Starr’s Mill comes out on top of tiebreaker to take region’s top seed
by Christopher Dunn
The first season of the new regions set by GHSA could not have ended in a more exciting fashion for Region 3-AAAAA. For several weeks, it looked as though the final playoff seeding for the region would come down to the wire, and the last week of the regular season did not disappoint.
The Final Friday kicked off with Starr’s Mill, Griffin, and Whitewater all tied up at the top and Riverdale locked in as the region’s fourth playoff team and the order a long way from settled. Starr’s Mill beat Fayette County 35-21 and Whitewater dispatched McIntosh 49-24 to keep themselves in the hunt in early finishes. That left both schools sitting and waiting on the outcome of the Griffin-Riverdale shootout to get some clarity. Griffin held on for a 27-22 win to finally fix the seeding. Starr’s Mill would be 1, Griffin 2, and Whitewater 3. Had Riverdale won the game, it would have put the Wildcats on top and the Panthers in second.
The seedings were so complicated because each of the three teams finished 5-1 in region play, Starr’s Mill beating Griffin, Griffin beating Whitewater, and Whitewater beating Starr’s Mill for their lone region losses. Ultimately the tiebreaker that would settle the deadlock would be the records of the teams each team had vanquished. The deciding criteria states: “Each team tied shall receive one point for each game won by all of their defeated opponents. Non-region and region combined.”
Starr’s Mill beat Griffin, who finished 9-1 overall, a huge boost to their resume. Likewise, Griffin was helped by beating 8-2 Whitewater. Whitewater’s signature win came against Starr’s Mill, who started against a brutally tough non-region schedule and finished with only a 6-4 overall record.
In round one, Starr’s Mill will host Veterans, Griffin will host Warner Robins, Whitewater will travel to Bainbridge, and Riverdale will travel to Thomas County Central.
Whitewater romps over McIntosh with playoffs looming
by Christopher Dunn
The Whitewater Wildcats capped off their remarkable regular season turnaround, besting the McIntosh Chiefs 49-24 Friday night. After finishing last year 2-8, the Wildcats are now 8-2 and preparing to open the state playoffs on the road this week at Bainbridge.
“We told them from day one, expect to win, and they’ve done everything in their power,” said Whitewater coach Bryan Holley. “I can’t say enough about them, because they’ve responded to everything we’ve asked them to do all year long.”
A banged-up Chief squad was determined to give Whitewater everything they had, and they certainly did early. The Cats tried to go deep on their first possession, but Jake Lackey broke up the bomb to help force a three and out. McIntosh’s offense followed with a 58-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Zach Sanders powered it, hitting Nash Gosser for 20 yards on a slant, then scrambling and finding Nick Ostendorf for 15 yards. Jacob Donaldson capped the drive off with a 34-yard field goal.
“At times, I thought we played a little sloppy,” said Holley. “I didn’t want to see that, but I’m very proud of our guys and the way they executed.”
Whitewater answered emphatically, quarterback Stone Kasten racing for a 67-yard touchdown on an option keeper for a 7-3 lead as the first quarter fireworks were just starting.
McIntosh strung together a 67-yard drive, spurred on early by an 11-yard pass from Sanders to Kyle Riesselmann and a 12-yard Ahmad Ragland run. Sanders moved the chains again with a 9-yard scramble and connected with Dane Kinamon for 23 yards on a perfectly-placed back shoulder pass. Sanders was nearly intercepted in the end zone, but Jack Dee instead corralled a tipped ball for a 3-yard touchdown and a 10-7 McIntosh lead.
The Cats swiped the lead back, getting moving by picking up 11 yards on a Kasten-Nolan Wallace completion. Kasten kept it going through the air, finding an open Jamal Jenkins for a 34-yard touchdown and a 14-10 advantage late in the quarter.
After the Cat defense forced their first three and out of the night, the offense tacked on more early in the second quarter. Isaiah Montgomery gouged the defense for 22 yards, and Kasten tossed a 25-yard scoring pass to Hunter Williams, kickstarting a dominating run.
McIntosh looked to steal back some momentum on the following series, but Musa Ali intercepted a pass and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown and a 28-10 lead. After another three and out, the Whitewater offense went big, Kasten bombing it to Jenkins for a 77-yard touchdown. Another Chief stalled drive led to a punt, but a high snap set the Wildcats up on the 5. They didn’t waste the opportunity, Kasten punching it in for a 42-10 lead, capping off a run of 28 points in under five minutes.
The Chiefs tried to stop the bleeding, engineering a scoring drive late in the half. Sanders was proficient through the air, moving the chains three times with completions to Kinamon and Dee, then calling his own number for a 2-yard touchdown run.
They kicked off to Whitewater with just 1:48 left in the half, but a late hit would help the Cats put more points on the board. Montgomery picked up a large chunk with a 31-yard run and finished the 80-yard drive off with a 4-yard burst for a 49-17 halftime lead.
The game well under control, the Wildcats were able to ease off the gas in the second half. McIntosh showed the fight they’ve shown all season, battling to the final whistle. They picked up the night’s final score, Sanders hitting Zach Seymour on a screen pass for a 27-yard touchdown.
Stone Kasten was dynamic for Whitewater, completing 4 of 6 passes for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for 104 yards and 2 scores. Jamal Jenkins caught 2 passes for 111 yards, both going for touchdowns. Isaiah Montgomery added 88 yards and a score on 12 carries.
Grayson Samples and Bradley May paced the Whitewater defense with 8 tackles apiece, followed by Tyler Crowder with 7. Christian Vermilyea added a sack, and Musa Ali tallied an interception. Liam Voigt was 7 for 7 on extra points.
For the Chiefs, Zach Sanders completed 18 of 35 passes for 218 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception, while rushing for another score. Dane Kinamon caught 4 passes for 64 yards, and Jack Dee caught 5 for 27 yards and a touchdown. Zach Seymour ran for 61 yards on 11 carries and also caught a touchdown.
Whitewater opens the playoffs this week on the road with a long trip to play the Bainbridge Bearcats.
“We need to come out and take care of business, regardless of where we’re playing and who we’re playing. It doesn’t matter,” said Holley. “We’re in a situation right now where nobody thought we’d be. We’ll play anybody anywhere.”
Sandy Creek dominates winless Central 34-0
by Dylan Hynson
On the final Friday night of the regular season, the Sandy Creek Patriots faced off with a winless Central Lions team desperate for at least one victory in the 2016 season. It would not be the night for a Lions win as the Patriots handled business with a 34-0 win.
“I thought our guys did a great job early in the game, taking care of business and getting ahead early,” Sandy Creek head coach Chip Walker said. “Defense played well all night, and I thought we executed well and controlled on offense. I’m proud of the guys.”
Sandy Creek started off with a bang on offense as senior Marvin Hubbard took the second play from scrimmage for a long touchdown run, but a holding call would bring it back. In what could’ve been a successful opening drive for the Patriots, the Lion defense came up with a stop a few plays later on fourth down. The Lions got the ball back and copied their opponents fate as they were stopped on fourth down as well.
“Our kids responded to that play,” Walker said. “I thought that was very critical the way they responded not only on that drive, but the whole game.”
The Patriots struck quickly after receiving the ball back as junior quarterback Bryant Walker fired a pass to senior tight end Parker Mallett, who hurdled a defender and ran 41 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0 Creek.
Central would be stopped again by the Patriot defense and were forced to punt. Senior Mychael Jenkins found a little bit of running room and made the most of it as he returned the punt 47 yards for another Sandy Creek score. In the span of two minutes, the Patriots were in control, 14-0.
“We did a lot of things well on offense,” Walker said. “We need to be able to do things well on offense when the playoffs come, so we just need to continue with what we are doing.”
Central needed some offense if they were to keep up with the high powered offense of Sandy Creek, and they got some with senior Tyler King taking charge of the running game. He broke off several runs for first downs on multiple plays throughout the drive, but the Creek defense would eventually come up with a stop as the second quarter began. The Lions faced a 4th and 6 in Creek territory when junior Kamaron Brown dropped a pass after getting hit by two Patriot players, forcing a turnover.
“Our defense has gotten so much better,” Walker said. “Their confidence is growing as they are getting better, and that’s really good to see.”
The Patriots got the passing game going on their next series as senior wide receiver Kaleb Slaughter provided a 30-yard catch and run to put them in Lion territory. A few plays later, senior Jaelen Greene found the end zone and pushed the lead to 21-0 with 9:44 left in the half.
Central started their next series inside the 10-yard line after fumbling the kickoff. The bad field position hurt the Lion as they were forced to punt deep in their territory. Greene scored again after a nine-play drive which was capped off by an 18-yard run to further the lead to 28-0 with 3:00 left in the second quarter.
Central fumbled the ball again on the kickoff and faced terrible field position. Creek almost scored on a fumble a few plays later, but the play was ruled dead before they could fall on the loose ball. The Lions were forced to punt yet again from their end zone and gave Sandy Creek the ball at the Central 31-yard line.
With 1:38 left in the half, Walker looked to put the game even further out of reach with another score. However, Central’s defense made their first top since the opening drive and forced Creek to punt. The Lions tried to make something happen before halftime, but wound up throwing an interception to junior Jack Bylsma, who ran it back to the 14-yard line. Creek seemed to have scored another touchdown on the next play to Slaughter, but the referee called an incomplete pass to the displeasure of Walker and the rest of the Patriots. They settled for a 31-yard field goal attempt which senior Benjamin Rutland put through the uprights for a 31-0 halftime lead. Coach Walker noted after the game that it was Sandy Creek’s first field goal in two years.
“Our defense made a huge play with that interception,” Walker said. “We were trying to score the possession before but didn’t do some things right on that series. It was good to see the kids respond and make a play to give us another score before the half.”
The second half featured a running clock, which wasted a lot of time during each team’s possessions. After Central punted the ball on the first series of the half, Sandy Creek chewed up nine minutes of the half. David Gonzalez kicked another 31-yard field goal with 13 seconds left on the third quarter to bring the score to 34-0.
“I told them in the locker room to just finish,” Walker said. “The running clock prevented us from doing anything special because our first drive took up the entire quarter, but the field goal is huge to give those kickers confidence when the playoffs come.”
The rest of the game went by quickly, with the only potential score coming on a blocked punt ran in for a touchdown. However, the play would get called back for roughing the punter and essentially ended the game as Sandy Creek rolled to a 34-0 win.
Quarterback Bryant Walker finished the night 9 of 16 passing for 142 yards, 1 touchdown, and no interceptions. Judah Johnson was the leading receiver on the night, catching 3 passes for 62 yards. Drezyn Parson paced the running game with 42 yards on 5 carries. Jaelen Green finished with 35 yards and 2 scores on 6 carries.
Benjamin Rutland was 4 for 4 on extra points, along with a 31-yard field goal.
Sandy Creek won’t have much time to digest this victory before they travel to one of the state’s best programs, Marist, for their first-round state playoff matchup, which has been called one of more intriguing matches in the state playoffs.
“You know when you play a team like Marist that’s it going to be a good contest,” Walker said. “I think it’s going to be one of the better first round games in the state ,and we need to prepare harder than before to ensure a victory.”
Third-quarter surge shocks Landmark in loss to ELCA
by Rob Grubbs
In a clash of true football heavyweights, the number one ranked Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy Chargers traveled to Fairburn to face off against their rival and second ranked Landmark Christian War Eagles to decide the Region 5 title. ELCA has won the past six region crowns, while Landmark looked to win their first since 2007. This would be the second game in the state between a one and a two team from the AJC rankings this season and would showcase a contrast of styles between a disciplined, run-oriented Landmark team versus the quick score, explosive offensive weapons of ELCA.
In the end, the game was reminiscent of the Dickens classic, “A Tale of Two Cities,” or in this case, a tale of two halves. The scoreless first half was a tough, defensive battle similar to military flanking maneuvers with each team looking to exploit a weakness that could not be found. The second half started and ended with ELCA running away with things, scoring 49 unanswered points for the surprising final score of 49-0.
For those in the crowd who enjoy a game of old school football – featuring tough inside running, hard hitting defense, effective special teams, and field possession, the first half was just for them. Both teams played conservatively, looking for opportunities for a big play but not at the expense of a turnover. Landmark’s first possession of the night was a preview. After the drive stalled, a Joey Blount punt went 41 yards to prevent ELCA from starting their first possession in War Eagle territory. The Landmark defense also set the tone early, as on ELCA’s first drive they got a pass break up by Brandon Stone and a sack to force a punt back to Landmark. The possessions would go back in forth in a similar fashion through the entire half. Landmark had six drives in the first half, of which four ended in punts by Blount, one turned over on a failed fourth down conversation and one on an interception.
ELCA’s offensive production was not much better, a pass that would set them up early with a first down in Landmark territory was fumbled, a field goal was missed, and a poor long snap created a poor scrimmage kick before half time.
As both teams left the field for the half, there was a sense of the evenness of the two teams athletically as well as the state rankings. A poll of the crowd, both fan bases, would have given an anticipated final score of this game to be something close with the winning team scoring on a turnover. The game officials even said they spent their halftime session going over the GHSA overtime mechanics as the game was certainly had that feel to it.
All of that changed in the first fifteen seconds of the second half, as Charger Justin Menard returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and the first points of the game, instantly giving the visitors a boost of energy that would carry through the next 30 minutes. On Landmark’s first possession, a fumble gave the ball right back to ELCA, which produced the first Charger offensive touchdown of the game and Landmark was now down 14-0 with less than two minutes gone in the third quarter.
It was critical for Landmark to slow down the momentum and create some positive energy for their offense. On the next possession, the War Eagles had their most successful drive of the night, getting into ELCA territory playing their ball control style but eventually having to punt.
ELCA’s possession after the punt seemed to take the rest of the fight out the War Eagles as the Chargers scored quickly on a Brayden Rush 40-yard run.
The War Eagle offense lacked the quick strike ability to make up the difference, which allowed the Chargers to pile on four more touchdowns to complete the rout. The final score was not a complete indication of the two teams. It was not a situation where Landmark was completely overmatched and outplayed for 48 minutes. ELCA is very talented and earned the victory, but it was also a game where things escalated quickly. If the two teams played each other 10 times, it would be debatable who would win the overall series, but no one would deny that a wide margin like this would not occur again, the games would be much closer.
For Landmark, their destiny is still fully in their control. They will open the playoffs in two weeks on November 18 against the 7-3 Darlington Tigers. They will take the lessons from this game and move on. In the back of their mind, they will be working and waiting for another shot against ELCA, hopefully in the Georgia Dome with the state title on the line.