By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Here’s the AJC.com Class A Blog Divided Top 5 after Week 4. The overall AJC/Georgia High School Football Daily ranking is in parenthesis, and as usual, here at Class A Blog Headquarters we don’t always agree with the AJC/GHSFD poll.
Also, as previously stated, we’ll start linking to the GHSA’s Power Ranking site after Week 6, when most teams will have completed half of their regular season (five games). And check our conversation with Telfair County head coach Matt Burleson, who is quietly building a solid program down in McRae.
1. Seminole County (8). The Indians are 3-0 after a 21-14 win over much-improved Clinch County (1-3). Seminole County RB Robert Speights scored on a 66-yard touchdown run and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Peters, while QB Alex Fudge scored on a 3-yard run. Next up is a visit to AA Pelham (3-0) on Friday.
2. Lincoln County (3). The Red Devils (1-1) were off last week. They will look to rebound from a 28-14 loss to Washington-Wilkes on Sept. 6, when they travel across the South Carolina boarder to face Ninety Six on Friday.
3. Trion (NR). The Bulldogs (3-0) traveled south to Marietta and made a huge statement with a convincing 42-7 win over Walker. Trion’s methodical ground oriented offense did most of the damage as Malik Martin, Devonya Farmer, Bradley Womack and Chandler Latham (2) each had rushing touchdowns. Trion will host Mt. Paran (2-1) in a big Region 6 crossover match-up on Friday.
4. Telfair (NR). The Trojans are 3-0 for the first time since 1994 after drubbing Baconton Charter 47-6. In two seasons, Telfair County has outscored the Blazers 88-6. After finishing 6-4 last season and narrowly missing the public school playoffs, Telfair County hopes to advance to the post season for the first time since 2004. The Trojans will host AAA Southeast Bulloch (1-0-1) on Friday.
5. Irwin County (9). The Indians (2-0-1) defeated East Laurens of Dublin 35-14, as the rebuilding job of head coach John Lindsey, now in this third season, continues in Ocilla. After finishing 3-7 in his first season, Lindsey guided Irwin County to a 7-4 record and a berth in the public school playoffs last season. Irwin County hosts Wilkinson County (0-2) on Friday.
Another half dozen to watch: Charlton County (2-1), Gordon Lee (3-0), Hancock Central (2-1), Johnson County (3-0), Marion County (2-0), Wilcox County (1-2).
1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (1). As expected, the No. 1 Chargers (3-0) steam rolled Hapeville Charter 68-6 in a game that was 55-0 at the half. ELCA will take a week off before hosting Holy Innocents Sept. 27.
2. Aquinas (4). The Irish (2-0) took the week off and will return to action Friday when they travel across town to visit AA Josey on Friday.
3. Savannah Christian (5). The Raiders (1-0-1) took last week off and will head to Mt. Vernon on Friday to face Montgomery County (0-2).
4. Pace Academy (10). The Knights continued their impressive start to the season with a 39-6 drubbing of King’s Ridge Christian School in a game played last Thursday night in honor of Yom Kippur. Pace travels south to Macon on Friday to face First Presbyterian Day (0-2).
5. Landmark Christian (2). The War Eagles are one of only two teams in all of Georgia (No. 3 in AA Greater Atlanta Christian) with a record of 4-0 after they edged Mt. Paran (2-1) 14-7 last Friday. Landmark scored just one offensive touchdown – a 5-yard run by RB Darius Smith – but the defense made it stand up. The War Eagles will take a week off before opening Region 5 play at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian (0-3).
Another half dozen to watch: George Walton Academy (2-1), Holy Innocents (2-2), Mt. Paran (2-1), Mt. Pisgah (3-0), Prince Avenue Christian (2-1), Walker (2-1).
Coachspeak: Telfair County’s Matt Burleson.
About an hour southeast of Macon in the town of McRae (Population 5,600), Matt Burleson is building a football tradition out of red Georgia clay.
In 46 seasons of football the Telfair County Trojans are 150 games under .500, have won just two region titles (1992, 1993), have advanced to the playoffs just four times and have won eight or more games just twice (1992, 1993).
Still, with all of that negative history, Burleson, a former defensive coordinator at nearby Johnson County, saw something.
“They were in our middle school league when I was at Johnson County,” Burleson said. “They would lose a lot but I would look at them and say man they have some really good looking kids over there.”
His suspicions were proven when Rodney Moore, a fellow assistant at Johnson County, took the job as head basketball coach at Telfair. Moore told him that there were a number of great athletes at the school. They just needed to be coached up and taught the value and eventual payoff of hard work and discipline. So Burleson took the head coaching job, and brought Moore on as an assistant, when it became available after the Trojans went 1-9 in 2011.
He led them to a 6-4 finish last season, just missing the final playoff spot in the Class A Public School Power Rankings after a 21-0 loss to Region 2 champion Wilcox County in the final game of the regular season. The Trojans had gained respect, but Burleson said the turnaround wasn’t easy.
“There were times in that first spring practice where we couldn’t even get a play off,” he said. “At that point you’re thinking, what are we doing. But the kids kept working hard and got better every day.”
The big payoff from last season came late in the season when the Trojans hung on to knock off perennial Class A power Charlton County (29-21). It was the first win over Charlton County since 1993. In the four games in which the teams met prior to last season, Telfair County loss by a combined score of 177-7.
“It was Senior Night and the kids hung on and won the game,” Burleson said. “It was a big win for us and it let us know we were headed in the right direction.”
Telfair County lost 18 seniors off of that 2012 team. In fact, just four starters returned on each side of the ball and only two of the returning players had scored touchdowns for the Trojans. But in just two seasons, it appears that the new motto at Telfair County has taken hold of the team: “Best Effort Every Play – B.E.E.P.”
“We have that printed on everything we have around here,” Burleson said. “It’s our mindset. It’s the way we attack every game. The kids have worked extremely hard and have bought into what we’ve been trying to teach them.”
The result is a team that is 3-0 for the first time since 1994. Leading the way are center Jacob Smith (6-0, 285) and WR/OLB Teviest Howard (6-0, 175), both seniors, and massive junior guard Howard Williams (6-4, 320).
Burleson said the team’s strength is right where it needs to be in football, along the line of scrimmage. The Trojans are averaging 41 points per game while surrendering just 15. Still, Burleson said the team has a lot to improve upon.
“We have to cut out the silly penalties we’ve been getting because eventually that’s going to hurt us down the road,” he said.
Making those corrections on the field will be easier than changing the mindset of the program and the community, which has already taken place. In the Trojans’ two road games this season (Wheeler County and Baconton Charter), they had more fans in the stands than their hosts, thanks to a couple of local churches that allowed the school to use their buses to transport parents, cheerleaders and the band to the games.
“People aren’t used to it just yet, I don’t think,” Burleson said of having a winning football team. “But they’re starting to come around. Our crowds are getting larger. We’ve been getting great support.
“Our mentality has changed,” Burleson said. “We’ve gone from hoping that we keep it close and don’t get blown out, to thinking we can win the game, to now where we expect to win.”
Burleson said that confidence is tempered with a healthy level of respect. “We respect every opponent we play,” he said. “We talk about playing 10, 1-game seasons, taking it one game at a time. We just want to make the dance this year, get in that top 16, and go from there.”
Now it’s your turn, Class A Blog heads. What say you? Until Thursday …