Class A Blog: The semifinals, and Coach Speak with Irwin County’s Jonathan Lindsey

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

Here’s a quick look at the semifinals. In a huge contrast, the public side has two rematches from this season while the private side has two first-time matchups. Also, we have another installment of “Coach Speak” with Irwin County’s Jonathan Lindsey:

PUBLIC

Upper Bracket

No. 9 Charlton County (8-4) at No. 4 Irwin County (10-1-1). Irwin County won the first meeting between the Region 2 rivals, 29-26, in the regular season finale on Nov. 8, thanks to a 33-yard field goal in the final seconds by Eric Contreras. The all-time series between the two schools is 17-17. Irwin County had won the first 15 meetings from 1966 to 1989. Then Rich McWhorter took over in Folkston and Charlton County won the next 17 games from 1990 to last season, when Irwin ended the run with a 55-34 win in the regular season. Irwin County, located about an hour east of Albany, has improved steadily during head coach Jonathan Lindsey’s three years in Ocilla, going 3-7 in 2011 and 7-4 last season. He is trying to lead the school to the finals for the first time since 1997, and win the school’s second state title (1975). After finishing with a losing record (5-6) last year for the first time in his 24 seasons at Charlton County, McWhorter has righted the ship. Charlton County, located in southeast corner of the state, was last in the semifinals in 2006 when it went on to tie Dublin in the Class AA final.

No. 6 Hawkinsville (9-3) at No. 2 Marion County (11-1). Hawkinsville handed the Eagles their only loss of the season, 14-10, on Nov. 1. Still, Marion County, located in Buena Vista just outside of Columbus, won its third Region 4 title in the past four seasons. The Eagles have played 12 games in each of Mike Swaney’s four seasons. This is Marion County’s first trip to the semifinals. After a two-year absence from the post season, Hawkinsville, located just south of Macon, is back in the playoffs under second-year head coach David Daniell. The Red Devils are in the semifinals for the first time since they tied Clinch County in 2004 for their fifth state championship, after winning it outright in 2003.

PRIVATE

No. 4 Calvary Day (10-2) at No. 1 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (11-0). The two teams have never met, but both faced Landmark Christian this season. Calvary Day, located in Savannah, lost to the War Eagles (30-22) in the season opener for the Cavaliers, while ELCA blanked Landmark 35-0. Calvary Day went on to drop its next game as well to Class AA Bryan County (40-29). But the Cavaliers have won 10 straight since, and are in the semifinals for the first time in school history. Head coach Mark Stroud, in his sixth season at the helm, has gone 37-9 after going 4-6 his first two seasons there. ELCA, located in McDonough, is the defending private school champion. Head coach Jonathan Gess has turned the program into one of the most dominant in the state. His current group of seniors has compiled an overall record of 48-4 thus far.

No. 3 Aquinas (12-0) at No. 2 Mt. Pisgah Christian (12-0). Aquinas, located in Augusta, had been a weak program, traditionally, until Matt Lezotte arrived in 2009. The Irish went 17-7 combined in 2011 and 2012, and longtime assistant James Leonard has taken the program to the next level in his first season, winning the school’s first region championship. Mt. Pisgah, located in John’s Creek, also won its first region title this season under head coach Mike Forester, who is also in his first season in charge. Prior to this season, the Patriots had not won more than six games in since joining the Georgia High School Association in 2006.

Coach Speak: Jonathan Lindsey, Irwin County

The coaching “tree” of Jeff Herron has spawned several “seeds” that are growing sturdy programs across the state. Bryan Love, in his first year at Westlake in South Fulton, piloted the Lions into the playoffs after they went winless in 2012. Franklin Stephens won two Class AAAA state titles (2008, 2011) in five seasons at Tucker and is primed to win a AA championship this season at Lamar County. Grant Chestnut is the offensive coordinator at the brand new program at Kennesaw State University.

And then there’s Jonathan Lindsey, who probably took the hardest construction job at Irwin County, located about an hour east of Albany. In the three seasons prior to his arrival in Ocilla in 2011, Irwin County was a collective 9-22.

“They were used to losing here and so we had to first come in a change the culture, the mindset of the players and the coaches,” Lindsey said. “It was all about commitment and hard work in the weight room, and going to coaching clinics and making sure the kids went to camps in the off season. I basically took what we did at Camden and brought it here. But mostly, it was changing the attitude here.”

The attitude adjustment hasn’t taken long. After going 3-7 in 2011, Irwin County went 7-4 last season, with wins over rivals Clinch County and Charlton County, two of the most tradition-laden programs in Georgia. Irwin County had lost 11 of 14 to Clinch County, and 17 in a row to Charlton.

“Those were big wins for the program,” Lindsey said. “It was great to see the hard work of the kids and the great support we’ve gotten from the administration pay off. Our kids started to believe they could win.”

But tough loss in the first round of last year’s public school playoffs to Trion (31-6) threw cold water on the party.

“It was the first time we hosted a playoff game in our new stadium since it was built in 2006, and the whole town was just so excited,” Lindsey said. “But we had a week off before the playoffs started and that first game was Thanksgiving weekend, and we lost our mojo, our focus wasn’t there. Trion came in here focused and determined and taught us a lesson.”

Irwin County got out of the gate quickly this season and was 4-0-1 when Clinch County came to town on Oct. 11. Irwin County led 17-0 in the third quarter, but mistakes and turnovers opened the door for Clinch County to come back. After Irwin County turned the ball over late in the game inside the Panthers’ 30-yard line, the game was over: 30-24, Clinch County.

“Again, we lost our mojo, lost the momentum and Clinch took it all,” Lindsey said. “But we pulled together as a team and got refocused, instead of coming and allowing things to unravel.”

That rededication to focus was evident a month later when Charlton County visited for the regular season finale. Irwin County trailed at halftime but rallied to win 29-26 on a last-second field goal. Lindsey’s team has not lost since the Clinch County game nearly two months ago.

Now, in order for the season to continue, Irwin County will once again have to knock off Charlton County.

“It was such a tight ball game last time,” Lindsey said. “It’s going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes and who doesn’t turn the ball over. We’re not going to go out and dominate Charlton. They’re too good and too well coached. But I’ve told our guys, if we play the way we’re capable of playing and don’t turn the ball over, we can beat anybody.”

Lindsey expects another raucous and supportive home crowd Friday night when Charlton County comes back to town, this time with a birth in the state public school finals on the line.

“It’s going to be crazy,” Lindsey said. “Our community loves these kids and has been so supportive of our program. It’s great. Everybody is so excited.”

Perhaps none more so than Irwin County’s biggest fan, Melissa Lindsey, the coach’s wife. She is cutting short an annual school trip to the nation’s capital with the couple’s oldest daughter, in order to be in her seat at kickoff.

“She’s going to leave our daughter up there with her middle school group and fly back Friday morning,” Lindsey said. “I’ll tell you what. She’s a bigger football fan than me. She could probably coach the team better than me, too.”

87 comments Add your comment

Joco Trojan Fan

December 5th, 2013
2:39 pm

Irwin County surprised me last week, and I think they’re the favorite to win on the public side. On the private side, I still think ELCA is a beast, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Calvary upsets them. I know their QB is hurt and Calvary is the best team JOCO has played all season IMO. If Irwin and Calvary can win this week, and then in the dome, it will make us folks in Wrightsville feel alot better. I would not mind losing to the two Class A state champions. Under that scenario, would we be the third best team in Class A? Numbers don’t lie!

Swamp Lizard

December 5th, 2013
4:47 pm

@ Joco Trojan Fan ….. Glad to see you still hanging with us and following the playoffs. I have to say that’s a nice little senario you have there to end up the #3 team in the state. But these #’s don’t lie either …. losing to Calvary Day 40-14 and Irwin Co 56-26 “might” make you fall a little further than #3. Hey, you did beat your most hated rival and defending Public Champ ( ECI ) twice this year and that had to be sweet for you.I do like your picks though …. Irwin Co ( Public ) and ELCA ( Private ).

Swamp Lizard

December 5th, 2013
5:44 pm

SWAMP’S PICKS ( PUBLIC ) …..
Charlton Co at Irwin Co ….. Well, being MY PICK to win it all ( Clinch Co ) went down last week to a tough Hawkinsville team, the next best thing is having two Region 2 teams in the semi-finals. The “rumor” is that, it’s hard to beat a team twice in the same season …. well, I think I seen it somewhere that it has happen 7 times this year and the team that won game one, won 6 of 7 rematches. I like both of these teams …. Irwin Co survived the first meeting and I think they will get it done one more time …. IRWIN CO.

Hawkinsville at Marion Co …. Well here it is the semifinals and here we have the Red Devils again … oh wait … this isn’t Lincoln Co !! Hawkinsville has took the Public playoffs by storm knoking off Mitchell Co ( 17-12 ) and “my” favorite Clinch Co ( 23-8 ) and they are the only team to give Marion Co a loss this year. Please see above on rematches ……. HAWKINSVILLE one more time.

Swamp Lizard

December 5th, 2013
6:25 pm

SWAMP’S PICKS ( PRIVATE )
Aquinas at Mt Pisgah …. Both are 12-0, both are Region Champs ( Region 6 & Region 7 ) and this game has the makings of a classic. Aquinas came into the playoffs having played one of the weakest schedules in Class A but they have took care of business week by week and has shown they belong. Mt Pisgah has took care of business too and this will be their biggest challenge to date in the playoffs. Both are “fine” football teams with “quality” players ( RB Garnett of Aquinas and QB Winchester of Mt Pisgah ) and I really don’t think one has a major advantage over the other … with the most respect to both teams, I’m going to take the home team and go with MT PISGAH.

Calvary Day at ELCA … Rumor has it that there will be a “few” college coaches at this game Friday night watching the abundant talent on display. 4star ELCA DE Williams and Clemson commit TE Richard of Calvary Day are just a couple that will show case their talents. Both of these teams have “playmakers” all over the field. Calvary Day has a fine QB, tough RB, and serious playmakers on the outside on the offensive side of the ball, but the ELCA “D” is the best in Class A football. These kind of games are won on the line …. both offense and defense … and I don’t see ELCA losing on either side of the ball. Out of the most respect for Calvary Day, I just think it’s time for a statement game from ELCA and I think Calvary Day will be in the wrong place at the wrong time Friday night …… ELCA !!

LUVIT

December 5th, 2013
6:58 pm

It would be a big upset but it happens every day…being at home is great the advantage with a 4 hour bus trip ahead of the Cavs but it was earned…you know my other concern our depth…Underdogs make a great story…GO CAVS!

Swamp Lizard

December 5th, 2013
8:35 pm

@ LUVIT …. hope to see you tomorrow night …. safe travels on the road ….. with all the talent on the field Friday night, this could have the makings of a great game.

The Guy Next to Swamp Lizard

December 5th, 2013
9:49 pm

I’m so excited, I bought new cleats.

Class A

December 5th, 2013
9:57 pm

Joco Trojan fan, you get beat by a combined score of 96-40 by those 2 teams, and you think JOCO should be # 3 because they beat and embarrassed you for the region championship and in the first round by more than any other team as beaten. You will be at the bottom of the top 10, as you say numbers don’t lie!

CSRA706

December 5th, 2013
10:28 pm

Blah, blah, blah, here we go again!!!!!

Sam Roney

December 6th, 2013
12:07 am

What a shocker Swamp Liz! May be about like your Clinch County pick going down hard to Hawkinsville, huh! I’m not going to say that Aquinas will beat Pigsah, as I do really rate this as
even, but with Garnett back at full strength, our defense will be far better than last week with MPC,
and I think that’s what it’ll come down to. If we play up to our normal level, our defense can beat Pigsah,
so I’m hoping that is what’ll happen. Would you be there for a helping of crow sandwich if the Irish win?

JSP

December 6th, 2013
1:03 am

Sam Roney, not trying to be arrogant, but your defense will have to play better than just their “normal level” to shut down Pisgah’s offense. Believe me, Pisgah’s QB will give you a headache. He’s quick, slippery, and fast. I guarantee you that there will be at least a couple times where it looks like he’s getting sacked, and he’ll slip out of it and go for 30 yards. If you somehow find a way to contain him, you’ll be in very good shape.

For Aquinas on the offensive side of the ball, don’t be shocked if you don’t see Garnett run wild. Pisgah has two stud D-Linemen and a pretty good Linebacker Corps. Best thing Aquinas could do is throw in some long balls (which I know you guys have done). Pisgah’s secondary isn’t legendary.

Anyway, I looking forward to seeing the whole Aquinas family there. From what I’ve heard, you guys are bringing quite a crowd with you. Hopefully the whether isn’t too nasty.

CSRA706

December 6th, 2013
4:22 am

@allregion5fans, Here’s some numbers for yall to spin..2014.Toughest Regions to Make Playoffs (By Classification)The three columns are:- Region #- Name of #4 Team in Region- #4 Team’s Maxwell Rating (rounded to 0.1)
Class A

2 Wilcox Co. 39.83
3 Johnson Co. 37.07
7 Wilkinson Co. 35.74
4 Brookstone 35.48
8 Commerce 33.06
6 Christian Heritage 27.85
5 Whitefield Academy 26.51
1 Randolph-Clay 13.0

ELCA fan

December 6th, 2013
5:52 am

That is for the 2014 season. I thought this was the 2013 season we are playing. Wonder what that has to do with the next 2 games this year.

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2013
6:23 am

@Sam Roney ….. I think I called the game “even” too, just went with the home team ….. said both are fine teams, both have great players, both have “proved” themselves. I’m also not scared to say I’m wrong or I have made a mistake before. I picked Clinch Co to win it all, I was wrong ……. you’re just a Grump Jackass !!

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2013
6:26 am

…… my bad …… that was meant to be Grumpy Jackass

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2013
6:27 am

@ CSRA706 ….. there you go again, as I’ve said, the “light” just hasn’t hit you yet. I’m sure going to miss you and Sam.

Joco Trojan Fan

December 6th, 2013
7:02 am

Some of y’all don’t realize a bit of sarcasm! It was a great year going 10-2, not many teams reach ten wins. However, like every other football crazed town we want a state championship every year! We beat who we were supposed to beat and lost to the better teams. Good luck to all the other teams playing tonight!

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
9:27 am

Take away the Pisgah QB and you have a 2 or 3 loss team. Other than the QB they have maybe 1 or 2 other “star” players. Aquinas will put more athletes on the field on both sides of the ball and I don’t think Pisgah will be able to match up for 4 quarters. Good luck to both teams tonight!

CSRA706

December 6th, 2013
11:13 am

@ELCAfan, give yall a chance to get crank up the hype machine early, @swamp, the light is gonna shine bright tonight, as we continue the……….well you know!!!!!! good post @therealmt, finally someone on here that can at least make sense, gotta get ready for the drive so i will see what yall haters have to say later!!!! Good Luck Cavalry!!!!!

LUVIT

December 6th, 2013
11:47 am

Go Cavs! Hope the boys are watching this on the ride north….http://youtu.be/CDJS9rFGCHE

A Pisagh Fan

December 6th, 2013
12:11 pm

@ TRM ….”Take away the Pisgah QB and you have a 2 or 3 loss team……Wow that might be one of the sorriest statements I have read on this blog in quite sometime. I can only imagine how embarrassed your Eagle coaches and players must be feeling knowing that they lost to a team that only had 1 or 2 star players… Let it go man…it’s only going to eat you up.

Aquinas is a very good team it should be a great game to watch…I encourage you and your group to come take the drive and enjoy it from the stands. We won’t even care if you don’t cheer for us.

ELCA fan

December 6th, 2013
12:15 pm

@ CSRA706 point out to me were I have been talking crap. I can find alot of post were you have.

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
12:33 pm

Sorry I hit a nerve with that statement but I’ll stick by it. I didnt say you didnt have a good football team or good players just none that really jump off the page other than your QB and #23. That QB is a stud and if you think without him you are where you are then you are kidding yourself. No one ever said anything about the loss to Mt Paran earlier in the season I was just giving my thoughts after seeing both teams against a common opponent. I may actually be coming to the game because it should be a good one. I guess the truth hurts?

Augusta68

December 6th, 2013
1:32 pm

The Aquinas faithful are getting ready for the road, which has brought great success the past 2 years. Aquinas football has won 10 of its last 11 road games, which has included a win at Wilcox County 2 years ago that ended their 35 game home win streak and the only home loss for George Walton last year. Hoping we can add Mount Pisgah to the list tonight… While their facilities look nice, I can not believe Mount Pisgah does not have visitor bleachers or visitor locker rooms. Their tuition is $10,000 more per year than Aquinas.

bucket

December 6th, 2013
2:35 pm

Out of superstition (I guess) I have refrained from playing prognosticator on these blogs all year. But with no game tonight (and because I am bored) I offer an unbiased opinion about the private Final Four (for whatever that’s worth!).

ELCA vs. Calvary: I really do believe that Calvary is the type of team that could give ELCA some problems because they have a balanced attack on offense and for that reason I give them a puncher’s chance against ELCA. In fact, they may be the best match-up for ELCA in Single A this year period. (Darlington should be applauded as well) Calvary has a great RB, a couple of really good receivers, and a great TE. The question for me is can Calvary block ELCA well enough to execute their offense for 4 quarters. Prince put good pressure on at times and was getting there just a hair too late on several pass plays. ELCA will be quicker and bigger on the Dline so that will be something to look for. I have praised ELCA all year, so I am not going to stop now. I think ELCA prevails because of their speed, strength, and depth on the line of scrimmage. The game will be closer because Ethridge will be watching instead of playing, but the back-up QB doesn’t have to win the game for ELCA, he just needs to make sure he doesn’t lose it.

Mt. Pisgah vs. Aquinas: I haven’t seen either of these teams in person, but from what I have seen on video it is not a fluke that both of these teams have won their first 2 games in the playoffs. Mt. Pisgah has a very talented QB and if Aquinas can’t keep him boxed up he has the ability to take a game over. Aquinas is very talented at the skill positions and if Garnett is back close to 100% it will be interesting to see if Aquinas can take pressure off their QB by running the ball. I would personally give an edge to Aquinas in this game, but the home field advantage for Mt. Pisgah could keep this one close.

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
3:25 pm

Regarding the Pisgah/Aquinas game. First, Garnett with a sprained achilles is nowhere close to 100%, this is not a hang nail. He probably will not play both ways which is going to hurt an already suspect defense. #4 left the game last week in the 3rd. qtr. due to cramps? I thought that only happened to players in August & September. Aquinas has too many ball players going on both sides of the ball, Pisgah has beaten teams in the 2nd. half due to conditioning and outcoaching the opposing staff. I see nothing different this week, Pisgah 34-Aquinas 24.

And yes Garnett gets his 100 yards, who cares!

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
3:39 pm

To Augusta68, that’s because we don’t want you to have those facilities. This is not Wilcox County or George Walton! By the way I have seen the Aquinas facility, can you say cow pasture.

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
3:45 pm

To all the Aquinas faithful, PLEASE drive safely and get to Pisgah safely!!!!!

ZippyMPC

December 6th, 2013
3:45 pm

I’ll say it “A Pisgah Fan” your boys would have NEVER beaten Mount Paran Christian without your stud QB. It was a complement to him and the team because you did win WITH Winchester (and several mistakes at the end by the MPC defense) . (remember 3 consecutive penalties resulting your chance on the final TD drive). Are you so delusional record that you forgot how close the game was and how close MPC was to pulling away in the 3rd? No one is embarrassed with our effort in that game but if you are now so full of yourself at 12-0….you might be surprised and wake up very sad tomorrow. Hard to pull for Aquinas with Roney and CSRA but maybe you can sway some support on here. BTW, CSRA why don’t you just say “hey our coach opened his mouth on the SEC and probably regrets it” and leave it alone. Your team is good but we may find out you are Ohio State and the region is Big Ten. :-0
Fact is region 5 and 6 had several teams in the mix and beat each other and thus why only one left of each….

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
3:50 pm

To TRM, it is truly a shame that the truth hurts. The reason you are coming to our game and not playing in your own is your team gave away the game. Just like against Pisgah.

Mt. Paran = UNDISCIPLINED

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
3:53 pm

Hey Zip Man did the Aquinas coach really compare Region 7 to the SEC? My word!

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2013
3:53 pm

@ bucket ….. you have certainly done your homework !! I think you are SPOT ON with your take. I’ll be back later tonight and give a take on how it all goes down.

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2013
4:02 pm

@ Willie 62 ….. glad to see you on the boards! If you get a chance tonight, give us a take on the Mt Pisgah / Aquinas game …. at least I know we’ll get a take with some “knowledge”.

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2013
4:13 pm

@ Augusta 68 …. be safe on the road ( to and from ). I do wish Aquinas well tonight, just like Mt Pisgah ….. Hope it’s a great game and may all the players play injury free. Win or lose would value your “take” also.

Patriot Dad

December 6th, 2013
4:22 pm

Augusta68 – Mount Pisgah School was founded in 1986 and began competing in Varsity GHSA football in 2006, I believe. I think Aquinas was founded around 1957 and has, I believe a long history in HS football. While we are proud of our facilities, which I think you will find excellent, we are still building a program and facilities. FYI – we also do not have a home locker room either. Safe travels and we look forward to a great game.

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
4:26 pm

Will do Swampy, will blog at half, be safe my friend and good luck.

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
8:27 pm

So far, it appears that ELCA isn’t all that. Calvary Day is putting a whoopin on! Sweet!

Willie62

December 6th, 2013
8:41 pm

Aquinas 10 to 7 over Pisgah at half. Pisgah has controlled but stupid mt. Paran mistakes. Garnett not a factor so far.

CSRA706

December 6th, 2013
8:43 pm

It’s looking real bleak for region 5!!!!!!

CSRA706

December 6th, 2013
8:44 pm

Come on where’s the region 5 guys that know so much about football!!!!!

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
8:58 pm

I can’t believe Pisgah is still hanging around. Mt Paran is better than Pisgah and Aquinas is struggling.

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
9:05 pm

HaHaha. ELCA is going down. Losing your QB sucks huh?

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
9:06 pm

ELCA is clearly not unbeatable. They are sucking wind.

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
9:18 pm

I’m not impressed with Ruben Garnett. He’s fast but I don’t think he’s been hit this year very much.

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
9:32 pm

It’s no wonder ELCA is so good. They are in a county with no other good high schools. ELCA is a public school you pay to go to.

Mike 1010

December 6th, 2013
10:05 pm

Anyone know the ELCA final?

Rabiddawg1

December 6th, 2013
10:11 pm

Irish going to the dome….. 17 16 win over MPC…. What a hard faught victory….. Hats off to both teams….. Great football game……

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
10:14 pm

ELCA lost. Hahahaha.

TheRealMt

December 6th, 2013
10:18 pm

Pisgah goes down just like I called. Sorry Pisgah but you shouldn’t have even won your region….

DA1022

December 6th, 2013
10:22 pm

The Real Mt – you have issues.