By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Here are a few nuggets from Friday night’s semifinals:
In a great indication of parity in Class A, three of the four semifinal games were decided by one point: Aquinas 17, Mt. Pisgah 16; Calvary Day 35, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy 34; and Charlton County 34, Irwin County 33. Marion County blew out Hawkinsville in the other public school semifinal, 40-7.
Three of the four finalists will be in their first state title game: Aquinas, Calvary Day and Marion County.
The regions left standing are Region 2 (Charlton County), Region 3 (Calvary Day), Region 4 (Marion County) and Region 7 (Aquinas). Regions 5 and 6, considered by many to be the most competitive in Class A during the regular season, have been shut out of the finals.
Traditionalist may hate it, but the one-back or no-back spread offense has become the new wing-T when it comes to evening the playing field. For years, teams that were short on size and talent employed the wing-T because its use of cut blocking, angle blocking and misdirection helped negate the size/talent advantage of opponents. Now teams are using their athletes to spread the field, both horizontally and vertically, and while the wing-T is primarily a running offense, the spread can do damage running and throwing. Calvary Day’s effective use of the spread helped it pull the upset over defending private school champion ELCA, as quarterback Michael Peterson was 18-of-30 for 256 yards and four touchdowns (and two interceptions), while running back Robert Heyward gained 122 yards on 24 carries, including the game winning 1-yard touchdown in overtime.
The old idiom, “It’s hard to beat a good team twice in one season,” had not really been true lately in the playoffs. But it was the case on Friday night. Marion County avenged a 14-10 loss to Hawkinsville back on Nov. 1, while Charlton County got even with Irwin County for a 29-26 loss in the regular season finale on Nov. 8.
Irwin County kicker Eric Contreras figured prominently in both games. In the win on Nov. 8, he booted a 33-yard field goal with :03 seconds left to give Irwin County the win. Friday night, after a 3-yard touchdown run by Antuane Merritt made the score 34-33 with :04 seconds left in regulation, Contreras’ extra point attempt to tie the score was blocked.
The public school final will be a matchup of “Old vs. New” powerhouses. Charlton County is one of the state’s most successful programs. The school has been playing football since the 1940’s but did not become a state power until head coach Rich McWhorter arrived from the Midwest in 1990. Since then Charlton County has gone 251-60-2 with eight of the school’s 21 region titles and all four of its state championships, the most recent being a “threepeat” in Class AA from 2004-2006. Marion County, located in Buena Vista, near Columbus, just started its football program in 2006. The Eagles went 21-20 in the first four seasons with one playoff appearance. Since Mike Swaney came up from Florida to take over the program in 2010, Marion County is 42-7 with three region titles.