After playing two home games about 20 miles from home, preparing for a state championship is unlikely to rattle Northside’s players or coaches.
The week of preparation can’t get any more unusual than the past two.
Because overuse and weather led to the turf at McConnell-Talbert Stadium being unsuitable for continued postseason play, the Eagles followed a real home win in the first round with victories at Peach County and Mercer on consecutive weeks.
While it ha been an odd postseason for the Eagles, there’s not much to complain about with the results.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Telegraph
Northside turned in a Northside-like performance in beating Allatoona 30-21 in the GHSA Class AAAAA semifinal in front of about 6,000 fans on a mild December night. The week, much like game night, was smooth, Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said.
The Eagles practiced at Mercer on Monday, and Kinsler was able to avoid too much involvement, with the school and county education administration working with Mercer and the GHSA.
“Their whole crew made it a very easy process,” Kinsler said, citing Mercer assistant athletics director for marketing and football operations director Daniel Tate and assistant athletics director for operations Mike Ellis in particular. “They were just wonderful. I don’t think the venue, anything, could have gone any smoother.”
Mercer has hosted other high school football games in the two seasons since the stadium was built.
“But this was bigger,” Ellis said. “I thought it was a great game, and everything was great from our end. We enjoyed doing it, and (Northside) was great to work with. I thought it was a great game. We’d certainly like to host more Georgia high school games like that.”
Kinsler’s team benefitted this year, and he would like to see the hosts benefit next year.
“Hopefully it’ll translate to next football season, our people going up there on a Saturday and watching Mercer play,” Kinsler said. “Now that they’ve been there, I think they’d like to go back.”
-- Michael A. Lough
Some call Interstate 20 the state’s Mason-Dixon line, but in reality, it’s probably the Fall Line Freeway.
Of the 14 teams playing for state championships, six come from south of that perceived line, including Washington County, which is barely below it.
South Georgia is represented by Colquitt County and Irwin County. In the battle between the rest of Georgia and metro Atlanta -- which has scores of different definitions -- it’s stunningly even, with seven each.
Geographically, Augusta and Columbus have little reason to pay much attention. The closest finalist to Augusta is Washington County, and it’s Northside for Columbus.
-- Michael A. Lough
UNDERDOGS FARE WELL
All four Middle Georgia teams were underdogs Friday, according to the Maxwell Ratings published each week on the Georgia High School Football Daily website.
Greater Atlanta Christian’s ability to drive and hit the game-winning field goal on the final play to stun Fitzgerald kept the Middle Georgia teams from sweeping their games.
Northside and Hawkinsville were seven-point underdogs, and Washington County a five-point underdog, but they all won. Fitzgerald was predicted to lose by 15.
-- Michael A. Lough
JUST AS PREDICTED
There were six teams in GHSA Class AAA that finished undefeated this season. Yet the championship game has come down to the teams ranked first and second at the end of the regular season by the Georgia Sports Writers Association.
There has been very little movement at the top of the Class AAA poll all season. Washington County went wire-to-wire as No. 1, while Calhoun started third and jumped to second just after Labor Day weekend following Callaway’s loss to B.E.S.T. Academy.
Calhoun, coached by Hal Lamb, the brother of Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb, has enjoyed considerable success during Lamb’s tenure. Now in his 16th season as the head coach of the Yellow Jackets, Lamb is 182-31 at Calhoun and 187-46 overall. He spent the 1997 and 1998 seasons as head coach at Upson-Lee, going 5-15.
This is the 14th season in a row in which Calhoun has won 10 or more games. The Yellow Jackets are making their seventh title game appearance in the past 10 years, with their lone title coming in 2011. Three title game losses came to Buford, with the others coming to Charlton County and Jefferson.
-- Ron Seibel
BACK IN TITLE GAME
It has been 10 years since Hawkinsville won its second straight state title in 2004, but the Red Devils have a chance to add to their trophy case Friday afternoon.
Hawkinsville faces Irwin County at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Georgia Dome in the GHSA Class A public school championship game. The Red Devils have won five state titles: 1953, 1954, 1959, 2003 and 2004. Irwin County’s only state title came in 1975, and it leads the all-time series with Hawkinsville 7-6.
This year’s Hawkinsville defense certainly has played championship-level defense. The Red Devils (12-1) have allowed just 33 points in their first three playoff games.
-- Daniel Shirley