By Rory Sharrock
The football season officially came to a close in the Southern Crescent this past Friday when a valiant Mt. Zion squad pushed Marist to the limit, but fell 34-33 in a crushing defeat.
Mt. Zion was the lone team standing from Clayton and Henry County playing the third round of the playoffs.
The Bulldogs rallied from being down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and 28-13 at the half, but two missed extra points prevented Mt. Zion from pulling off the stunning upset in front of a packed house at Marist High School.
"When you face a team like Marist, there is no room to evolve into understanding the pace of the game. We showed a little bit of youth in trying to understand what they were doing. Once the kids caught on, we competed," said Mt. Zion head coach Jarrett Laws.
"They (Marist) are everything as advertised. But I'll never forget this team (Mt. Zion) because they showed the world you don't need a whole bunch of money, resources and fancy trinkets to shock the world and become something special."
Mt. Zion wasn't the only team to suffer from the lack of a strong kicking game.
A missed extra point was the difference in No. 1 seed North Clayton's 14-12 loss against Statesboro on Nov. 21.
The Eagles botched an extra point that would've tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter of their second-round game at Tara Stadium.
North Clayton would score another touchdown to go up 12-7, but a lack of confidence in the kicker forced head coach Rodney Hackney to go for a two-point conversion to even the score, however, the conversion failed.
Late in the game, the Eagles drove within the red zone, but opted to go for it on fourth down as opposed to lining up for the potential game-winning kick.
ELCA's moral victory
Eagle's Landing Christian Academy hit the road for a second-round game at perennial powerhouse Lincoln County on Nov. 21 and gave the Red Devils their toughest challenge of the season. But almost doesn't count as the Chargers lost 7-0.
ELCA held Lincoln County's offense, which averages 32.5 points per game, to a season-low seven. The Chargers' 9-3 mark was their best record since going 10-2 in 2006 under Nick Westbrook.
Henry's historic ride ends early
Henry County won consecutive region titles for the first time in history and posted all types of school records on offense, but all of its dreams came to a screeching halt in a 45-20 defeat versus Fitzgerald.
"They suck you up on the run, and run, run, run," Henry County head coach Mike Rozier said. "They play-action and the next thing you know, the tight end's behind you. That's just kind of going to sleep there or sucking up on the run a little bit with your secondary, trying to get more men in the box to stop the run, and you pay the price a little bit.
We just never seemed to get in any kind of rhythm, offensively or defensively. Bottom line is you take your hats to Fitzgerald, a well-coached, well-disciplined team. They didn't make any mistakes, and we made plenty of them."
Senior quarterback Drew Little completed 20-of-43 passes for 294 yards and one touchdown in his final game, giving him 9,047 career passing yards, 15 short of the state record.
Jamal Patterson caught nine passes for 118 yards. Markeith Ambles had 81 yards receiving on five catches. Drew McMillan also had three catches for 100 yards.
Jonesboro gets first playoff win since the Truman administration
It was a year of firsts for the Jonesboro Cardinals.
The Cards clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 when stud Harry Douglas was still in town. But Jonesboro wasn't satisfied with just making the postseason.
On Nov. 14, the team traveled to Hephzibah and beat the Rebels 18-17 to seal their first playoff win since 1949.
Jonesboro's victory at Hephzibah gave the Clayton County schools (North Clayton and Mt. Zion) a 3-0 mark in the first round of the playoffs.
However, the celebration was short-lived as Jonesboro ended the year with a 49-11 blow out defeat at Westside-Macon on Nov. 21.
Union Grove builds a foundation
The Wolverines rebounded from a dismal 3-7 record in 2007 to an 8-3 mark and a trip to the playoffs in 2008.
Union Grove jumped out to 7-0, including a week three 28-20 signature win over Henry County.
However, Union Grove lost two of three down the stretch and had to play on the road at mighty Northside-Warner Robins in the first round, losing 24-7.
Head coach Steve Collins, who previously worked at Stockbridge, hopes to use this season as a building block and establish a solid program for the future of Union Grove football.
First time for everything
Luella also witnessed a year of firsts within the football program.
Not only did the Lions post their first winning record (7-5) in school history, but they also made their playoff debut.
Luella overcame a rough stretch during the midway point and won its last two games to clinch a spot in the postseason.
But the party didn't last long as the Lions were blown away by Lowndes, 41-13.
The 'Eagle' has landed
Eagle's Landing's Joe Teknipp made a strong case for winning Southern Crescent Coach of the Year after guiding the Golden Eagles to a 6-5 record and their first playoff appearance in school history.
The Golden Eagles went 7-23 from 2005 to 2007, including an 0-10 mark last year, however, in just his first season on the sidelines, Teknipp reversed this trend and made Eagle's Landing one of the surprise teams in the Southern Crescent.