Warner Robins looks to be a surprise in the playoffs
Momentum entering the playoffs is huge.
Playing well in the final week or so of the regular season is as important as winning.
So of the three GHSA Class 5A playoffs teams in Middle Georgia, who has Big Mo on its side?
Warner Robins and Veterans won two of their final three games, and Jones County has lost one game since late September, 35-14 to top-ranked Stockbridge on Oct. 28.
All three head coaches feel like their team has some momentum and confidence, but Jones County tops the list.
“I think we’re playing pretty good,” head coach Justin Rogers said. “I think we’re starting to peak right now. I think we’re playing our best ball right now.
“Play your best in November, man, and see if you can get to December.”
Warner Robins played Bainbridge last week with a chance at the top seed in Region 1, but the hosts made a few more plays in a 24-21 win that dropped the Demons to the third seed.
Still, a month ago, the playoffs seemed somewhat far-fetched for Warner Robins, who started off 0-4 with three of the losses coming by 52, 23 and 25 points.
“I believe our kids understand there is a process,” first-year Warner Robins head coach Mike Chastain said. “I believe they understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day.
“They’re just excited to get into the playoffs and get this thing going in the right directions.”
A change after a 33-22 loss to region champ Thomas County Central got the Demons rolling. Chastain moved Michael Bradley, one of the school’s top athletes, to quarterback, and the offense changed priorities a little bit. The first result was a good one, a 31-3 win over Harris County.
“It was way more running then, but now we pass a lot more,” said Bradley of how the offense has changed a bit. “I think (Chastain) knew, and I knew, that I could make plays happen at quarterback, and I could get the ball to everybody else.”
Veterans had plenty of chances in its regular-season finale against Warner Robins but lost 18-13. And the Warhawks had the final week off, so they’ve had extra time to either stew about the loss and focus on the playoffs or get a little sluggish about being in fourth place.
They chose the former.
“The kids are excited, they really are,” head coach David Bruce said. “They have a lot of energy at practice. I was a little surprised. I thought I’d have to get in some (faces). The seniors have been doing a good job of getting everybody to do what they need to be doing.”
Who has the best draw of the three? That’s in the eye of the beholder.
Warner Robins is at Griffin, which is 9-1 and ranked seventh in the latest Georgia Sports Writers Association poll. The Bears went 5-1 in Region 3, losing to Starr’s Mill (Veterans’ opponent) and getting the No. 2 seed.
They’ve had four games decided by single digits, three wins. The latest was a 27-22 win over fourth-place Riverdale last week. Griffin beat two Class 4A playoff teams from Middle Georgia handily, 53-7 over Upson-Lee and 42-0 to Baldwin, in September.
The key for the Demons is on defense, facing an offense that has been held below 36 points only once, last week.
One of the close games was a 42-35 win over 4-5-1 Fayette County in mid-October.
But the Bears have passed for 3,610 yards and rushed for 1,710. Quarterback Tylan Morton has the passing yards (and 34 touchdowns) to go with 228 rushing yards and four scores.
Fayette County, however, is run oriented, like Warner Robins.
“I don’t know how many, (but) they’ve got to have several D-I type players playing for them,” Chastain said. “They spread the ball around, throw it a bunch.”
Veterans gets the top seed of Region 3, Starr’s Mill, which is 6-4 overall, with three quality losses to Class 6A Northgate (34-17), Class 4A Sandy Creek (35-21), and region top seed Whitewater 45-37.
The Panthers, located in Fayetteville, finished strong with five wins in their final six games, including 52-49 over Griffin.
There is a common opponent, Northgate. The Warhawks opened the season with a 10-0 loss to the Vikings, two weeks before Northgate played Starr’s Mill.
But the Warhawks have been off for a week after closing out the regular season with an 18-13 loss to Warner Robins. Veterans had five more first downs, won the penalty battle and outgained the Demons 310-260.
A goal-line stand by Warner Robins in the final few minutes preserved the win in a game that grated the Warhawks.
“We had our chances,” Bruce said. “Just didn’t execute.”
Veterans faces a run-heavy wing-T team that keeps it on the ground 88.5 percent of the time, which will keep linebackers Josh Lee and Kori Walker, first and fourth in the region in tackles, pretty busy.
“To me, they’re a lot like us,” Bruce said. “The just try to grind it out, don’t make mistakes, that kind of thing. They ain’t got no big hitter that’ll just break a game wide open with a 90-yard run.
“I think it’s going to come down to mistakes and ball security, those kinds of things.”
So the winner for draws goes to Jones County.
The Greyhounds do have to travel about three hours of back roads to reach Jesup, located northwest of Brunswick, for Wayne County.
But the Yellow Jackets benefited from a small, five-team region, going 3-1 with the wins coming against a trio that went 4-25-1, including 0-10 Statesboro. They lost 27-3 to region champ Ware County, and did have non-region games against Class 6A Glynn Academy (34-0 loss) and Valdosta (28-0 loss). They opened the season with a 28-22 overtime loss at West Laurens.
The team had a coaching controversy in the offseason — then-head coach Jody Grooms and his wife Sharon, the school’s cheerleading coach, were arrested and charged with theft — and didn’t get a new head coach until the summer.
Derek Chastain, a former assistant at Camden County, got the job, but not until Shawn Jackson was approved by the board and then withdrew to remain in Kentucky.
“They did have much of an identity early on,” Rogers said. “Late in the year, they’ve gotten a good identity. They’ve found some things they do well, and they’re leaning on that.”
The Greyhounds are more healthy than in recent weeks, with offensive lineman Ben Perkins (hand) back on the field. But receiver Drae Butts (deep thigh bruise) and center Quay Betha (high ankle sprain) are likely game-time decisions.
“I think we’re pretty even,” Rogers said. “I think it’ll be a good little ol’ game.”