By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
In Week 10, we delve into more details from the Warren County-Hancock Central melee and look at four big games on Friday.
(The Hancock County sheriff has decided to bring in the GBI to investigate the fight.)
Warren County-Hancock Central. Warren County Schools Superintendent Carole Jean Carey provided more details surrounding last Friday’s brawl following the Warren County-Hancock Central game at Hancock, where Warren head coach David Daniels was injured so severely that he had to undergo surgery on his face.
“Our players are some big, strong, tough boys, but they were scared,” Carey said Wednesday morning.
Following Warren County’s 21-2 win at Hancock Central, Carey said the Warren County players and coaches walked to the visitor’s locker room, which is on the opposite end of the field house from the home locker room. However, Warren County could not get into the locker room, even though the Screaming Devils’ manager had a key.
“The key did not work,” said Carey, who noted that the key worked at halftime when Warren County went into the locker room at the break.
While the Warren County players, coaches and managers were trying to get into the locker room, Carey said, that’s when the fighting began. Daniels is believed to have been struck in the face with a helmet, which resulted in his injuries.
There is a big rivalry between the two schools, located in counties that are adjacent to each other about 100 miles east of Atlanta, near Augusta. The Screaming Devils have dominated the series (which dates back to 1970), 20-8-2, including the last seven in a row.
Carey, who noted that there have been “some issues in the past, with us and others in Hancock County,” said Warren County tried to take every precaution to maintain the safety of its players. She said after game the team went to the opposite end of the field to give Hancock Central time to enter its locker room. Also, she said prior to the game she requested to have the buses that transported the team to the game moved to what she felt would be a more secure area. Her request was denied by Hancock Central officials.
“We tried to be as proactive as possible,” Carey said. “We were assured that we would be safe.”
Immediately following the incident, after checking on Daniels’ condition at the hospital, Carey said her first thoughts were to have the Georgia Bureau of Investigation take over the case.
“In small communities like ours I think the GBI can best do an impartial investigation,” Carey said. “It takes some of the pressure and political sensitivities out of the investigation.”
However, when she asked Hancock County Sheriff Tomlyn Terrell Primus to let the GBI handle the case, her request was denied.
“After that, I told him that we already had several statements that he could have and use for his investigation and he told me he didn’t need them,” said Carey. She now has nearly 50 statements from players, coaches and team managers. “He said he would conduct the investigation from their perspective.”
Hancock County Superintendent Gwendolyn Jefferson Reeves, Sheriff’s Investigator Ricky Brown, and Hancock Central head football coach Zackery Harris did not return phone messages.
A former Hancock Central coach who is no longer associated with the program, said former associates of his have told him the impetus for the trouble came two weeks ago, Oct. 7, during the Bulldogs’ 41-40 loss at Washington-Wilkes. Reportedly, several Warren County players (the Screaming Devils had a bye that week) were at the game openly cheering for Washington-Wilkes and ran on to the field to celebrate the Bulldogs’ loss at the end of the game.
Carey, who said she will not allow her school to complete against Hancock Central in any sport for the foreseeable future, is also upset at reports that several Warren County players were pepper sprayed by Hancock County law enforcement officials.
“There are a lot of things that I can’t talk about that I really do hope come out during the investigation,” Carey said.
No. 1 Savannah Christian at Calvary Day. The focus of Class A shifts south to Savannah on Friday, as two undefeated (7-0, 3-0) teams meet to decide the sub-Region 3 East championship. Savannah Christian leads the series, which dates back to 1979, 19-11, and has won four of the last five meetings. But Calvary Day’s 6-0 win last season was the only blemish on the Raiders’ regular season record. They went on to advance to the Class A finals, where they lost to Clinch County, which finished 15-0.
The Raiders have been dominant this season, beating opponents by an average score of 41-6. But head coach Donald Chumley is still concerned.
“The old coach in me says that we haven’t been tested like we will be on Friday night,” Chumley said. “We’ve gotten ahead of some people early and been able to play a lot of young players and that’s good. But on the other hand we don’t know how well conditioned our starters are because they haven’t played four quarters, and you want to see how they play in a close game in the fourth quarter.”
Savannah Christian is led by major FBS (formerly Division I) prospects nose tackle DeAngelo Brown (6-1, 285), two-way lineman Josh Gay (6-3, 270), and safety/receiver Nardo Govan (6-3, 225). The Cavaliers, 7-0 for the first time since 2003, are led by dynamic quarterback Jake Clemens, who transferred to Calvary Day from Savannah Christian. Clemens rushed for 152 yards and completed 14 of 23 passes for 83 yards in the Cavs’ win last week over Bryan County.
“It was a family decision that they made at the beginning of last year. But I still care a lot about him and I’m very proud of him,” said Chumley, who said he coached both of Jake’s older brothers. “He’s blossomed into what I thought he would be, an outstanding quarterback.
“It should be a great atmosphere here in Savannah,” Chumley said. “It’s a big game and everybody’s talking about it.”
Trion at Darlington. This time of year two things are certain. The leaves begin to change colors and Darlington is in contention for another region championship.
The Tigers are one of four teams tied for the lead in Region 6, along with Bowdon, Bremen and Mount Paran Christian. Darlington, the two-time defending region champ, gave previously unbeaten Bowdon its first loss of the season last week, 40-25.
“There’s a lot more parity in our region this year, but there was no question that Bowdon was the team to beat,” said Darlington head coach Tommy Atha. “We felt like we would have a good shot against them if we could keep the game close going into the second half, and we did. It was one of those nights where everything came together for us and we played well.”
But Atha hopes his team doesn’t come out flat against Trion, which sits right behind the group of four at 2-2 in the region.
“The way our region is, you could go from region champion, to just hosting a first-round playoff game, to being out of the playoffs all together in the span of a couple of weeks,” Atha said. “We’re stressing that for us, the playoffs have already started.”
The Tigers are led by a trio of seniors who are garnering attention from FBS schools: Cameron Gibson (6-0, 190), Nigel Matthews (6-3, 195) and Chase Tolbert (6-2, 215). Gibson returned a kickoff and an interception for touchdowns in the win over Bowdon.
Darlington’s junior quarterback, Brad Butler (6-2, 205), was just selected to participate in the Under Armour and U.S. Marines junior combines this winter.
Aquinas at No. 3 Lincoln County. The Region 7 title will be on the line in Lincolnton. Since losing its season opener, 10-8, to Landmark Christian, Aquinas (6-1, 3-0) has won six straight by an average score of 42-9. But defeating Lincoln County (7-0, 3-0) has been nearly impossible for the Irish, who trail in the series 30-2-1, including a 49-6 beat down at the hands of the Red Devils last season. Aquinas’ last win over Lincoln County came in 1972.
No. 6 Charlton County at Bacon County. The town of Alma (215 miles southeast of Atlanta), population 3,200, will be jumping on Senior Night. The game will go a long way toward determining the seedings for the playoffs in Region 2. Charlton (7-1, 5-1) and Bacon County (6-1, 4-1) currently sit second and third, respectively, behind No. 4-ranked Wilcox County (8-0, 6-0) and in front of Clinch County (5-2, 3-2). Bacon County, which has made the playoffs just four times since 1990, was 8-22 over the last three seasons before Bobby Johns took over in January.