Washington County hasn’t worried much about GHSA Class A teams through the years.
“Eagle’s Landing Christian isn’t close to a typical Class A school,” Washington County head coach Joel Ingram said.
Ingram’s Golden Hawks (ranked fifth in Class AAA) will travel to play Class A’s top-ranked team Friday night in the season opener for both teams.
The Chargers have won nine games or more the past four years, and they have 12 wins in each of the past two seasons. They also have a pair of players headed to major colleges: linemen Isaac Rochell is committed to Notre Dame and running back Keyante Green is committed to Purdue.
“Man, those two guys are great players, but they have a lot more than just them,” said Ingram, who starts his seventh season on the WACO sidelines. “They have such big-play ability. We can’t let that happen to us. We have to play salty defense and ball-control offense.”
Ingram is excited, however, about the challenge of facing a Chargers team many believe will contend for a state championship. He hopes this game and other non-region games against ECI, Baldwin, Laney and Lovett will help prepare the Golden Hawks for their playoff sprint. Region 3-AAA has five teams and four make it to the playoffs, and perennial playoff teams Jefferson County, Swainsboro and Thomson join Dodge County in the region.
“The design was to build towards those region games and be playing our best football then,” Ingram said.
The idea for the ELCA game came at the end of last year when Ingram and ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess coached together in a junior all-star game in Atlanta. Both have backgrounds coaching offensive lines -- Ingram led WACO’s offensive line under Rick Tomberlin and Gess was the offensive line coach at FPD -- and bonded during the week of practices. Ingram found out Gess had some holes in his schedule, and the two agreed to play for the next two seasons.
“Our players, I like them to compete against bigger competition,” Gess said. “That’s the fun aspect of it, the competition. To be able to play a bigger program and a traditional power like Washington County is only going to make our team and our program better.”
The Golden Hawks, however, might be entering the game without one of their top weapons.
Standout quarterback William Walker, who was an All-Middle Georgia pick last season, injured his ankle during the Golden Hawks’ scrimmage against Dublin last week.
Ingram said Walker might not play with his mobility limited. Sophomore A.J. Gray is the backup quarterback, but he also starts at safety, and Ingram prefers not to play him both ways.
“I know what’s at stake, and we want to treat every game like it’s a playoff game,” Ingram said. “But we don’t want to risk injuring him worse and losing him for four or five games during the playoff stretch. We’ll make a decision probably Friday.”
Both coaches said they certainly want to win the game, but that this game should serve as a piece of experience for later in the season.
“That’s why we wanted to play them, because they have such a great program, and that will only help us,” Gess said. “We view it like another scrimmage. Not that we don’t want to win, but win or lose, we’re going to get better from it.”