In many ways, Jefferson County has been in a playoff-type atmosphere since late September.
The Warriors opened 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the region, needing to catch fire to make the playoffs.
Jefferson County, in the playoffs for the 10th year in a row, has won seven consecutive games after a 49-26 win against Putnam County in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Friday.
“You can do one or two things there,” Jefferson County coach J.B. Arnold said about the 1-3 start. “You can write off the rest of the season, or what we chose to do as a coaching staff, to make things fun. We didn’t get down, we continued to work as hard as we always worked. If you continue to work hard, good things will happen.”
The team’s next test is the toughest. Jefferson County visits four-time defending state champion Buford in the second round.
The Wolves have won 24 games in a row and have posted 13 consecutive seasons of 10 wins or more.
“They got a ton of history and a long winning steak,” Arnold said. “I can go on and on. But how often do you get a chance to play the No. 1 team in the state? How often do you get a shot at the title? That’s the way we’re going to approach it.”
WELCOME BACK: Ryne Strickland once ran the North Augusta sidelines as a ball boy. On Friday night, he took the field from the visitor’s side.
Strickland, the starting quarterback for J.L. Mann, changed schools when his father Brian, a former Yellow Jackets assistant coach, became head coach at J.L. Mann. Ryne proved his worth as a talented quarterback against his old team, throwing for three touchdowns and more than 200 passing yards. His 57-yard strike in the second quarter caught Airion Kosak in perfect stride for the Patriots’ first score in the loss to North Augusta.
“I told Brian, ‘You need to be very proud of him,’ ” North Augusta coach Dan Pippin said. “He did a heck of a job. I’m proud of him as his former coach.”
HOUSE MONEY: With its 38-13 victory over Athens Academy, Aquinas set or tied several school records. The Irish (8-3) tied the mark for most wins in a season and claimed their first-ever playoff win.
When Aquinas went into halftime with a 28-0 lead over the Spartans, Irish coach Matt LeZotte told his players they will go out and be the greatest team in school history.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we are,” he said. “It’s just a great performance, finishing the drill.”
Aquinas now will travel about three hours south to Rochelle, Ga., to take on Wilcox County (11-0) in the second round of the Class A playoffs.
The Patriots have won 11 or more games five consecutive seasons, including their 2009 state championship year.
“They’re a team that’s been consistent over the years in blowing folks out,” LeZotte said.
Staff writers Billy Byler and Chris Gay contributed to this story.