SPORTS HEADLINES

Starting up front: senior-laden line leads Decatur to semifinal

By Reece Waddell | Published Wednesday, December 12, 2018
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Paving a way

PAVING A WAY – Decatur senior Colby Westbrook (right) makes a block to spring Decatur junior Gunner Ragsdale. The Eagles’ offensive line has helped Decatur’s offense average 474.3 yards per game during the playoffs. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

During Decatur’s remarkable playoff run the past month, the Eagles’ offense has fired on all cylinders.

Decatur has averaged 39.5 points, picking apart Dumas, Andrews, Hirschi and Hereford to make its way to the 4A Division I semifinal. In those games, the Eagles have racked up 474.3 yard per game.

It’s been a balanced attack that has gotten the Eagles this far, but at the center of it all has been sound, and at times, dominant offensive line play.

“They’ve been huge,” said Decatur coach Mike Fuller. “They’re smart and work together well.”

The oft-overlooked offensive line has surrendered just one sack in the playoffs, giving junior quarterback Roman Fuller a clean pocket to survey the field. As a result, Roman has completed 70.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,294 yards and 14 touchdowns in the postseason.

Senior right tackle Ridge Burden said protecting Roman is a priority each week.

“We take a lot of pride in it. We work it all the time,” Burden said. “That’s your brother back there and you don’t want him getting hit.”

Decatur starts four seniors on its offensive line, including Burden, left tackle Morgan Picha, center Colby Murillo and left guard Colby Westbrook. Burden said having experience at offensive line has paid dividends down the stretch, especially at the end of games.

“[Experience] has been very important, [especially] at the end of the game when we need to run down the clock,” Burden said. “We’ve been putting together 17-play drives – ground and pound, get down there and get the job done.

“We’re all the same age and have been working together since we were young. We have good team chemistry. They’re just like a brother. I’d take a bullet for them. I love them all.”

The Eagles have averaged 150.8 yards on the ground during the postseason, running the ball effectively against several tough defensive fronts.

Coach Fuller credited the offense’s ability to communicate effectively as a main reason for the success.

“Our line, quarterback and running backs communicate well together,” Fuller said. “A lot of people might think you just go up there and run a play, but there’s a lot that goes into it. To put us in the best advantage, they have to make a lot of calls and Roman has to make a lot of calls – our backs have to make a lot of calls. They all have to be on the same page. They’ve been playing really hard.”

Decatur has been an underdog for each playoff game thus far and Friday’s 4A semifinal against Waco La Vega will be no different. The Pirates enter the game as 17-point favorites, but Burden and the rest of the Eagles aren’t concerned.

Just more than a month ago, Decatur was 4-6 and limping into the playoffs. Now, the Eagles join only the 1975 and 1988 teams as the only Decatur squads to advance to the semifinals.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Burden said. “When I look back in five to 10 years, I’ll remember to never quit. Everyone kind of wrote us off at the beginning of the year, and we’ve proved we aren’t done yet.”

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