Photo by Derrick Mahone 
Junior running back Rodney Smith’s 1,379 yards and 16 touchdowns has helped position Mundy’s Mill to a possible playoff berth in coach Greg Manior’s first season.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Junior running back Rodney Smith’s 1,379 yards and 16 touchdowns has helped position Mundy’s Mill to a possible playoff berth in coach Greg Manior’s first season.

There have been close wins and near-misses this season. Some players that were virtually unknown coming into the 2012 season are now the headliner for their respective teams. Some teams have surprised while others haven’t quite performed up to expectations. This season has had it all. With the regular season coming to a close next week, sports editor Derrick Mahone takes a look back at the biggest moments of the past 10 weeks.

BY THE NUMBERS

1,379 Yards that Mundy’s Mill junior running back Rodney Smith has coming into tonight’s game against Ola. He has 165 carries and is averaging 172 yards per game with 16 touchdowns.

28 Touchdowns that Drew has scored this season heading into tonight’s game against Union Grove at Southern Crescent Stadium. Sophomore Marquis Terry leads the team with eight touchdowns, including six rushing scores. He also leads the team with 380 yards rushing.

2 Teams in the county that are currently ranked in the latest Associated Press Prep Poll. Lovejoy is ranked No. 7 in Class AAAAAA, the state’s largest classification with an 8-1 record. Jonesboro is No. 8 in the Class AAAA poll with a 7-1 record.

15 Straight region games that Lovejoy has won with senior Alejandro Bennifield starting at quarterback. The Wildcats are 5-0 in Region 2-AAAAAA, and have clinched the region title and the top seed in the playoffs in two weeks. Last season, Lovejoy finished 10-0 in Region 4-AAAA. Lovejoy has won three consecutive region titles.

Biggest surprise (team): Mundy’s Mill

It had been a while since the Tigers had played a game this late in the season that meant something. Last week, Mundy’s Mill traveled to McDonough to take on Union Grove with first place into he subregion at stake. Even though Mundy’s Mill lost the game, the Tigers are still in contention for a high seed in next week’s region play-in game. Mundy’s Mill would get to host a play-in game if Union Grove defeats Drew tonight. A Drew loss would give the Tigers a No. 2 seed in the subregion as they would host the No. 3 seed in the other side of the region.

Biggest setback: North Clayton

The Eagles have been one of the most consistent playoff teams in the county with a string of four straight appearances in the postseason. That string could be in jeopardy as the Eagles are the No. 4 seed in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B heading into next week’s play-in game against the Div. A champion. North Clayton had its worst ever start to a season by losing its first six games before a win at Upson-Lee on Oct. 12. The program had not won fewer than three games in a season since 1991. A playoff appearance would definitely atone for a disappointing regular season.

Biggest upset: Mundy’s Mill over Drew

After starting the season with an 0-4 record, it hardly seem Mundy’s Mill was ready to contend for a top spot in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A. But after playing McIntosh close and defeating Mount Zion, the Tigers started to gain confidence. Boosted by a standout performance from junior running back Rodney Smith, Mundy’s Mill defeated Drew 32-31 to put itself in a position to control the subregion. Drew was expected to contend for the subregion title while Mundy’s Mill was looking to establish itself under first-year coach Greg Manior.

Biggest expectation: Lovejoy

Coming off a trip to the Class AAAA finals with all but three starters back on both sides of the ball, Lovejoy had some lofty expectations. The Wildcats, ranked No. 7-ranked in Class AAAAAA, won their third straight region title. Playing in what is regarded as the state’s weakest Class 6A region, the Wildcats have been dominant with a bevy of Div. I talent. If the Wildcats are to make another run at a state title, they will have to go through powerhouse Region 1 and 8 during the second and quarterfinals round. Lovejoy has won 32 of its last 35 games.

Biggest win: Lovejoy over Druid Hills

OK, Druid Hills is not exactly a powerhouse, or even a playoff contender for that matter. The significance of this win was a milestone victory for Wildcats coach Al Hughes, the dean of coaches in the county. With the team’s 58-3 victory at North DeKalb Stadium on Sept. 28, Hughes became the first Clayton county coach to get 100 wins in a career in the county. Hughes, who has a 104-80 record in stops at Jonesboro and Lovejoy, has won six region titles during his coaching career.

Best game: Lovejoy vs. Colquitt County

This was the game that would be the measuring stick for the Wildcats in the state’s highest classification. In what turned out to be a defensive battle, No. 10 Colquitt defeated the then-No. 9 Wildcats at home before a sellout crowd at Mack Tharpe Stadium in Moultrie. The Packers allowed just one touchdown and used two scores on trick plays to knock off the Wildcats 14-7. Preseason all-state running back Travis Custis rushed for 141 yards, 127 coming in the first half. Lovejoy’s lone touchdown came in the fourth quarter when quarterback Alejandro Bennifield connected with Brandon Davis on a 21-yard pass play on fourth down.

Best comeback: Jonesboro at Westover

Westover dominated the first half at Hugh Mills Stadium in Albany to take a 12-8 lead at halftime. The Patriots used two long drives to keep Jonesboro’s explosive offense off the field. But when senior running back Patrick Petty got his opportunity, he made the most of it. He scored on a 75-yard kickoff return to spark some life into the Cardinals’ offense. Most of the second half was dominated by Jonesboro and standout Cameron Sutton. Jonesboro scored on a short drive when quarterback Mario Atkinson got into the end zone on a 1-yard run, and then Sutton added a two-point conversion run to lift the Cardinals to a 16-12 lead with 4:34 left in the third. From there, Jonesboro would go on for a 35-18 win.

Best finish: Drew at Starr’s Mill

Clinging to a one-point lead at Starr’s Mill on Sept. 28, the Drew Titans needed a big, long drive to seal the win. And that’s exactly what the Titans got. Part of the game-winning drive including a pair of fourth-down conversions. The biggest came when tailback Lester Knauls plunged in from the 1-yard line on a fourth-and-goal play to seal the win. Knauls run was aided by a block from Jordan Metts to allow his teammate to score.

Best performance (player): Rodney Smith, Mundy’s Mill

The Tigers observed Senior Night against Drew in a key Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A contest at Southern Crescent Stadium. But junior tailback Rodney Smith became the main attraction in leading the Tigers to a 32-31 win to remain unbeaten in the subregion. Smith rushed for 286 yards on 24 carries and scored four touchdowns in the surprise win. He had scoring runs of 56, 54, 29 and 26 yards as they led by as many 11 points in the third quarter. Known as one of the top baseball infielders in the area, Smith is having a breakout season for the Tigers on the football field as they continue to make a push for a playoff berth.

Biggest surprise (player): Mario Atkinson, Jonesboro

No varsity experience. No problem for the junior quarterback. While the Cardinals were making a run at the postseason last season, Atkinson was the starting quarterback on the school’s JV team. This season as the varsity starter, the Cardinals are 7-1 overall and ranked No. 7 in Class AAAA. The Cardinals are in second place in the subregion and will host a region play-in game next week. Atkinson has passed for over 1,300 yards in leading a high-powered offense.