Evans and Hephzibah will both need to quickly put Friday's game behind them, because both teams can't afford a mistake.
They are tied atop the Region 3-AAAA standings, along with Lakeside, with two games to play, after Evans beat Hephzibah 28-16. If all three teams win their remaining games, a coin flip could decide who stays home and who goes on the road for the playoffs. Two of the three teams will earn at least one home playoff game.
Hephzibah and Evans both close the season against Richmond Academy and Cross Creek, opponents that have a combined region record of 8-6. Lakeside has only Josey and Butler left.
Hephzibah coach John Bowen urged his team to remain focused after the game.
"We got tough kids that are resilient," Bowen said. "They know what's at stake. Evans had everything to play for, just like we did. ... They (losses) all (sting) but we can't sit there and mope about it. If we go out and handle our business the next two weeks, that's all you can do now."
Evans coach Marty Jackson nearly gulped when he heard Cross Creek was playing a close game with Richmond Academy. The Razorbacks went on to win in overtime.
"Cross Creek is the biggest game of the year for us," Jackson said.
'CATS' STREAK OVER: With its loss to Swainsboro, Laney fell to 3-5 and will miss the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Coach Lemuel Lackey said the Wildcats haven't been this young since 1999, when they went 3-7 before starting a run of success.
"You just have to regroup and play your next game like it's your last game," Lackey said. "We've got two beatable opponents (East Laurens and Southeast Bulloch), but at the same time we've got to come and play."
BOUNCING BACK: After a four-point loss to undefeated Jefferson County in Week 5, Swainsboro coach Scott Roberts was concerned about his team's resolve. Since then, the Tigers (7-1) have won three in a row and are on track to stay at home in the first round of the playoffs..
"It was a gut-wrenching loss," Roberts said. "One of the things I was really worried about was how we'd respond to that. We went to Screven the next week and the kids did a great job after that loss. Then, we came back and beat one of the best programs in the state in Dublin. Then to come here against a very athletic Laney team and a tough place to play, I couldn't be any prouder of them."
MIX IT UP: Evans used a variety of interesting formations to churn out 420 yards and 21 first downs against what had been a stingy Hephzibah defense. The Knights ran plays out of the empty set, pistol formation and what is commonly called the Wildcat.
In the Wildcat, running backs Jonathan Finch and Jamerson Turner lined up in the backfield. Either player was able to take the direct snap and run forward. Jackson said Evans ran the formation once this season, against Glenn Hills.
"We haven't used it since then," Jackson said.
NICE REBOUND: Evans senior Justin Black rebounded from a tough first half to become one of Evans' most important players against Hephzibah.
Beaten on Hephzibah's 50-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, Black after halftime caught a 56-yard touchdown himself and also intercepted a pass. He finished with a team-best four receptions for 105 yards.
"Justin's a really good athlete, he's just got to work on his consistency," Jackson said. "But talk about overcoming a mistake ... that's all you can ask for."
Staff writer Chris Gay contributed to this story.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Montravious Gladden||Wash. Co.||280||Burke Co.||W, 44-31|
|Terrell Brigham||Burke Co.||287||Wash. Co.||L, 44-31|
|Gary Robinson||Hephzibah||158||Evans||L, 28-16|