LOUISVILLE, Ga. - Jefferson County coach J.B. Arnold considered the distance and looked to the team's star for the decision that would change the Warriors' season.
Sean Walker said he could make the 42-yard field goal; he said he really believed in himself.
It didn't matter the senior wide receiver never had attempted a field goal. It didn't matter if the kick meant the ballgame.
Walker said he knew he could boom it between the uprights to beat a Laney squad that made the Class AAA Final Four last year. In the process, he helped kick-start a team that's become one of the area's biggest surprises.
Since Jefferson County's 9-7, last-minute win against the Wildcats on Oct. 4, the Warriors (4-4-1, 4-1 Region 3-AAA) have won three of their past four contests, and with a win in Friday's 7:30 p.m. game against Washington County (8-1, 5-0), they will earn their first region title since 1998.
"We worked hard this summer, and we kept telling ourselves that it was going to pay off in the end," senior wide receiver/cornerback Xavier Harris said. "We told ourselves to believe."
Considering where the Jefferson County program has been since its last region title, that self-confidence should be buried somewhere under the mountain the Warriors have climbed to get here.
Since finishing 9-2 in 1998 - losing to a tough Americus squad in the first round - Jefferson County was 11-32-1 from 1999-2002.
Beginning this season 0-3-1 didn't help matters.
"The deal is we've been down as a program for a while," Arnold said. "It's so hard to teach the team how to win."
The Warriors seem to have the hang of it now.
Following Walker's heroics in the Laney game and a temporary setback against Westside, when Patriots place-kicker Obi Egekeze nailed a 42-yarder as time expired, the Warriors have handled Harlem, Richmond Academy and Josey with ease.
Now, they'll face their stiffest test of the season.
"We're going down to play a great Washington County team," said Arnold, obviously very careful not to provide any bulletin-board material for the Golden Hawks. "They're loaded with talent, and they have great coaching. We want to go down and play hard."
But even though the Warriors won't say it, they still have that belief in their hearts.
It comes from beginning last season with an 0-6 record only to make the playoffs and score 20 points (albeit against a second-string defense) on eventual Class AAA state champion Screven County.
It comes from the experience starting quarterback Dennis Thomas has gained in his freshman season.
It comes from starting this year by scoring 18 points in the first three games only to scratch out a win against Laney.
"It's taught us never to quit," Walker said. "It's taught us always to believe in ourselves."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
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