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Dutchtown, ELCA continue the trend upward

Who knows how long this will last.

This may be 1995 all over again, the start of an eight-year period in which Southern Crescent football teams made the quarterfinals six times.

This may be 2003 all over again, the start of a five-year period in which the Southern Crescent went missing from late-November high school football playoffs.

Or maybe this is somewhere in the middle. After all, it's the third consecutive season a Southern Crescent team has advanced to the quarterfinals, let alone two teams. There's been Mt. Zion (2008) and North Clayton (2009). Now, let history add Dutchtown and Eagle's Landing Christian to its annals.

These were historical feats indeed. Dutchtown (11-2) had never made the playoffs, let alone had back-to-back shutouts. ELCA (12-1) had never sniffed the third round during its GHSA era, let alone led the No. 1 team in the state on the road with four minutes left in the game.

As Dutchtown coach Jason Galt stood outside the visitor's locker room at Chattahoochee High School with the scoreboard still bearing witness to the Bulldogs' season-ending 37-14 loss Friday, it was easy to pull out the great in the midst of the grim.

Chattahoochee's 403 yards of offense? Yeah, but how about those five shutouts, including the one at Thomas County Central in the first round?

Chattahoochee's 37 points? Yeah, but the Bulldogs were the top defense in Class AAAA going into the game. How many seven-year-old programs have been able to say that?

"For the seniors, it was just a culmination of four years of hard work for them," Galt said. "They've been winning since they were in the program. ... It's just been a build for us. We've been talking about building a football program, and I think we have a program established.

"It was just a great run. Anytime you go 11-2, you've had a pretty good year."

As ELCA stepped into history, it did so in a new role — a juggernaut. So much Division I talent (Christian Reeves, Matt Rochell, Avery Walls). So many points (over 40 points per game). So many expectations (ranked as high as No. 2 in Class A).

Some called the Chargers' 34-27 loss to No. 1-ranked Clinch County the state championship played two rounds early. Everyone called it a classic.

But the Chargers gave the Southern Crescent hope for a semifinalist — even a state champion — like it hadn't had since Mt. Zion advanced to the Class AAA title game in 1999. Mt. Zion's quarterfinals run in 2008 was inspiring in the midst of Clayton County's accreditation crisis. North Clayton's quarterfinals run last season was nice.

ELCA's quarterfinals run was seen as a foregone conclusion, a mere monotonous step toward discovering whether the Chargers could achieve more.

They didn't, and yet they did.

They gave the Southern Crescent a place in the conversation with the pillars of Georgia high school Class A football. They, along with Dutchtown, continued the Southern Crescent's process of establishing credibility for a region.

Dutchtown's Galt said it best in the aftermath of the Bulldogs' loss. Leading up to the Class AAAA first round, people speculated how bad Dutchtown would lose to Thomas County Central. Three rounds later, Galt hoped the conversation had changed.

"Now, people can talk about Dutchtown," Galt said, "and say, ‘Hey, they have a good football program over there.'"

Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Da.