By Doug Gorman
The last three years have been pretty special for the Henry County Warhawks football team.
Twenty five regular-season wins, two region titles and three trips to the state playoffs have made many Warhawk fans forget about years of suffering, including 13-straight losing seasons leading up to that first playoff trip in 2006.
Friday night it's back to the postseason as the Warhawks open the first round of the Georgia High School Association Class AA tournament on the road against Thomasville.
To get there, the Warhawks will check out of school early, make a nearly four-hour trek, taking brief stops along the way to rest their legs, before finally getting to the south Georgia city which is crazy about its high school football.
Kickoff for the game is 8 p.m.
"Anytime we win, we sort of help put this team on the map," senior defensive lineman Aaron Denney said. "We are excited about making the trip and getting to experience that type of football."
The Warhawks finished in a three-way tie in Region 4- AA with Putnam County (6-1) and Northeast Macon (6-1), but Henry County lost to more Class AA teams outside the region, including Decatur early in the season . That quirky tiebreaking system forced the Warhawks to finish third in the region and open the playoffs on the road.
Henry County coach Mike Rozier would rather be home for the first round of the playoffs, but he's still excited about getting the chance to play in the postseason for the third year in a row.
"We are co-region champions with Putnam and Northeast, but we feel like we are the best team right now, and we feel like we are playing the best football despite having to go on the road."
Both Henry County and Thomasville bring 7-3 overall records into the playoffs. The Bulldogs finished second in Region 1-AA and at one time won six games in a row, including three by shutout.
Last Friday night, Thomasville dropped a 49-14 decision to Fitzgerald. Henry County needed two late fourth-quarter touchdowns, but beat Monticello 35-21 in its regular-season finale.
"They are just a grind it out, run the football team," said Rozier said about Thomasville's offense.
The Warhawks are riding a five-game winning streak heading into Friday night's contest.
Henry County's recent success can be attributed to two Division I-caliber wide receivers and a record-setting quarterback.
Two years ago, receiver Chris Jackson earned a scholarship to Alabama, before transferring to Georgia Tech, Jamal Patterson is now a freshman wide receiver at Stanford.
Drew Little joined the first football class at Georgia State after starting four years at quarterback for the Warhawks.
Now, the cast of characters is different at Henry County, but the talent level is still high. Markeith Ambles is expected to become the Warhawks' third Division I wide receiver in as many years after verbally committing to Tennessee.
Quarterback Dylan Shaddix has stepped in at quarterback after transferring from Eagle's Landing. Former Eagle's Landing teammate Smith Shavariz has also been an important cog in the Warhawks' offense arsenal from his wide receiver post.
"We have had great play from our quarterback spot, and that is what makes this offense work," Rozier said. Dylan has thrown for over 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns."
Henry County is averarging more than 24 points per game, but despite its high-powered offense, the Warhawks are also getting quality play from the other side of the line of scrimmage.
"Everybody thinks offense when they think about this team, but our defense has really stepped it up and been consistent all year, accept for the other night against Monticello, we just weren't there mentally. Rozier said.
Paced by defensive end Bobby Taylor, densive lineman Berliegh Phillips and linebackers Josh Cough, Darius Stroud and Donterrius Shannon, the Warhawks have held opponents to just over 19 points per game.
"We just want a chance to keep playing, maybe for the state title," said sophomore Dalvin Tomlinson.
The winner of the Henry-Thomasville game takes on the winner of the Jefferson County, Tattnall County game next week in round two of the playoffs.