COVINGTON, Ga. — It all comes down to this.
Week 12 of the GHSA football season has arrived at last, bringing with it a boatload of storylines to watch. Just as things stood last week, two local teams have punched their tickets to the postseason while two more remain in contention. But there’s more on the line than this week than a pair of programs earning playoff berths.
Alcovy will be playing for its first region title in program history. Eastside will be aiming to earn the right to a first-round home game for the sixth consecutive year. Newton will be trying to stave off elimination and slip back into the postseason. Social Circle will try to bring an end to a decade-long playoff drought.
Suffice to say, it’s going to be a week to remember.
Not long ago, there were legitimate fears that the pandemic would prevent high school football from being played in 2020. Alas, we’ve reached the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason is right around the corner.
So, as we gear up for the home stretch, here’s where things stand for each of the four teams in the area entering Week 12:
The Tigers will be playing for the Region 3-AAAAAA championship this Friday.
Playing in a four-team region due to Heritage and Rockdale County being ruled ineligible, Alcovy was guaranteed a spot in the 2020 state playoffs. However, their 2-0 start in league play has positioned them to host a playoff game for the first time since 2011. It’s also placed them one win away from the first region title in program history.
Regardless of the outcome this Friday, it’s safe to say this season will be remembered fondly by the Black and Gold faithful.
“I’m excited for our program and excited for our players that they have this opportunity,” Alcovy head coach Jason Dukes said. “We set as a goal when I first took over this program to put the program on a path to be competitive. That included the ability to play meaningful games late in November, and that’s where we’re at.”
Winning a region championship is never an easy task, but the Tigers will have their hands especially full on Friday night at Evans. The Knights are 7-2 on the year thanks in large part to a high-powered offense that’s averaging 34 points per game. They like to line up and run downhill against opponents, and they’ve had an abundance of success doing so. As a team, Evans is averaging 278 yards per game on the ground.
Senior Jofranstar Graham leads the team in rushing with 925 yards and 15 touchdowns on 103 carries. He’s joined in the run game by junior quarterback Kaleb Jackson (719 yards, 93 carries) and junior running back Joseph Hampton (531 yards, 79 carries).
Jackson has gotten the best of opponents through the air as well as on the ground, completing 60 of his 90 pass attempts for 791 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“It’s very clear that their goal is to pound the rock and establish the line of scrimmage and run the football,” Dukes said. “We’ve got a pretty good challenge ahead of us defensively to slow them down.”
Region 3 is paired with Region 2 in Class AAAAAA. The victor of Friday night’s de facto championship will host the No. 4 seed, which is currently Statesboro, while the loser will welcome in either Glynn Academy or Brunswick as the No. 3 seed.
Senior Night went as planned for the Eagles last week. They got off to a quick start at home against Walnut Grove and never looked back en route to a 31-0 victory.
The win allowed Eastside to remain at No. 2 in Region 8-AAAAA, but Greenbrier prevented them from locking down that spot by collecting a win of its own over Jackson County.
Now, Eastside and Greenbrier will meet up in the regular season finale to fight for the No. 2 seed.
The Eagles have had the luxury of playing at home in the first round of the state playoffs every year since 2015. With a victory this Friday night, they’ll earn the chance to do so for the sixth consecutive postseason.
“We’ve been in this situation for five years in a row — either winning the region or hosting a game. It’s where we want to be,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said. “We know we’d rather play at home, on our field, instead of hitting the road.”
Eastside and Greenbrier hold identical 7-2 records, but the Eagles have a leg up in the region at 5-1. Their lone blemish was a 35-34 loss at Clarke Central, while the Wolfpack slipped up against Walnut Grove (21-0) and were later defeated soundly by Clarke Central (56-21).
Transitive relation isn’t an exact science when applied to sports, but when looking at their shared opponents, Eastside has appeared far superior thus far. Through six region games, the Eagles have outscored the opposition 181-52 while the Wolfpack have played several teams close, resulting in a 173-136 score differential.
Something will have to give Friday night, however, as Greenbrier is averaging 29.5 points per game and Eastside is surrendering just 13 points a contest.
The victor of Friday night’s game will host the No. 3 seed from Region 5 in the first round of the state playoffs. Entering Week 12, Southwest DeKalb held the rights to that spot.
Last week, the Rams had the ability to finish anywhere between No. 1 and No. 5 in the Region 4-AAAAAAA standings.
Their options have since been limited, but they’re still in the middle of playoff hunt.
Newton will earn a spot in the postseason if one of two things happens on Friday night: the Rams defeat South Gwinnett or Brookwood loses to Parkview. If just one of those events occur, Newton will likely be the No. 4 seed. If both do, they’ll likely earn the No. 3 seed.
The difference between No. 3 and No. 4 will be the difference between making a trip to top-seeded Colquitt County or No. 2 Lowndes in the opening round. The Rams have been the thorn in the Comets’ side in recent memory, winning four consecutive meetings. South Gwinnett appears to be much improved in 2020, however, as it sits at 5-4 after dropping close games to Parkview (28-21) and Brookwood (29-28) over the last two weeks.
Meanwhile, Newton will try to stop the bleeding after being outscored 68-0 in back-to-back losses to Mill Creek and Grayson.
In this space last week, I detailed the convoluted scenario that would result in the Redskins breaking their 10-year postseason drought.
This week, the path to the postseason has been simplified to one objective — win.
Social Circle went on the road last Friday night and kept its playoff push alive by taking down Towns County in a nail-biter. Now, if they can close out the regular season with a victory on their home field against Greene County this week, the Redskins will be heading to the playoffs.
Social Circle appears to be peaking at a favorable time, particularly on offense. After averaging just 13 points through their first six games, they’ve more than doubled that to 25 over the past three. The sweetener is that two of those three games came against league powerhouses Commerce and Lincoln County.
Last week the Redskins scored a season-high 34 points in a victory over Towns County.
If this trend continues, there could be plenty of fireworks in store when facing a Greene County defense that is giving up 36 points per game.
With a victory, the Redskins would secure the No. 4 seed in Region 8-A Public. That would pair them against the No. 1 seed from Region 5, which belongs to undefeated Chattahoochee County.