By Brian Paglia
Both Mt. Zion and Henry County have already clinched state playoff spots, extending their long (Mt. Zion) or short (Henry County) histories as playoff contenders. Both end their seasons with winnable games against inferior opponents.
So the goal for both the Bulldogs (7-2, 5-2 Region 4-AAAA) and the Warhawks (5-3, 4-1 Region 4-AA) is to finish the season strong starting tonight.
Mt. Zion hosts Ola (3-5, 2-4) in the Bulldogs' season-finale. They have a bye the final week of the regular season. Henry County travels to Howard-Macon (2-6, 1-4).
Here, on this week a year ago, was where Mt. Zion's sporadic 2008 season took its most unexpected turn.
Looking at third place in the region, with a playoff spot already guaranteed, the Bulldogs lost to Ola, 27-26, a team that was 1-7 at the time. No game was left for Mt. Zion to redeem itself. Only the playoffs awaited.
Former Mt. Zion coach Jarrett Laws, now head coach at Drew, talked then, before and during the playoffs, about how the loss to Ola was the prefect wake-up call going into the postseason. Indeed, the Bulldogs advanced to the quarterfinals as a fourth seed, missing the Final Four by two extra-points in a 34-33 loss at Marist.
But Mt. Zion would certainly prefer to avoid that scenario this time. Plus, a victory would secure third place in Region 4-AAAA, giving the Bulldogs a more favorable seeding in the playoffs.
For Henry County, its playoff fate is sealed, but its positioning is not. The Warhawks could fix that with two victories to close out the regular season and host a game in the first round for the third straight season.
Fate would seemingly be on Henry County's side. Both Howard and the Warhawks' final opponent, Monticello, have 2-6 records. But Warhawks coach Mike Rozier says Howard's poor record is deceiving.
The Huskies are a second-year program from Macon that pulled students from perennial powerhouse Westside-Macon. They have begun to show signs of competitiveness in Region 4-AA. In fact, the Huskies have lost all four of its region games by a margin of just 5.8 points.
"They are a much, much improved team," Rozier said. "Everybody on their team is back, because they were all juniors last year. And they've got the Westside-Macon kids."
Regardless, the Warhawks will make their third consecutive appearance in the state playoffs, a striking achievement considering they went 54 years without one.