By Rory Sharrock
In college, conference superiority debates are settled by bowl games and NCAA Tournament matches. But in high school, the measuring stick is the state playoffs and the scales weigh heavily in the favor of Region 4-AAAA.
Like every school in the Georgia High School Association, Region 4-AAAA sent four teams (three from Clayton County) to the playoffs. However, unlike the other regions, the 4-AAAA postseason representatives swept through the first round, winning by a combined score of 121-41.
Of these four wins, three of them were routs, including league champion North Clayton beating the Academy of Richmond County 41-14 (3-AAAA), Griffin's 26-0 blanking of Glenn Hills (3-AAAA) and Mt. Zion's 36-10 road triumph over previously unbeaten and state-ranked (No. 6 Class AAAA) Evans (3-AAAA). The lone close score came in Jonesboro's game at Hephzibah with the Cardinals winning 18-17.
All of this success was achieved primarily without any statewide recognition. Through 10 regular season games and last Friday's opening playoff round, only two teams were ranked in the polls for a grand total of four weeks. Griffin kicked off the year ranked ninth, but dropped after falling 41-34 to Dunwoody. North Clayton finally cracked the top-10 rankings, coming in tied for 10th with Southwest DeKalb after beating Jonesboro 14-0 on Oct. 30. The Eagles then jumped two slots to No. 8 heading into the season finale and remain in this position.
Region 4-AAAA clubs have held their own on the gridiron throughout the season. Six of the nine schools finished at .500 or better with the final playoff spot still up for grabs going into the final week.
Along with trading blows against each other, the teams also faired well in non-region games. With the exception of Ola, every school went 1-1 during their first two games to begin the season.
"I think sometimes people look at Clayton County and they forget there's a lot of athletes in the county," said Jonesboro head coach Clint Satterfield. "You take any team in the county versus another team, you better come to play. These kids grew up together, they played rec ball together and they're competitive."
This Friday, the region's fab four hope to continue their winning ways during the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs. Top seed North Clayton hosts No. 2 seed Statesboro from Region 2-AAAA at Tara Stadium. Both clubs are state-ranked in the polls with the Eagles coming in at No. 8 and the Blue Devils at No. 7.
The remaining three clubs have road games, including No. 2 seed Griffin at No. 1 seed Brunswick (Region 2-AAAA), No. 3 seed Jonesboro at No. 1 Westside-Macon (Region 1-AAAA) and No. 4 seed Mt. Zion at No. 2 seed Ware County (Region 2-AAAA).
"Some people may say Jonesboro or Mt. Zion are .500 teams, yet we're playing athletes every week because we're playing our neighbors. You go out to another region and they may have one or two teams that dominate. They're in big towns and they don't have five or six teams together like we do. There isn't a team in this county you better not get ready to play," said Satterfield.
All four playoff schools are heavily represented on the All-Region 4-AAAA Team led by North Clayton teammates, running back Clarence Jackson and defensive end Drew Thompson, who took home Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Among the players selected on First Team offense are running back Sheldon Hancock (Griffin), offensive linemen Keith Olds (North Clayton), Torian Box (North Clayton), Darius McKeller (Jonesboro), wide receivers Drexel Copeland (Mt. Zion) and Jason Griffin (Jonesboro) as well kick returner Quatterio Morgan (Mt. Zion).
First Team defense features linemen Emmanuel "Too Tall" Dicke (North Clayton), Albert Carlisle (North Clayton), Xavier Dixon (Griffin), linebackers Kentorious Jackson (Griffin), Antonio Allen (Jonesboro), Michael Carlisle (Jonesboro), Rodnekus Lindsey (Griffin), defensive backs Fred Mathis (Jonesboro), Cliff Crews (Jonesboro), Sedrick Singleton (North Clayton), Greg Worthy (Griffin), Colby Brown (North Clayton) and punt returner Denarius Appling (Griffin).