Travis Richmond stood on the field at McConnell-Talbert Stadium in Warner Robins and smiled while friends and family stopped for congratulations and hugs.
There was cause for celebration on the field that night.
The Peach County running back helped his team beat Warner Robins for the first time in school history with a 20-0 win Aug. 27.
In the middle of handshakes and shoulder pats, however, the 5-foot-7 senior changed his tone sharply during an interview. The mere mention of region play was enough to grab Richmond’s complete focus.
“This is one game, and it is over now,” Richmond said. “What is really important is the region games. We have nine of them, and every one of them will be important. We’ve got some tough games ahead of us, and we’re going to have to work real hard to win the region.”
The GHSA Region 2-AAA schedule, complete with 10 schools, started last week. For the final nine weeks of the regular season, those 10 schools will battle a region opponent every game.
There is little margin of error for Baldwin, Central, Howard, Mary Persons, Peach County, Perry, Rutland, Veterans, Westside and West Laurens. One loss could mean the difference between being one of the four teams that make it to the playoffs and one of the six that stay at home during the playoffs.
“You have to realize how important every region game is,” Rutland head coach George Collins said. “If you have a bad night, you have eight other region games. But you also have to remember that the bad night could come back and hurt you. It’s probably going to be one game that separates the last playoff team and the last team out.”
Region play will be more daunting for some teams than others.
The unquestioned top team in Region 2-AAA is Peach County, according to the other coaches in the region.
The Trojans have won 17 straight games and a Class AAA state championship and are currently ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches’ polls.
Westside head coach Sheddrick Risper doesn’t hesitate or stumble over words when asked about Peach County.
“Why wouldn’t they be the team to beat,” Risper asked. “They won the state championship. They brought everyone back on defense. They are definitely the top team.”
The Trojans have looked the part through two games.
Peach County has yet to allow a point, outscoring its opponents 55-0 through two games. The Trojans scored 35 of those points this past week in their region opener against Rutland. There is a chance that the shutout streak could continue with the Trojans hosting Veterans, the newest program in Middle Georgia.
“I don’t think anyone will be shocked if Christmas comes and Peach is 15-0,” Collins said before his teams game against the Trojans.
If Peach County is at the top of the region mountain, then there is a hierarchy taking shape each week beneath it.
A few teams are within eyesight of the Trojans and have hopes of staying unbeaten in region play to challenge the defending champs.
Westside and Baldwin are two of those prorams. Both are ranked, and they play Friday at the Ed DeFore Sports Complex. Mary Persons is ranked in the coaches’ poll, and it hosts Perry, which got off to a good start in region with a convincing win over West Laurens.
Others are trying to build some confidence and add some wins to slip into playoff contention. The Panthers seem to teeter between this tier and the one above it and might be joined by West Laurens and potentially the Central-Rutland winner from this week.
Then there is a lower group of schools that are brand new, almost new and ones with rosters loaded with inexperience.
Because of the talent at the top of the region, the teams on the lower tiers can move up with wins, but it’s hard to make a giant leap in a region with 10 schools.
“It’s tough because a loss drops you farther down, and a few losses and you are way down,” Richmond said.
Collins said he thought Peach County could go undefeated in region play. So if that was to happen, then a loss to the Trojans doesn’t hurt, but then every other game becomes a little more important for region positioning.
“It’s going to be like that every night in this region,” Risper said. “Any team has a chance in this region to win any game. You better come to play.”