High School Sports

Macon County’s road back to title game a winding one

Macon County cornerback Tyrese Adkinson (9) follows a receiver during practice Tuesday afternoon.
Macon County cornerback Tyrese Adkinson (9) follows a receiver during practice Tuesday afternoon. jvorhees@macon.com

The last time Macon County was a team that drew attention from around the state, the seniors on this year’s team were about 7 or 8 years old.

The last time Macon County played in the final game of the season, a state championship game, none of those seniors were alive. That was back in 1996.

Since then, the Bulldogs have had two straight winning seasons, then two losing seasons, then seven winning years in a row and then five losing seasons.

Now, a state championship date awaits. And on the first day of practice before that game? A rain storm in a drought-ridden state forced Macon County to begin work in the cafeteria.

No problem.

“(Monday) became more of a learning day,” head coach Dexter Copeland said. “This time of year right now, it’s not as much about hitting each other in practice; it’s more about learning and going over things like that.

“We had a good learning practice.”

The Bulldogs will take on McIntosh County Academy at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the Georgia Dome in the GHSA Class 1A title game.

Getting to this point has taken awhile, and not long ago, it seemed like such success might be delayed again.

The Bulldogs went 4-7 in Larry Harold’s first year as head coach in 2012, then improved to 6-5 and 9-3. The Bulldogs had bought into Harold’s system and enthusiasm, so they were naturally not pleased when he left to go to Brunswick after Macon County’s best season since 2005.

Eventually, the team adjusted to another coaching change, and the timing of Copeland’s arrival with the talent on hand was perfect. Copeland saw that talent and opened up the playbook, which quickly allowed quarterback K’Hari Lane in particular to flourish and turn the Bulldogs into an offensive powerhouse.

The lights went out at halftime, and the Bulldogs got a little relaxed, but not enough for Manchester.

The senior is on the verge of the state single-season touchdown pass record, and he is one of the few in Georgia history to pass for at least 10,000 yards in a career, having done so in last week’s semifinal win over ECI.

Defensive back Tyrese Adkinson said Harold’s offense was more conservative, with screen passes the norm.

“Copeland, he uses the field, with passing concepts and run concepts,” Adkinson said. “(Copeland) really let K’Hari play football. He really has a strong arm.”

The momentum of Lane’s emergence carried over to all phases of the team, which lost 33-26 to Pace Academy in a Class 2A quarterfinal last year. That’s when the Bulldogs, as do most teams, put a serious bull’s eye on the state championship date this year.

Two games could have steered the Bulldogs onto the shoulder of the season’s road, a 70-42 to home loss in early September to Class 2A finalist Fitzgerald and a 45-6 loss at Class 6A semifinalist Northside. Granted, both teams are in larger classifications, and certainly even a close game against Northside — Copeland’s alma mater — would have been a huge attention-getter.

The games, in fact, only righted the Bulldogs’ ship even more.

“When it came to teams like that, our coach, he was really preparing us for this right here, for the big game,” senior guard Peter Eaddie said. “That gets us prepared. That gets us a look at how bigger teams, bigger and better teams are, see how it is playing somebody like that.

“We flushed that and got that out of our system.”

“Prepared” is a word used more than once in describing what has landed the Bulldogs in this position. Hard work and hunger are certainly parts of the equation.

“We all felt like this year was gonna be our year, and we kept pushing for it,” Eaddie said. “They know what they gotta do. At the end of the day, everybody knows what they gotta do, everybody knows their assignment.

“Pay attention in practice. When it comes game time, everybody knows what they gotta do.”