Consistency is huge in anything, in any sport.
And things in GHSA Region 2-AAAAA definitely are consistent.
Last year, the four teams from Middle Georgia pretty much beat up on the six teams from the Augusta area, losing only two games and surviving close calls while otherwise winning 17 games by 21 points or more.
So far this season, it has not been much better for the teams from the eastern part of the division. The scores are a little closer, but those teams have yet to beat a team from Middle Georgia.
Nobody is happier that Northside, Houston County, Jones County and Warner Robins are off this week than the teams at Greenbrier, Grovetown, Cross Creek, Evans, Richmond Academy and Lakeside-Evans. And it’s unlikely to get much better for them, since the Eagles, Bears, Greyhounds and Demons appear to be at least as solid this year as last year, if not better in some areas.
For one thing, three of the four have been ranked all season, with Northside at No. 1, Houston County at No. 3 and Jones County at No. 7 this week in the Georgia Sports Writers Association poll. Warner Robins fell out of the poll after losing to Houston County but is still lurking, one win away from getting back in the poll picture.
“The four teams over here, I think we’ve all got a chance to make some noise when the playoffs roll around,” said Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way, not necessarily looking ahead but acquiescing to reality. “Not to take anything away from any of the teams on the other side. (But) I think the four teams over here are all pretty good football teams.”
Way and his staff have the ammunition to stress the importance of not overlooking any opponent. The Demons made the long trip to Augusta, pretty much dressed in the rain and played in the rain, putting forth a subpar performance but surviving Evans 21-19 last week.
“We were probably too conservative,” said Way, whose team passed only four times. “But we always have trouble at Evans.”
As far as consistency goes, it’s worth noting that Northside has scored only six fewer points and allowed 12 fewer points this year as opposed to last year. The Eagles beat Evans 38-6 last year, 38-7 this year.
Warner Robins has scored exactly 197 points both years, while surrendering 38 fewer points. Scoring is down a little at Houston County and Jones County, but not as much as in points allowed. The Bears have given up 76 fewer points, while the Greyhounds have allowed 42.
Houston County, in fact, has yet to give up a rushing touchdown.
“It’s been really, really good,” Houston County head coach Von Lassiter said. “That’s been a big-time diffference for us. It makes it a lot easier for the offense when the defense is getting a lot of three-and-outs.”
The Bears and Greyhounds are known for their fast pace on offense, but the big picture and last year’s success -- and near-misses in the postseason -- have led to an adjustment -- patience.
Houston County displayed a quality power running game in the 34-14 win over Warner Robins, and Jones County is working on the same thing before having to pull starters.
“It’s always the plan to run the football,” said Lassiter, whose team has 161 pass attempts and 163 rush attempts this season. “With the linemen we have, we’re able to do that.”
Jones County’s running clocks -- a 30-point margin in the second half -- have started this year at halftime as opposed to the fourth quarter, so Rogers has tried to pull back a little to diversify.
“We left them in a little bit longer than we typically would this past week for that sole reason,” he said of getting the new offensive line more game snaps. “ ‘Hey, look, we’re gonna run the ball every single snap this possession and let’s see if we can drive it down on them and do it.’ We’ve done some things like that.”
Thus, numbers for quarterbacks Jake Fromm at Houston County and Bradley Hunnicutt at Jones County are down a little bit.
The Bears are becoming more balanced, and thus more dangerous, and the Greyhounds have gotten points from the defense and special teams before the offense can get into any groove.
All four local teams had question marks entering the season, and all four have had them answered, at least to the point of not being a negative.
Northside and Jones County were rebuilding the offensive line. Houston County had to replace starters or regulars at almost every unit, and the backfield was new. Warner Robins also has some replacing up front to do and at some spots on defense while hoping for improved chemistry.
The top-ranked and defending state champion Eagles appear to be on the same track as a year ago, when head coach Kevin Kinsler expected the inexperienced players to start hitting a stride, well, around now.
“This is about the time of year when all those young guys that have been getting reps for several weeks, they start figuring it out a little bit,” he said. “They start making big contributions.”
All four teams have had players or units step up.
Kinsler is happy with his offensive line’s progress but also notes the play of defensive back Jalen Andrews, a sophomore who began starting after senior Chris Haughton broke his leg late in the first half of the season opener, and sophomore Marcus Jolly on offense.
Houston County has developed depth at running back with Chris Brinson and Jaelen West in particular and improved on defense despite losing some quality seniors.
Jones County’s defense has progressed, as has the offensive line, and Rogers has been happy with the play of new starter Justin Chambers on the defensive line and first-year senior receiver Shareez Hamm. And Javian Bradford-Jackson went from understudy to Terry Harris at running back to, barring an injury, a 1,000-yard rusher in less than a full regular season.
All four teams are pretty much doing what Kinsler said he expected from the new contributors on his own team. But the gap in most games against the Augusta schools is good and bad. They can be confidence-builders, but not real tests.
Rogers chuckles at how the schedule works.
“The weird thing with this region is every time we play each other, we all play each other,” he said of the four area teams. “It’s all four of us, ‘Let’s go to war.’ Like next weekend.”
That’s when Jones County hosts Houston County and Northside faces Warner Robins, both on Oct. 16.
It happened three weeks ago, Northside holding off Jones County 36-22 on a Thursday and Houston County topping Warner Robins a night later.
“Then, Week 10, we’re gonna do it again,” Rogers said. “That’s kind of weird and kind of neat.”
Houston County plays Northside and Warner Robins hosts Jones County in the regular-season finale.
“We tried to set it up for travel,” Kinsler said of the scheduling. “The teams down here have to go up there three times. The teams up there have to come down twice. We tried to work around some travel issues and not having to go up to Augusta. They could all play local and not have to make trips. That was part of it.”
Kinsler said Richmond Academy made some schedule changes after the master schedule was done that led to consecutive trips to this area.
Those rides home no doubt feel twice as long, considering the Musketeers lost 42-0 to Warner Robins two weeks ago and 33-7 to Northside last week, both at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
The four area teams have the week off before next week’s battles, then two weeks against the other side before the final-week scrapes against each other.
“It’s going to be something else, it sure will,” Lassiter said. “There’s not a more fun environment than what we got going on with the games we’re playing.”