GRAY -- To keep its magical and unprecedented run in the GHSA Class AAAAA playoffs alive, Jones County will seek to follow a familiar formula.
For the Greyhounds (10-2), Friday’s game against Mays (10-2) at Lakewood Stadium south of downtown Atlanta in the quarterfinal round is merely a continuation of the past five games. The winner will play the winner of Houston County and Stockbridge in next week’s semifinals.
A loss to Houston County on Oct. 16 thrust Jones County into a scenario of needing to win its final three regular-season games to advance to the postseason. Even an overall regular-season record of 7-3 would not have been enough to make it to the playoffs.
But the Greyhounds were up to the task, topping Evans, Richmond Academy and Warner Robins. The built-up steam powered the Greyhounds to a pair of close road wins in the postseason, 13-12 against Carver-Columbus and 33-31 last week against Kell to earn the first quarterfinal round berth in program history.
“After we got beat by Houston and because of how tough our region is, we were in a must-win from that point on. We had to beat Evans, we had to beat ARC, had to beat Warner Robins and in the playoffs had to beat Carver and Kell,” Jones County head coach Justin Rogers said. “As far as elimination games, this is week six for us.
“If we lose any of those three games in those last three, we’re out; 7-3 wasn’t going to get you in.”
The quarterfinals have forced the Greyhounds to rearrange some of their Thanksgiving break plans. Instead of being solely focused on the intake of turkey and dressing, Jones County’s coaches and players, not to mention their families, have had to adjust their schedules to balance Thanksgiving and getting ready to travel to Mays on Friday.
But it’s a more-than-welcome circumstance in and around Gray.
“That’s been different for our families changing some plans to some things that they aren’t accustomed to. But everybody here is so excited that it’s not that big of a problem to have to change the plans,” Rogers said. “The kids are fired up, the community is fired up, the local businesses have been so supportive. It’s just a great time in Gray.”
If Jones County is to keep its playoff drive going, controlling the game with a strong running game likely will be key. That formula has worked well in recent weeks with Chandler Ramage carrying the brunt of the Greyhounds’ rushing attack. The Greyhounds have opted to give Ramage more carries later in the season, and he has answered the challenge. He didn’t have more than 10 carries in a game until the eighth game of Jones County’s season against Evans. Since then, he has had no fewer than 15 carries per game and racked up more yards in the process.
Ramage has rushed for at least 100 yards in four of the past five games and eclipsed 200 yards twice within the past three games -- including four touchdowns last week against Kell.
“We’re giving him more carries. It was kind of by design. He’s not the biggest of guys, so you want to kind of limit his carries through the year to cut back on the wear and tear,” Rogers said. “But now that you are at the point of no return, you just give him the ball and roll with it.”
Like Jones County, Mays is coming off a big road win in the postseason. The Raiders stunned Ware County 21-18 last week and also find themselves in the quarterfinal round of the first time.
“They’re very big and very talented. But who has not been more talented, as far as scholarship offers and bigger than as far as size and weight (than Jones County)? There’s only been about two teams on our schedule that have not been bigger than us,” Rogers said. “We’re used to being that situation. It doesn’t deter us, we’ll go out there and give it our best.”