Credit: McIntosh County Academy Facebook
WATCH LIVE | Georgia NASEF Farmcraft® 2024 Preseason Challenge #2 at 3 P.M.
MCA, Schley and Union Sprinting Toward Region Titles
So, we have two weeks left in the regular season.
Whodafigured that one?
But, this time around, I was looking at the region standings and there are folks in various stages of their region lives -- teams that already have their regions wrapped up (six), teams that could clinch with a win (another 26), or those still with some work to do in a back-loaded schedule that will be tough through Decision Day.
Let’s catch up with one in each category...
McIntosh County Academy is one of those six in Group No. 1...
The Bucs’ region schedule is already in the barn. The 28-21 win over Emanuel County Institute has them with three wins out of the blocks mean that the Region 3 Class A Division II title is theirs. They finish out their regular season this week with a game against Jason McEachin and Portal on the road.
“I had a good feeling about the team going back to the summer,” head coach Bradley Warren says. “There’s a good buzz in the program these days.”
It’s Warren’s fourth season in charge this go-round (more on that in a bit). They have been in the playoffs each of those years, but the exits have always been early. This year, they’re 8-1, winners of seven in a row, and the only loss was to Class 6A Glynn Academy.
“This is the first year that the entire roster was been attached to one coaching staff,” Warren says. “Before we were here, those players had four head coaches in four years. But now, they have all filtered into the buy-in we have given them.
“We were at the Cam Newton Passing Camp before the pandemic hit and these kids had it in their heads, I’m sure, that ‘OK, you’re the fourth coach ... When does the next one arrive?’ We were trailing in one of the games and we asked them to fight through the thought of just giving up when they’re down. They did fight there and we made it to the finals. We lost in the finals, but we made it there. So, it showed them something there. We don’t have any five-star recruits or anyone like that. But they play really well as a team. The team chemistry is all there.”
Early in the year, by Coach Warren’s own admission, they were a fast team defensively that ran well as a unit and lacked size. The staff realized they needed to change the scheme to fit the characteristics of their personnel. On offense, they’re working on developing their identity and getting better every week, Warren says. They’re not going to light up the scoreboard with their ball-control offense but they will put pressure on the other team’s defense with their offense.
“Early on this season, I felt like we could be successful,” Warren admits. “But to tell me we would be 8-1? I probably would have told you there was a lot of football left to be played. There have been times this year where, if you ask, we haven’t finished some opponents. I also think we have played to the level of our opponent -- above us or below us.
“I want to ask, ‘What is our level?’ and I want to know where we are as a team. That’s the big challenge.”
The other viewpoint Warren has is hindsight. His first head coaching job was at MCA from 1999-2001 where, in the second year, they made the semifinals. From there, he coached at Central Gwinnett, Gilmer and had a decade at Dade County before heading back to Darien. I asked him how different he is from that coach that was there for Round One.
“That’s a question that, literally, I was just thinking about. And it was laying heavily on me. I think the foundations are the same. Now that I’m wiser you wonder if you would have handled a particular situation well. And I draw on that.”
So, if the 51-year-old coach now talked to the 27-year-old coach then?
“It might be a long talk ... I wonder how much he would listen?”
Schley County is one of those 26 in Group No. 2. ... And it is one win away from a region title. The Wildcats started out as one of the top ranked teams in Class A Division II before losing back-to-back non-region games to Early County and Bleckley County. Since that 1-2 point, they’ve won five in a row and given up only 32 points along the way.
“We didn’t have any highly recruited players on the offensive line and we were young coming into this season,” head coach Darren Alford tells me. “We knew we had some work to do to get better as a team.
“Honestly, I think we had the potential to be a good team as the season went along. But we had a lot to prove to ourselves early on. We knew we had to get better. I think those losses were good things, to be honest.”
Schley had scheduled Irwin County as a scrimmage before the season started. Alford says they got bit by the injury bug and didn’t get some of those players back until Week 5 and the win over Macon County.
“We had a lead against Early County, but I think we ran out of gas,” Alford says. “It was hard to schedule those non-region games to be honest. There were teams we played in the past that didn’t want to play us [in 2021 Schley had its first double-digit win season in school history last season and made it to the second round of the playoffs]. But I think the games with Tattnall Square, Early and Bleckley got us battle tested. When you play the best teams, it will benefit you going forward.”
Coach Alford and his staff are in their seventh season in Ellaville with four of the six seasons leading into this one involving postseason berths. The continuity has helped the kids learn what is expected of them on the field and off and the assistants “love the kids and know the game” as Alford says.
“In region play, the kids really have shown up,” he says. “The holes are bigger for our running backs than they were when the season started and they’re all improving every week. They’re stronger as a group than they were during the non-region schedule.”
But this week, it’s a rivalry game with Marion County to try and lock up the Region 6 title. Before Schley existed, they were a part of Tri-County High (Schley, Marion and Webster), so Buena Vista will be coming full force for this one.
“Moms and dads went to Tri-County and now, their kids go here,” Alford says. “Everyone knows what’s at stake. They all had a good focus on a light practice day Monday and our basic game plan is in place. The Manchester game was a physical one for us and we are just about full strength. We’ll have our team intact for the first time this year Friday night.”
Union County is one of those in Group No. 3...
Michael Perry is in his second season as head coach in Blairsville and, after a 3-7 season last year, the Panthers are 7-1 with two games left in Region 8-2A. The last two weeks will decide it all as the Panthers play at Athens Academy and host Fellowship Christian.
“I think we’re more confident and better than we were last year,” Perry tells me. “I’m not gonna to lie to you and say we were going to be 7-1 at this point of the season had you asked me beforehand. I knew we would be better, but we’re still a young team.
“We didn’t have a big senior class year last year. We had eight, I think. This year, by comparison, we have fifteen. And their leadership has really been a part of our success this time around. “
After a season-opening win against Fannin County, Heath Webb’s Lumpkin County team held Union County to six points in a 22-point loss. They’ve run the table ever since putting up a lot of points -- 258 in the six wins (43 points-per-game on average).
“The guys have been getting better in each phase of the game since that loss,” he says. “That loss to Lumpkin showed us the things we needed to work on to get better -- especially our red zone offense.”
This week, Perry knows Athens Academy has a talented quarterback in senior Sam Bush that he’ll have to contain for a full 48 minutes. Bush, from the tape they’ve seen, is a dual threat talent that can get you either with his arm or his feet. Perry is also impressed with the Spartans running game and the lines of scrimmage. He knows they’ll have their hands full.
But Union County football is the talk of the town right now. There is a real buzz and you seemingly can’t go anywhere without seeing signs of support all over the place.
“The crowds are bigger this year,” Perry says, “and everyone is really excited. People want to walk up to you and talk to you about the team. It’s a great spot in Blairsville to do it, too.”
We’ll be keeping an eye on all these teams- and the others in their various stages of the last two weeks of the season...
Business is picking up...
Play it safe, everyone... I’ll talk to you soon...