Today's interviewee is Oconee County coach Travis Noland, whose team defeated Marist 17-7 in the Class AAAA quarterfinals last week. Oconee County is in the semifinals for the first time since 1999 and faces Sandy Creek on Friday at home.
Travis Noland, Oconee County head coach
1. This is the first semifinal in 20 years for Oconee County. How do you and your team feel about the accomplishment? How has the community and school responded? "At this point, we do not look at the semifinals as an accomplishment. We are just trying to focus on the next challenge of the next game, which is going to be a very difficult one. None of our players were born the last time Oconee won a state championship. We hope our community is excited and proud of this team. It is a team of great young men that are really good students. They are very deserving of our community's support."
2. Marist was a team that spent several weeks ranked No. 1 and still might be there if not a close loss to defending champion Blessed Trinity. What did your team do to contain them and win that game? "It helped that we had played three really good option teams prior to playing Marist - Jefferson, St. Pius and Madison County. Our defense played really well in all of those games. Our players did a great job of focusing all week in practice, and they had a lot of confidence going into the game. We were able to limit some things defensively and found a way to make enough plays offensively to win the game."
3. Max Johnson is a well-known quarterback because of his commitment to LSU and being the son of a prominent quarterback [former Florida State and NFL quarterback Brad Johnson]. Yet Max doesn't pass for a ton of yards. How would you describe him as a player? "Max is a winner. There are a lot of quarterbacks who throw for a ton of yards. There are very few quarterbacks who do not care if we hand it off and run for 250 yards and throw for 75. Max just wants to win and help his team win. We do not have guys who can take a hitch and turn it into a 60-yard gain, thus Max does a great job of executing the things that give us a chance to win. He is very unselfish and always puts his team and teammates first. He is a very smart football player and not just a talented quarterback. He is a leader in all that he does and is an excellent student in the classroom."
4. When did you feel this team could be really good? Did you know coming out of spring, or did it develop during the regular season? "We have a team full of guys who have been through a lot together in their four years in our program. We have played a tough schedule the past two seasons. It took a toll on us last year physically, and we had a lot of injuries. However, a lot of our success this year is because of the struggles these guys went through together last year. We have great leadership and accountability on our team. We live in a time where margin of victory seems to mean more than quality of victory. We do not need any fanfare or bandwagon support. We are very comfortable in who we are, and we are just going to go to work and try to find a way to meet the challenge in front of us this week." [Oconee County is 9-1 against playoff teams, 7-1 against playoff teams that advanced at least one round and 3-1 against playoff teams that won two rounds. The Warriors' only loss came to Clarke Central, a Class AAAAA quarterfinalist.]
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