SANDERSVILLE, Ga. - Brentwood's season might as well have ended after the fourth game.
Senior fullback/linebacker Steve Everett, probably the squad's best all-around player, had just suffered a concussion against Thomas Jefferson on Sept. 13, and he was gone for the year.
The Eagles were just as lost.
"We thought we would win six or seven games," Brentwood coach Bert Brown said. "Then we'd make an early exit from the playoffs."
Said senior Cody Phillips: "I thought we'd get to the second or third round of the playoffs. I didn't think we'd win the region without him."
The Eagles, though, have done one better and turned their season of despair into a year of dreams.
Now, Brentwood - which won the Georgia Independent School Association's Region 1-AA title - will play for the Class AA state title Friday at Tiftarea Academy in Chula, Ga.
And the Eagles will do it without their star.
"To get this far, especially considering we lost our best all-around player on offense and defense, is a testament to their character and determination," Brown said. "They've gone far beyond what I imagined for them in mid-September."
It didn't happen until nearly a month after Everett suffered his season-ending injury.
After close losses to Augusta Christian and George Walton, Brown said the Eagles "played their worst game in three years" in a 20-12 loss to Nathaniel Greene.
"It was a blessing in disguise because it forced all of us to do some soul-searching," said Brown, whose team was knocked out of the Class AAA playoffs last season by Tiftarea. "We rededicated ourselves. It just built on itself."
For the past seven weeks, the Eagles have taken pleasure in knocking down their opponents.
Brentwood, who was 7-4 in the regular season, has won three straight postseason games, beating its opponents by a combined 128-27.
The Eagles will have to continue that production - and get more - to beat a very strong Tiftarea (13-1) team and win their first state title.
Fans in Washington County, who have long supported the public school Golden Hawks, are showing support as well.
Less than a half-mile from Washington County High School - home of the four-time state title-winning Golden Hawks - a Century 21 sign on Hwy. 15 reads, "Go Eagles. Beat Piedmont."
Not bad for a team that went 0-10 just four years ago.
"With us making the finals, the people in Sandersville are taking notice that we're doing some good here," Brown said. "Hopefully, we'll continue to build on that."
And even if the Eagles fall to the Panthers on Friday, senior halfback Brad Jolley is just happy his team is alive in late November.
"It's just crazy to be playing football on Thanksgiving," Jolley said. "We've never done that before."
Brentwood at Tiftarea
LAST WEEK: Brentwood (10-4) beat Piedmont, 56-13; Tiftarea (13-1) beat Memorial Day, 18-12.
KEY PLAYERS: Brentwood-DE/OG Cody Phillips (Sr., 6-2, 160), HB/LB Brad Jolley (Sr., 5-11, 175), QB Jamie Dickey (Jr,. 6-0, 160). Tiftarea-RB Taylor Hammond (Sr., 5-8, 165), QB Rick Ellis (Sr., 6-4, 180), OL John Womack (Sr., 6-2, 245).
KEY MATCHUP: Ellis vs. Brentwood's secondary. Ellis is a solid quarterback, throwing for more than 800 yards this season. The Eagles' defensive backs haven't been tested since the First Presbyterian game Oct. 11.
OUTLOOK: Brentwood will have to play its best game of the year to win its first state championship. Tiftarea is very good, but the Eagles will have a chance to pull it out.
PREDICTION: Tiftarea 28, Brentwood 21
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.