And for the second year in a row, Donoho will be a part of the postseason party.
The Falcons (9-1), second-place finishers in Class 1A, Region 6, will entertain Gaston (7-3), Region 7’s third-place team, at 7 tonight in the first round in their first home playoff game since 2006.
“It feels good, especially for us,” senior offensive lineman/linebacker Matthew Overton said. “But also for our fans who’ve been here through all the bad seasons. We’re excited to be playing in front of our friends in November.”
In 2008 and 2009, Donoho went a combined 1-19 before breaking out a year ago when they finished the regular season 8-2 before falling on the road against Lynn in the opening round of the playoffs. Now, the Falcons are in a position they haven’t been in a half-decade — postseason favorites.
This year’s Falcons team started out with humble expectations.
“Initially,” coach Shannon Felder said, “I think people thought we could possibly make the playoffs, but I think they thought we’d be around .500 getting there.”
As the season progressed, Donoho, whose lone defeat came in Week 2 against third-ranked and undefeated Ragland, began to make believers out of those who saw them on Friday nights. Included in its current eight-game winning streak is a 34-8 win at home against Appalachian and a 42-6 victory against Akron on the road in Week 9, which secured the No. 2 spot in the region.
“When you want to be a pretty good team, you’ve got to play well in those type of games,” Felder said. “I always tell them that big-time players step it up in big-time games.”
One of Donoho’s big-time players is senior Teddre Williams.
Williams, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior quarterback, sat all of what would’ve been his junior season after transferring from Class 6A Oxford but was a fixture at most every Donoho sporting event last year as he transitioned into the Falcons’ athletic program.
He leads Donoho in rushing with 914 yards and 18 touchdowns on 81 carries. He also completed 26 of 66 passing attempts for six scores against one interception. George McMillan has been his favorite target, hauling in 11 passes for 146 yards on the season.
Tate Thomas is the Falcons’ leading tackler with 115 stops, and McMillan leads the team in interceptions with five picks.
“It was difficult,” Williams said of sitting out the 2010 season. “But I knew that’s what it was going to be when I made the decision to come here. I knew I’d have to wait and at the same time get ready for this season. I’m glad that year is over.”
He added: “I’m real excited for this game. This will be the first time we can make a statement and get a big win. It’s going to be a great game.”
Gaston runs a veer offense, which isn’t common at all among the high school ranks, according to Felder. The Bulldogs’ strength is their running game. Running back Braxton Collins leads the team with 838 yards and 11 touchdowns on 113 carries followed by Jordan McCartney’s 665 yards and nine scores. Quarterback Shai Ogles is also a threat with 444 rushing yards.
“You see the wing-T, the spread and the power-I, but you don’t see too many teams running the veer,” Felder said. “That’s going to be the challenge because it changes your defensive mind set.”
Donoho has four shutouts to its credit and has only given up more than double-digit points or more twice — in its 46-13 loss to Ragland and its 41-20 defeat of Spring Garden.
Now, folks have begun to compare this year’s team to the school’s most successful — the 2006 team that went 10-0 in the regular season and reached the state quarterfinals.
Felder said he sees some similarities in the teams’ makeup and focus.
“I think we have the talent and the athletes and the will to do more than the ’06 team,” Overton said. “Not just because of the layout of the playoffs but because of the whole team. We’re very balanced. We’ve got a good defense and a good offense.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575. Follow him on Twitter @birds_word.