Reid Bethea was thrilled that Washington County was going to the Class AA championship game, but he was beside himself for missing out on his chance to shine in the Georgia Dome spotlight.
"Everything felt right," said the Golden Hawks' senior kicker, whose 59-yard field goal attempt fell just short in the Hawks 35-7 win over Westminster in the semifinals last Saturday in Atlanta. "It was a good snap, a good hold, and I thought I kicked it good. I don't know why it fell short, and it's pretty frustrating. It makes you wonder if you could have done something different."
Bethea's long in practice this season was 59 yards, and that wasn't off the favorable artificial turf and indoor conditions of the Dome. He tied a school record with a 48-yarder against Northeast Macon, and his 56-yard attempt off soggy turf and with a crosswind against Harlem hit the crossbar.
Though the Dome effort fell just short, there was no question for one Atlantic Coast Conference assistant coach who was recruiting the Dome, that Bethea, is the best kicker in the state this year.
"He's the best leg for a high school kicker from Georgia I've seen since Dax Langley (former Conyers-Heritage kicker now at Georgia, who kicked a state-record 63-yarder in 1993)," the coach said. "He was real impressive on extra points and kickoffs, as well."
SUPER COOP: If Greg Cooper continues his current TD pace the senior fullback could make a rapid climb up the Georgia all-time single-season scoring list.
His four TDs in the semis against Westminster tied him for 10th place with former Lincoln County star Garrison Hearst, with 34 touchdowns.
Cooper, with 1,399 yards rushing, is one TD shy of moving into a tie for eighth, two away from a tie for sixth, and four away from third place all-time.
Herschel Walker, the Heisman trophy winner at Georgia from Johnson County, scored 45 TDs in 1979. Dunwoody's Rod Perrymond is second with 40 in 1993. Three are tied for third with 38.
SLICK RICK: Hawks head coach Rick Tomberlin is now 62-7 in five seasons at Washington County, 111-49 overall in 14 seasons. He previously coached at Lowndes, Jonesboro, Treutlen and Savannah Jenkins.
4-AA's DOMINANCE: If the Golden Hawks defeat Americus, they will extend a streak for their region - 4-AA - which has won the last three state Class AA titles. Greene-Taliaferro won the 1993 title, followed by Washington County in '94 and Elbert County last year.
LEGACY: Johnny Leverette Jr. has something to live up to when his Americus Panthers meet Washington County for the state Class AA championship Saturday.
Leverette's father, Johnny Sr., played on back-to-back state championship teams for Americus in 1974-75.
"I know my dad's going to be there, cheering for me and the rest of the team," the younger Leverette said.
The 245-pound defensive tackle has 63 solo tackles, 41 assists and 10 sacks for the Panthers this season.
His father, a 160-pound noseguard, "was one of the best little players we ever had," said former Americus coach Alton Shell. "He wasn't very big, but he was awfully quick, and he was real tough too."
The younger Leverette said he has asked his father for advice about the title game.
"He told me to stay focused and not worry about all those folks in the stands," he said. "He told me to concentrate on the job I have to do."
"I know he'll play a good game," the father said. "I know he'll make me proud."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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