High School Sports

Northside rested, refocused for playoffs

Desean Dinkins (5) is part of a versatile and deep rushing attack for Northside, which hosts Grovetown in the first round of the GHSA Class 6A playoffs Friday.
Desean Dinkins (5) is part of a versatile and deep rushing attack for Northside, which hosts Grovetown in the first round of the GHSA Class 6A playoffs Friday. bcabell@macon.com

Northside is in an interesting position as its readies for the GHSA Class 6A playoffs.

The Eagles are like most teams, anxious to get back on the field on a Friday night after a loss, more so when it comes to a rival.

Two weeks ago, they lost 45-35 to Houston County, keeping the Bears’ playoff hopes alive for a week. But while the Bears were losing to Valdosta a week later, Northside was off.

Combine the lingering taste of an aggravating loss with a week to rest and get healthy after four games in perhaps the toughest region in any class in the state, and Grovetown might have preferred finishing fourth in Region 2-6A rather than visiting the Eagles at McConnell-Talbert Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.

Granted, playing Region 1-6A champ and second-ranked Valdosta isn’t anything to wish for, but the timing of playing Northside might be a little worse.

The Eagles are miffed, at the loss and perhaps how it came about.

“It was kind of a wakeup call,” senior offensive lineman Caleb Kelly said. “We were getting a little lax in practice. You could kind of feel it.”

Head coach Kevin Kinsler has seen a team that hasn’t let that loss linger, which can happen.

“I was really, really pleased with the way they responded,” said Kinsler, 77-10 entering his seventh playoffs since becoming head coach. “We really had some of the best practices we’ve had all year, more committed than ever, bouncing around with a lot of energy.

“Our kids came in more determined than ever.”

Northside is seventh in the final Georgia Sports Writers Association regular-season poll and is 8-2. Grovetown is 5-5, topping Lakeside-Evans in the tiebreaker for third in the region.

The Warriors were close to being in the hunt for the region title, with losses of 15 and two points. Two non-region losses were by one and seven.

They are no doubt overjoyed to be in this region as opposed to the one of the past four years, Region 2-5A, with Houston County, Warner Robins, Northside and Jones County.

Grovetown went 1-15 against those four, beating Houston County 27-23 in 2012 in the first meeting with the Middle Georgia foursome. After that, only three games were decided by 21 points or fewer.

The Warriors are in the postseason for the first time since starting football in 2009. Kinsler doesn’t think his team is paying any attention to the past with Grovetown.

“That was a little bit of a concern of mine,” Kinsler said. “But based on (Monday’s) practice, I think our kids understand that it’s not just important that we go out and win, but we need to play good, as well.”

D’Angelo Durham, who played for Class 1A private runner-up Aquinas last season, ran for 225 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 26-21 win over Lakeside-Evans to get the third seed. So Grovetown will carry some confidence in its run game after that win, having rushed for 458 yards.

Linebacker Greggory Rodgers leads the defense with 100 tackles, with linebacker Shamar Cofield next at 90. Shahin O’Neal has 10 sacks.

The overconfidence common among high school players going against a team that hasn’t been a challenge might not be an issue for the Eagles, who lost last year’s regular-season finale to Houston County and then fell at home to Ware County in the first round of the playoffs.

“After the way we’ve been practicing, I don’t worry about overconfidence,” Kelly said. “It’s just a focus. You can tell that everybody knows what’s at stake, and it’s a one-week season every week.”

Kelly sees a different outlook preparing for this year’s first-rounder than a year ago.

“It’s a lot more (focused) than it was last year, a lot more,” he said. “You can feel it. There’s not too much talking going on out there. It’s strictly business.”