By Derrick Mahone
Three Southern Crescent teams survived the first round of the state playoffs to remain in the title hunt.
After enjoying the comforts of playing at home last week, North Clayton and Eagle's Landing Christian must hit the road for their second round games. Union Grove will not have to travel as far, but the Wolverines will be away from home again this week.
North Clayton takes on Brunswick while ELCA travels to powerhouse Lincoln County. Union Grove makes the trek to Northside-Warner Robins.
For ELCA and Union Grove, it will be familiar territory. Last season, ECLA loss 7-0 at Lincoln County in the second round while Northside defeated Union Grove 24-7 in the opening round.
ELCA coach Jonathan Gess knows his team will have to correct the mistakes it made in its first round win against Athens Academy last week to have a shot at leaving Lincolnton with a win.
"We put the ball on the ground seven times, and turned it over six," Gess said. "We can't win like that (this) week. We got lucky (Friday), no we didn't get lucky, our defense played amazing."
Lincoln County has been relying on its defense most of the season. The third-ranked Red Devils (10-1) lost its standout running back A.G. Middlebrooks midway through the season to an injury. Two big offensive plays were enough for the Red Devils to secure a 14-0 win over Trion last week.
"That's the game plan we've got," Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell told the Augusta Chronicle about his team's defense. "People don't realize you can't just replace a guy like (Middlebrooks)."
Union Grove can attest to switching gears late in the season. Four days before its playoff opener, Wolverines quarterback Ty Moore went down with an injury at practice. The Wolverines (9-2) worked extensively from their Wildcat package in a 47-20 win over Windsor Forest for its first playoff win since the 2006 season.
Running back Donovan Johnson rushed for two scores while T.J. Moon passed for a touchdown and ran for another.
"We didn't really know what to expect," Union Grove coach Steven Collins said after his game Friday in Savannah.
Last season was Northside's first year back in Class AAAAA after winning consecutive AAAA titles. The Eagles have gone 20-3 the last two seasons with last year's playoff run ending in the second round against eventual champion Camden County on the road. Northside scored in every quarter against Chapel Hill last week as it rolled up 379 yards of offense, 246 on the ground.
Quarterback Briar Van Brunt has been the main ccatalyst for the offense with 682 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns to go with 819 passing yards and four more touchdowns. He has thrown 10 interceptions on the season. Eagles running back Shaquille O'Neil has ran for 889 yards and 12 touchdowns.
North Clayton will be trying to win a second round playoff game for the first time since the 1997 season. Brunswick hasn't won a second round game since advancing to the 1999 Class AAAA championship game. The Eagles (9-2) nearly pitched a shutout in their 19-7 win over Bainbridge last week.
An interception return by Bainbridge to the North Clayton 3 in the second quarter, set up the Bearcats only score. Since a 26-14 loss to top-ranked Griffin, the Eagles have been giving up 5.3 points again and has two shutouts.
"We have been working hard on defense," Eagles junior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said after last week's game. "I'm really happy we won, but I really didn't want to give them seven points."