By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Early on in the new process for selecting teams for the post season in Class A football, you could tell that things weren’t going to end well for a handful of teams.
That day appears to have come on Tuesday when the final Power Rankings for the 36 public and 29 private schools competing in football in Georgia’s smallest classification were released. The Power Rankings delivered a tough pill for several teams to swallow:
– Whitefield Academy, which held the 16th and final playoff spot on the private school side going into last week’s final regular season game, finished 17th after losing to Trion (17-7) last Friday. The Wolfpack finished .01 of a point behind Mt. Pisgah, a team they thrashed (28-6) back on Oct. 19.
– Telfair County finished third in Region 2, ahead of Turner County and Charlton County, both of which it beat during the regular season. Yet the Trojans public school Power Ranking of No. 21 will keep them at home in McRae and out of the playoffs, while Charlton (No. 10) and Turner (No. 12) are in.
– Johnson County finished second in Region 3-Division B with a 7-3 record, but fell .04 of a point short of the No. 16 slot on the public school side, held by Greenville and Hancock County, both of which have records of 5-5. In fact, a total of five teams with 5-5 records – conceivably, two games behind Johnson – will play in the public school playoffs while the Trojans watch from Wrightsville.
- Mt. Zion-Carroll- won Region 6-Division A and defeated Trion (14-13), Darlington (20-13) and Gordon Lee (18-13) in the process. Yet the Eagles are out of the playoffs with a public school Power Ranking of No. 24, while all three aforementioned teams they defeated are in.
“It’s very disappointing for our kids, especially for our seniors, who worked really hard to get this program turned around,” said Keith Holloway, in his first season as head coach at Mt. Zion, which went 0-10 last season. “We had a great year with a lot of positives.”
Holloway, who supported splitting public and private schools, was philosophical about his team getting squeezed out.
“We had our chance to beat Mt. Paran and didn’t get it done,” he said of his team’s loss in last Friday’s region cross over game. That loss along with the fact that two of Mt. Zion’s opponents – North Cobb Christian and Cross Keys – did not play region schedules, led to the Eagles’ demise.
Like Holloway, Johnson County head coach Don Norton, another supporter of the public-private split, did not blame the system either. His Trojans lost their Region 3 cross over game last week, 22-18, to Jenkins County.
“We had our chances and didn’t get it done,” Norton said. “We had third-and-goal from the [one]-half yard line and fourth-and-inches with a minute left in the game and couldn’t get in,” said Norton, whose team was without four starters, three of whom played both ways, due to a flu epidemic in school. “That’s not an excuse, we played hard but we didn’t take care of our business.”
Many coaches on both sides, public and private, would like to see the system tweaked for next season. Seminole County head coach Alan Ingram, for one, would like to see 32 of the 36 football-playing Class A public schools advance to the playoffs. Then the teams would be divided into four brackets, based on geography so that teams would not have to travel far for games, and seeded. Ingram said perhaps 24 of the 29 football-playing private schools would advance, with the top eight teams receiving a first-round bye.
“This way you get more schools and more communities able to participate and create more revenue,” said Ingram, whose Indians were the Region 1 champs. “These are tough economic times and a lot of these towns could use that extra revenue.
Ingram hopes the GHSA considers tweaking the system before next season. But for a number of players, that would be one year too late.
“It’s just not fair to the kids,” said DeLisa Gillis, a front office worker at Telfair County, whose son, Connor, is a senior kicker for the Trojans, while husband Don is a community assistant coach. Last week’s loss to Wilcox County (21-0) was most likely the final time Conner will play organized football.
“As the parent of a senior, you’re just really, really disappointed for your kids,” Gillis said. “Something has to change.”