Central certainly had the resume to be a playoff team last year.
The Chargers went 6-4, with their only region losses coming to teams that made the playoffs: Jackson, Peach County and Westside. The performance was one that would have been good for a playoff spot in most years.
But, thanks to a second-half surge by Spencer, a team that Central beat at the start of region play, the Chargers wound up on the short end of a tiebreaker with Westside for the fourth and final playoff spot out of GHSA’s Region 2-3A.
“There’s a lot of hunger,” Central running back/linebacker Antonio Sanders Jr. said. “We want to go to the playoffs, bad. Knowing that this is my last year, I want to finish out strong.”
That’s why Central just might be a little more motivated than normal when the Chargers open Region 4-3A play at 3 p.m. on Saturday against Kendrick at Kinnett Stadium in Columbus.
Central (4-0) has prepared for region play with four wins over in-county opponents. A victory Saturday would give the Chargers their best start in 35 years.
Still, there’s a sense that Central is a team that is trying to accomplish bigger things. Head coach Jesse Hicks has downplayed the strong start, using Monday practices — or “Humble Mondays” — to get the team to refocus.
“It’s one of those things where you have a workmanlike attitude,” Hicks said. “When you get that first win, you feel like you’re supposed to get another one. A lot of it has to do with not being satisfied with the production that you get.
“You’ve to to celebrate your wins, because that’s why you work, but in situations like what we had after the game last Friday (a 20-8 victory over winless Northeast), you would have thought we had lost. Our kids were disappointed, especially offensively, with the way they played. Defensively, I thought we played lights out, but offensively we weren’t happy with our results and what we got from the production standpoint. What we have to do is to go to the drawing board and keep the guys humble so they keep their heads strong and straight so that we can finish the season strong.”
With Jackson, Peach County and Westside sticking with Central following realignment, the remaining region games almost become must-win situations when it comes to claiming one of the four postseason spots.
Kendrick (0-4) is coming off a four-point loss to Shaw and a seven-point loss to Spencer. Two of Kendrick’s wins last year came in Macon, with the Cherokees beating Rutland and Southwest both by two.
The schedule gets more difficult for Central from here. The Chargers host Pike County (3-1) next week before traveling to Peach County on Oct. 7 and hosting Jackson on Oct. 14.
“I think the hunger has been there all offseason,” Hicks said. “That’s all these kids have talked about, being able to get back to football and hopefully get back to the postseason.”