High School Sports

Area teams provide powerful representation in Class AAAAA

There’s little consolation after a season like Cross Creek had, finishing 1-9 with opponents scoring at least 50 points four times and recording four shutouts.

But at least the Razorbacks can say that they were in a region that has three teams in the GHSA Class AAAAA quarterfinals. That they lost to those teams 63-6, 51-12 and 51-0 doesn’t make it much better. Still, it’s a bragging right for Region 2-AAAAA that Northside, Houston County and Jones County are still playing.

Jones County is the surprise of the region. But now, in the first year of head coach Justin Rogers’ tenure, the Greyhounds are riding a five-game winning streak with three on the road and two in the playoffs.

“This region is tough,” said Rogers, formerly the offensive coordinator at 2013 Class AAAA state champion Griffin. “We had five teams that belonged in the playoffs, and (teams) six and seven were good, too.”

The region sits in a surprising spot, with three teams -- all from Middle Georgia -- participating in Friday’s quarterfinals.

“And don’t forget,” Rogers said, referencing Warner Robins’ 33-31 first-round loss at Harris County, “we were one blocked field goal away from a fourth team in the second round.”

Kevin Kinsler and Von Lassiter pretty much concur.

“We know that we had a competitive region every week,” said Lassiter, whose Houston County team travels to Stockbridge. “We’re fortunate we played a full region schedule so that the best four teams from the region can be represented.”

Still, for all the praise coming from the head coaches at Jones County, Northside and Houston County about the region, the four Middle Georgia teams went 22-2 against the six Augusta teams. Lakeside-Evans recorded the two wins -- over Houston County and Jones County. The four area teams had 13 wins over Augusta teams by 30 or more points.

The eastern side hasn’t fared well in the three years this region has been together (this year’s realignment kept the region together for the most part), so it’s safe to say that this wasn’t the collection most would have predicted to have three teams in the quarterfinals. This year was only somewhat different than the first two.

Houston County improved from 3-7 (1-6 region) to 7-4 (5-2) before the breakout season this year. Jones County went 7-4 (5-2) to 5-5 (3-4) before its own breakout year in 2014.

Northside and Warner Robins teamed to go 43-8 (25-3) in the first two years, each winning the region once. Only Lakeside has had above-.500 seasons, going 6-5 (4-3) last year and 6-4 (6-3) this year.

Thus, guessing that two teams could go this far wouldn’t have been a stretch, and the guess for most would have been Northside first and then Warner Robins, with Houston County clearly in the mix, especially after handing Warner Robins its lone regular-season loss last year. After that, who?

Jones County has been a sub-.500 program for a while, and the Greyhounds brought in a new head coach who was completely changing the offense.

Three Augusta programs -- Grovetown, Greenbrier and Cross Creek -- are fairly young programs. Greenbrier is the oldest, starting full varsity play in 1996. Cross Creek followed in 2000 and Grovetown in 2009. The most recent of the teams to win any region title was Lakeside in 2009.

Richmond Academy is by far the oldest program in the region but is in a region title drought dating to 1976. Evans, barely above .500 all-time, has a 2008 region trophy.

How well would survivors be prepared for the postseason? Pretty well, as it turns out.

Northside’s average score against Augusta teams was 43-6, 41-15 for Houston County and 43-14 for Jones County. Jones County is clearly one of the upstarts in the state.

The Greyhounds do have a region title this century, in 2001. That was the 40th anniversary of the first one. Jones County’s success is a surprise for a variety of reasons, historical and current.

Two weeks after stunning Northside, the Greyhounds lost two straight, 35-16 at Lakeside and 45-15 at Houston County. The surprise came in the response to those losses.

Rather than crumble, which wouldn’t have been shocking for a program with its history, Jones County returned to its high-octane ways and came up with a clutch 31-21 win over Warner Robins in the regular-season finale to squeeze into the playoffs and end Lakeside’s hopes.

The surviving coaches, nevertheless, rave about the part of the region Middle Georgia hammered more often than not.

“Lakeside is just a pick-six or onside kick away from being in the playoffs,” Kinsler said. “You had to get ready each and every week to play.”

At a minimum, some Augusta teams presented a variety of schemes and talent level. Lakeside had some talent in the secondary on par with almost any team around, Richmond Academy was athletic and improved as the season went on, and Evans followed a 4-1 start with a playoff-killing four-game losing streak -- three coming against Middle Georgia teams -- to finish 5-5.

And then there was Cross Creek. Nevertheless, the survivors got enough out of the region to reach the quarterfinals.

“It’s the second hardest region I think I’ve ever played in,” said Rogers, putting 2011’s 3-AAAA when Griffin went 9-3 overall but finished third. “This league has so many good coaches in it. And you’re going to see a lot of different schemes, a lot of different talent.

“If you could escape it, you felt like you liked your chances in the playoffs.”