Braves head coach Tim Barron has not been shy this week, speaking openly about the importance of this Friday night’s second round AA Georgia state playoff match-up with Greater Atlanta Christian, a Region 6-AA private school located in Norcross.
The team has a chance to accomplish something that no other team has done since the Heard County football program began in 1972 and that is to get to the 12 win mark for the season.
The eleventh win came last week when the Braves dominated Rabun County 56-29.
A win this week by the Braves would match the 1990 team by advancing to the state quarter finals and would also set the record for longest winning streak at 12.
In 1990, Norris Vaughn’s last season as head coach, the Braves finished 10-3 dropping a quarter final clash at Staples Stadium to Dacula 20-14.
The 2006 team, the only other to finish the regular season undefeated, bowed out in the second round and ironically to another Region 6-AA private school Lovett 38-8.
The 2005 team also reached the second round before being bounced by Charlton County 53-21. The Indians went on to win state that year.
Barron gives a large part of the credit for this season’s success to his relatively small senior class. “We don’t have a big senior class this year in numbers but to a man they are all high character, blue-collar type kids who work hard and lead by example both on and off the field,” stated Barron.
Senior linebacker and receiver, Dillian Bradley, is a perfect example of what Barron is talking about. Because of his smaller size Bradley rarely saw the field as a middle school football player; but after countless hours of work with Barron and Coach Rich Fendley in the weight room, he has developed into not only a starter but a defensive leader and major offensive threat at receiver.
One of the big differences between this team and all of the others is the state of the Braves football program as a whole.
The more successful teams in year’s past have all relied on larger senior classes but this team is full of youth especially at the skill positions.
Barron has led the transformation of the entire Heard County program from the flag teams all the way up to varsity.
The Heard County program has changed significantly during Barron’s tenure, becoming widely regarded as the “AA team to beat” in the West Georgia area.
One of the biggest hurdles facing all Heard sports teams over the past decade has been the dominance of the Region 6-AA schools (most are private schools) who have ended many magical Braves runs in several different sports.
In fact, before the Lady Braves softball team ousted the Westminster School from the second round of the state softball playoffs in October, the Braves athletics programs had been virtually shutout in playoff competition by Region 6-AA teams.
Removing the football monkey off of their backs versus GAC will not be easy. GAC will bring charter buses loaded with a talented group of guys who were only one point away from a Region 6-AA title two weeks ago.
They were defeated during the final week of the regular season by a stout Lovett team 31-30 (Lovett hosts Manchester in round two Friday night).
“We’ve got the film and you sit down and watch it and break it down and they’re good in a lot of places. Their offensive line does exceptionally well, their fullback does a great job blocking, they’ve got two backs that are probably as good as we’ve seen. Their receiving corps is excellent, their quarterback is probably the best we’ve seen. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, by all means, to be able to slow their offense down,” Barron told the Times-Georgian earlier this week.
“Defensively, they’re probably as good a defense we’ve seen. Manchester’s defense was very athletic and GAC, their defense is not the same personnel-wise as Manchester, but they’re very good up front and their linebackers do a good job. You can tell they’re well-coached. They’re going to be in the right spot all night long. We’ve got challenges all over the place,” he added.
GAC star running back Kyle Scales missed last week’s game with an ankle injury but is expected to play this week. Scales has gained over 1000 yards this year while scoring 16 touchdowns.
Another challenge that all playoff teams have to deal with this week is the quirky holiday schedule. Football teams are built around building a consistent routine each and every week so dealing with no school and different practice hours can be a factor.
Barron chose to practice the kids early in the day this week in preparation.
Junior quarterback Rafe Chapple who accounted for four touchdowns in a round one 35-6 win over Model (7-AA) will lead the Spartan offense into Staples.
The weather is expected to be perfect as these two teams take the field Friday night looking to land a spot in the quarterfinal bracket opposite the winner of Screven County (#1 seed, 3-AA) and Early County (#3 seed, 1-AA) in a game which will be played in Sylvania.
WHEN/WHERE: Friday 7:30 pm @ Staples Stadium (Franklin)
RECORDS/RANKINGS: The Spartans are 8-3, the No. 2 seed from Region 6-AA and ranked #9 AJC and #6 AP (Associated Press); Heard County is 11-0, the No. 1 seed from 5-AA and ranked No. 6 by both the AJC and the AP.
COACHES: Braves head coach Tim Barron has a lifetime record of 95-58 in 15 total seasons including 85-38 in 11 seasons at Heard County, Spartans head coach Tim Hardy is 17-18 in four total seasons lifetime and 8-3 in his first year at GAC
SERIES HISTORY: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
TEAM RECORDS: Braves 209-218-3 in 41 seasons, Spartans 167-86-0 in 22 seasons
DEEPEST STATE PLAYOFF RUN: The 1990 Braves reached the state quarterfinals (AA), The 2002 Spartans reached the State Championship game where they lost to Buford.
TEAM COLORS: Braves (Maroon and White), Spartans (Red and Gold)
WEATHER: Partly Cloudy and 56 degrees at kick-off, Clear and 49 degrees on the way home (0% chance of rain).
TICKETS: $12 all ages (only infants in arms do not pay), Official GHSA passes only
ON THE LINE: A trip to the state quarterfinals to face the winner between Screven County and Early County. The Braves would host Early County but would flip a coin for home field with Screven County. GAC would travel to Screven County or host Early County.
KEYS TO THE GAME
OFFENSE: The Braves are averaging 45 points per game, The Spartans average 33 points per game. Sophomore RB Duranta Dunson has rushed for over 1500 yards while junior QB Jonathon Hunt has passed for over 1000. Slight Advantage to the Braves.
DEFENSE: The Braves are giving up 21 points per game, The Spartans are allowing 19. Slight Advantage to the Spartans.
IN THE TRENCHES: Both squads have substantial size, depth, and experience at the line of scrimmage. The GAC lineman are bigger in poundage but the Braves lineman boast a little more athleticism. Braves junior lineman Jake Edwards has been selected to play in the Junior Bowl on December 31st at Grady Stadium in Atlanta. Seniors Dalton Pate and Corey Freemen are the anchors up front. Advantage None.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Spartans have a lot more depth than the Braves meaning much fresher players on all special teams. In addition to kicking many field goals this year, the Spartan kicker also kicks off very deep which could limit the Braves field position after kickoffs. Big Advantage to the Spartans.
COACHING: The Braves have a very experienced staff which has coached in numerous playoff games over the past decade and boast an excellent overall record while at Heard County. Barron’s teams are known for overachieving and he holds several wins over more talented, experienced teams. This is Hardy’s first winning season and only his fourth year of coaching. Big Advantage to the Braves.
ATMOSPHERE: Brave Nation fans are known to be some of the most supportive in the state and very frequently outnumber opposing crowds even when on the road. The Braves have not been defeated on the home turf since September 30, 2011 vs. Carver. Big Advantage to the Braves.
HEARDCITIZEN. COM AA PREDICTIONS:
Greater Atlanta Christian 35 @ Heard County 37
Washington-Wilkes 28 @ Calhoun 59
Fitzgerald 24 @ Vidalia 20
Benedectine 6 @ Lamar County 27
McIntosh County 31 @ Brooks County 28
Lovett 27 @ Manchester 14
Early County 30 @ Screven County 21
Westminster 21 @ Jefferson 23