By Rory Sharrock
Every week, football fields throughout Clayton and Henry County are filled with talented players displaying phenomenal athletic skills.
But with the onset of the playoffs, the truly gifted clubs are the only ones hanging around as they aim for a trip to the Georgia Dome for the state championship.
Eight schools from the neighborhood are included in this group, including Henry County, North Clayton, Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, Union Grove, Jonesboro, Mt. Zion, Luella and Eagle's Landing.
Henry County (9-1, 8-0) won the Region 4-AA title and makes its second straight appearance in the playoffs.
The high-powered Warhawks are averaging 32 points per game and feature quarterback Drew Little, who is closing in on the all-time state record in passing yards.
Henry is a No. 1 seed and will host the No. 4 seed Laney Wildcats (7-3, 7-3) from Region 3-AA Friday night in McDonough.
North Clayton (9-1, 8-0) won the Region 4-AAAA crown and also hold tight to a No. 1 seed. This is the Eagles first time back in the postseason since the 2004 season.
North Clayton's lone defeat this year came in a 21-20 loss at Banneker on Sept. 5.
Along with heavyweight running back Clarence Jackson, the Eagles feature perhaps the best defensive line in the Southern Crescent with Emmanuel "Too Tall" Dieke, Albert Carlisle and Drew Thompson.
North Clayton plays against No. 4 seed Richmond Academy Friday night at Tara Stadium.
ELCA (8-2, 7-1) is the only school to clinch a No. 2 seed. The Chargers would've entered the playoffs as a No. 1, but a 20-17 home lost versus Whitefield Academy this past weekend gave the Wolfpack the region championship and the first-place ranking.
ELCA still plays on its home turf against the No. 3 seed Darlington Tigers (6-4, 4-2).
Union Grove also (8-2, 5-2) had a shot at a home playoff game, however, the Wolverines fell 35-17 to M.L. King this past Friday and must now hit the road for the first round as a No. 3 seed.
The Wolverines face a stiff challenge as they go southbound for a match with No. 2 seed Northside Warner Robins, winners of the 2006 and 2007 state championship.
Jonesboro (6-4, 5-3) clinched a playoff ticket for the first time since 2002 with its 27-7 win at Stockbridge over the weekend.
In just his third year on the job, Cardinals head coach Clint Satterfield has guided his alma mater to new heights and hopes build on this momentum.
The Cards go on the road to play No. 2 seed Hephzibah (7-3, 7-2) from Region 3-AAAA.
In addition to Jonesboro, Mt. Zion (6-4, 5-3) is making a return trip to the postseason after a long break. The Bulldogs last made it this far in 2004 under Jackie Green.
Mt. Zion enjoyed a bye week while the rest of the teams played their 10th game this past weekend.
The Bulldogs lost their final game at Stockbridge, which bumped them from second place down to a tie for fourth place in Region 4-AAAA with Jonesboro. However, their 14-0 defeat versus the Cards on Oct. 9 gave Jonesboro the tie-breaker, thus, Mt. Zion is a No. 4 seed.
The team now plays at No. 1 seed Evans (10-0, 9-0) with hopes of giving the undefeated Knights their first loss of the year.
Luella (7-3, 4-3) is in the playoffs for the first time in school history. The No. 4 seeded Lions beat Newton 13-0 in the season finale to qualify for the tournament.
While its a wonderful treat to be in the dance, the Lions have a tall order to fill as they head to South Georgia to face the defending state champions and No. 1 seed Lowndes Vikings (10-0, 7-0).
Eagle's Landing (6-4, 5-3) rounds out the list of Southern Crescent schools in the playoffs.
After an 0-10 campaign in 2007 and a coaching change during the offseason, the Golden Eagles are back in the playoffs for the first time since the Bill Clinton administration in 1997.
First-year head coach Joe Teknipp has given the program some much need creditability and guides his players on the road versus the No. 1 seed Baldwin Braves (10-0, 6-0) in Milledgeville.