The stakes remain high for the football programs at both Richmond Hill and Bryan County High School.
Both teams face big games Friday night – the Redskins (5-1) play host to Vidalia (5-1) in a Region 2-AA showdown for a likely home playoff berth. The unbeaten Wildcats (6-0) are on the road at Ware County (5-1) in a game some have billed the Region 3-AAAAA championship.
Not Richmond Hill coach Lyman Guy, however.
“I think it’s too early to think that way,” he said. “It helps shape the region, but you can’t determine the region champion when there are games left to be played. And we have too many good teams left on the schedule for us to think that way.”
The Wildcats stayed unbeaten after a four-touchdown performance from quarterback Nick Fitzgerald paced them to a 35-20 win over Effingham County on Friday night. Bryan County, meanwhile, had last week off and it came at a pretty good time following the Redskins’ 39-6 loss to No. 6-ranked Benedictine two weeks ago.
“It gave us the chance to get a couple kids well, we were a little banged up,” said BCHS coach Mark Wilson. “We also found some stuff we needed to work on, so we had a good week of practice.”
Now, both the Redskins and Wildcats are set to face perhaps their toughest tests of the season. Vidalia is a perennial Class AA power and, despite losing to Benedictine earlier this season, is ranked No. 10 in the state – for a reason.
“They just reload,” Wilson said. “If you looked at their roster last year, it was stocked with seniors. You look at their roster this year, and it’s stocked with seniors again. They probably lost 15 seniors last year and they’ve probably got 15 or 16 back on the roster this year.”
One of those seniors is running back and defensive back Tra Hardy, who has rushed for 889 yards and 16 touchdowns and has an interception, which he ran back 90 yards for a score.
The Redskins counter with senior running back and safety Nick Scott, who has 744 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Linebacker Damion Dixon, receiver Raekwon Love and quarterback Jeremy McClendon are also among the reasons Bryan County is in the hunt for a home playoff berth. A strong offensive line has also helped while several defensive players have had stellar performances as well.
But keeping Vidalia from making big plays and avoiding turnovers will be crucial for the normally high-scoring Redskins, who coughed up four fumbles and lost two interceptions against Bendictine.
“We moved the ball against Benedictine. We had several first downs and Nick rushed for over 100 yards, but we didn’t protect the ball,” Wilson said. “If we can protect the ball I feel like we can move it.”
And while Vidalia is used to big games, that hasn’t been the case at BCHS. As a result, Wilson said his team might’ve got the jitters against the Cadets two weeks ago. He said he thinks they’ve gotten that out of their system as they head into Friday’s game against the Indians.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to settle down and play a little better this week,” he said. “I expect us to.”
The Wildcats, meanwhile, face No. 9-ranked Ware County (5-1), last year’s state runner-up in Class AAAAA down in Waycross and there’s no doubt the contest is important in AAAAA circles.
“They’ve been the perennial power,” Guy said. “We have nothing to lose. But as long as we honor God and give effort, we’ll be fine.”
Fitzgerald is the Wildcats’ leading ground gainer with 707 yards and 17 touchdowns on 90 carries. He’s also completed 12-of-29 passes for 396 yards and seven touchdowns against only one interception.
The Mississippi State commit isn’t Richmond Hill’s only offensive weapon, either. Running backs Michael Clark, Ronnie Harris and Daniel Winters have combined for more than 800 yards and five scores. Clark is also the team’s top receiver with four TDs.
Logan Ravita and Zhane Roberts are among the Wildcats’ top defenders, but Guy said the Wildcats are banged up on both sides of the ball.
“We’re going to have to have some guys step up for us in a number of positions,” he said as Richmond Hill prepares for a team it almost knocked off last season with the knowledge a win would at least put the Wildcats in position to win its first ever region football title.
But it won’t be easy, Guy said.
“(Ware) is a very good football team,” he said. “For us to have a chance, our offense has to take care of the football, the defense has to force some three-and-outs and prevent them from making big plays and special teams have to help us with field position.”
But this year, the Wildcats are going in unbeaten after the team’s win over the Rebels last week put Richmond Hill at 6-0 for the first time in the program’s history.
“That was a great win,” Guy said. “Due to the fact we made so many mistakes and were so heavily penalized. It’s second year in a row we had those kind of mistakes against them, but last year we were unable to overcome them. This year we were. And that doesn’t take anything away from Effingham. They’re a very good team.”
Guy also had something to say about his own team.
“I’m just really blessed and grateful for these kids,” he said. “Because they have a lot going on in their lives. For them to set aside their troubles and concentrate on their studies and their football is a good testimony to what kind of kids we’ve got.”