By Derrick Mahone
Southern Crescent Stadium has been a welcomed addition to the nine-school Clayton County athletic department for coaches, fans and players this season.
By adding a third stadium, it has eliminated some scheduling problems that had several teams playing Thursday and Saturday games in the past.
"That is what high school football is about, playing on Friday nights," North Clayton standout running back Clarence Jackson said.
Mt. Zion coach Jaime Aull agreed.
"When you look at the schedules, there were usually two to three Saturday and Thursday games," said Aull, a former all-state lineman at Mt. Zion. "You like playing on Friday, because you can get in your regular routine. Playing on Saturday and Thursday makes for a shorter week. Friday is when high school football is supposed to be played."
North Clayton will play the first football playoff game at the Southern Crescent Stadium when the ninth-ranked Eagles take on Bainbridge Friday at 7:30 p.m.
North Clayton was able to get a home playoff game since it secured the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAA. Eagle's Landing Christian was the only other local team that has a first round playoff game.
The biggest advantage that North Clayton coach Rodney Hackney sees in playing at home in the playoffs is avoiding a long bus ride.
"You get to stay pretty much in your usual game routine," he said. "We don't have to ride a bus for two to three hours. We will be playing in a comfortable surrounding, it will be a familiar setting for us. A two to three hour bus ride doesn't help any in getting ready for a game."
As the No. 3 seed from Region 1-AAAA, Bainbridge has the task of making the 231-mile trek to Riverdale for the game.
It is the second straight year that the Bearcats have had to go on the road for a first round game. Last season, Bainbridge lost 34-20 at Brunswick.
Overall, Bainbridge is 4-12 in road playoff games since capturing the 1982 Class AAA championship.
Like Bainbridge, North Clayton is coming off a loss in its regular-season finale. The Bearcats were defeated 13-3 at home by region champion Thomas County Central while the Eagles loss to Dutchtown.
"It helped us get a little more focused," Hackney said. "We had a good (week) of practice and are now re-focused on our goal.
The loss definitely humbled us."
North Clayton went 5-1 while playing in 6-500-seat Southern Crescent Stadium, with all five wins coming against other county opponents. Its lone loss was to top-ranked Griffin.
Jackson, who has verbally committed to Ole Miss, said he would still be excited about the playoff no matter the location.
"I really like playing away games," said Jackson, who has rushed for 1,535 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. "For some reason, I'm a little more pumped when we are on the road."