 win last Friday night over Pelham to keep the magic season of firsts alive.
“It’s a great feeling, I mean we’ve never had that since I’ve been here,” Ennis said of a turkey day workout. “I’ve never done that and I think it’s going to be exciting. I’m ready for it.”
As a region champ Bryan County was guaranteed its first two playoff games at home. Thanks to a coin flip they’ll be at home Friday against perennial playoff participant Commerce (11-1). The Tigers last missed the playoffs in 1996.
Bryan County doesn’t have that playoff history and tradition, of course, but what the Redskins do have is Ennis and a team which is made up of a group of true believers who have paid a heavy price the last four years to reach where they are.
“This is awesome,” Ennis said. “Tonight, we were playing together as a team. Everyone stepped up when they had to step up."
“Everyone kept playing with their hearts. It was just an overall good game.”
The Redskins will need another similar performance and more against the Tigers who are riding a nine-game winning streak and feature the top one-two running back punch in Class A-D1 in Jaiden Daniels and Tyson Wiggins who have combined for more than 3,000 yards rushing. Daniels has more than 1,800 yards.
On paper the game shapes up as one of “mano-a-mano” in that both lean heavily on the run. Bryan County quarterback Sean Kelly Hill is 31-for-61 passing for 575 yards and eight touchdowns. That’s an average of five attempts per game and Commerce throws it about as often.
Hill, incidentally, gave fans and Coach Cherard Freeman a real scare when he went down in the closing minutes of the Pelham game when he broke up a fourth-down pass along the far sideline. It turned out to be a leg cramp and sophomore Ger’bravious Collins finished out the game.
“You saw how quick I got out there,” Freeman said of checking on Hill. “We can’t afford to lose him. He’s a leader and he had a great game.”
Ennis, Hill and running back/linebacker Austin Clemons are the Redskins’ big three. It would be difficult to call any one of the three the team’s most valuable player.
Ennis sees spot duty on offense: he has nine carries for 95 yards and has caught 12 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns.
It was his touchdown catch 10 seconds left in the first half that capped a momentum changing sequence.
The Hornets had scored to tie the game, 8-8, with 33 seconds on the clock. Bryan County was not content to run out the clock. After two running plays gained 17 yards Freeman called time to set up a play.
Ennis streaked down the right sideline and showed why he’s an outstanding rebounder in basketball when he went up over the Pelham defender at the 15 and pulled down the pass, pivoted as he hit the ground and left the defender gasping for air.
With the face of a choirboy, an innocent who wouldn’t hurt a fly with a soft voice, Ennis is a really nice kid with a 4.00+ plus GPA who aspires to be a chemical engineer.
On the athletic field he undergoes a personality change where he becomes a fierce competitor who has no qualms in putting a solid hit on an opponent. Ennis leads the Redskins in tackles with 119 and had 15 against Pelham.
Ennis may be the best all-around athlete in Bryan County history. He was the region Defensive Player of the Year last year and should win it again this year and was also all-region in basketball and baseball which may be his best sport. He was a pre-season all-state pick by the AJC and has lived up to the billing.
“Tanner was involved in a lot of crucial plays tonight,” Freeman said. “He’s a heckuva ballplayer.”