Originally created 09/30/05

Area teams get marks at midseason



It's halftime.

If entire football seasons are seen as a game, the first half is over. Area teams have played over 120 games through the first six weeks of the season. All but one prep team in The Augusta Chronicle's primary coverage area has played five games.

Most have started or will begin region play tonight. It's the perfect time to look at the area. To see who's up and who's down. To note teams with hope or those with very little hope.

Here's how the area grades out at halftime of the 2005 season.

A

Augusta Christian: The Lions (4-1) were perfect except for a two-point loss on the road to the top-ranked team in SCISA. They are the second-ranked team in SCISA Class AAA. Quarterback Lee Banks might be among the top three players in Columbia County.

Thomas Jefferson Academy: An average margin of victory of 28 points offsets the fact they haven't beaten a winning team. The Jaguars (5-1) have their best start since a state title in 2000 and have done it with their best player, Ty Brett, sidelined with a preseason injury.

Jefferson County: The Warriors (5-0) get high marks for the best start in their history. They've scored 135 points despite losing key players to graduation. Sixty-one penalties and a soft schedule prevents A-plus status. They have no victories against winning teams. Yet winning despite 12 penalties per game also shows the resolve of this bunch.

A-minus

Strom Thurmond:

Team has repeated the fine work it did last year. Maybe it hasn't had the killer instinct of a state champion, but that's being just a bit picky. The Rebels (4-1) need to show a little more patience on offense to limit turnovers against top competition.

Warren County:

A 15-14 loss to Class AAA Spalding keeps the Class A Screaming Devils from perfection. Sophomore Tommy Seals might be the best quarterback in the area. Warren County (4-1) is on pace for its first winning season since 1992 and this is the school's best start since 1989.

Washington-Wilkes: The Tigers (4-1) impressed with first win over Thomson since state finalist year in 2000. They are the team to beat in GHSA Region 7-A with several all-star candidates abound. A tough defense plus quality run game means this team could play 15 games.

B-plus

Laney: Graduated some of the top players in its history and still improved its record (5-1) compared to this point last year. Senior Kenneth Walker has replaced Robert Dunn's scoring ability. Improving quarterback Chris Thomas will play a huge role down the stretch.

Ridge-Spring Monetta: The Trojans (4-1) are off to their best start since 1994 and they even spared runner Robert Axen in earning that status. The last time they started better was in 1978. This is a veteran team with several talented kids that could make a run at a title.

South Aiken: The Thoroughbreds (4-1) beat Strom Thurmond again. Extra credit for losing starting quarterback Bobby Smith for the year and finding a new playmaker in Calvin Fuller. A little more spark in the passing game is needed.

B

Aiken: Greenwood was a nice win. Team speed and effort make up for what the Hornets (4-1) lack in size. Great collective team effort again this year.

Aquinas: If not for last year, this team would be framing this report card. The Irish (4-1) are beating everyone they should and playing hard-nosed football despite missing key personnel.

Burke County: The Bears have its best start since 1997 and allowed only 44 points in five games - 30 of those points came in the only loss. Grade is impressive since they also lost a player to major college football. The Bears (4-1) have scored 168 points.

B-minus

Silver Bluff: The Bulldogs (3-2) flashed potential with strong first-half showings in eventual losses to Aiken and Strom Thurmond. High marks for their scoring punch despite offensive overhaul this year. Lawrence Boyd is one of the area's best juniors.

Thomson: A grade rapidly on the rise. Great coaching under way in trying to find the right mix on offense. The Bulldogs (5-1) are finally showing consistency in all phases of the game.

Westside: The Patriots (3-2) have gotten solid play through early off-field heartbreak with big wins against Greenbrier and Cross Creek. Linebacker/fullback Jon Wiley means as much to his team as any area player. Westside is a missed field-goal away from being 4-1.

C-plus

Greenbrier: Team is turning in A-efforts of late after a bad start. The Wolfpack (3-2) boast one of the top rushing threats in the area in Reggie Rice and have won three in a row by a combined 77-25.

C

Cross Creek: The Razorbacks (2-4) have played five teams with winning records. Three of their four losses have been by eight points or less. Quarterback Donald Hudson is throwing the ball well.

Glenn Hills: The Spartans (4-2) lost for the first time ever to Cross Creek. They have had big trouble snapping the ball and can't settle on a quarterback. So there's no passing game to take pressure off star runner Ricky Young.

Harlem: Class AAA's Bulldogs (3-3) beat Evans for the first time since 1981. But they lost the next week to Class A Hancock Central. That aside, Harlem is winning the games it should, and getting drilled in games it should not.

C-minus

Lakeside: The Panthers (2-3) have lost two of their past three. Lakeside has played top teams but has just 45 points in five games.

Lincoln County: The Red Devils started 0-3 but it seems like the right players are in the right spots now. Tough early road with only three starters back also hurt.

North Augusta: The Yellow Jackets (2-3) have the makings of a strong run game but can't seem to pair it with a dependable pass game. They must avoid mistakes to compete with top teams.

Richmond Academy: Aquinas and Hephzibah wins are positives. But Harlem and Westside losses show the Musketeers (2-4) are not yet ready for a winning year with Cross Creek, Glenn Hills and Thomson games coming up.

D-plus

Brentwood: Injury to mainstay Daniel Harris hurt. So have losses by 34, 20 and 27 points over the past three weeks. A state title team in 2002 and 2003 is going in the wrong direction at 1-4.

Curtis Baptist: Some leniency considering the team barely has 11 players to put out on the field. Two wins this year would be cause for a celebration.

Evans: The winless Knights had been tough defensively. But a defense that gave up an average of 16 points a night gave up 27 on the road in a loss to the previously winless Jones County. Not good.

Hephzibah: Credit for infusing a passing game into the program. But the Rebels (1-4) have allowed at least 35 points in all but one game.

D

Butler: The Bulldogs (1-4) have lost 43-0 and 48-0 but did not lay down in the Glenn Hills and South Effingham games.

Edmund Burke: New coach Beau Johnson is well-respected but has had little success. Team is 1-5 after an 0-5 start.

Josey: Could probably be worse for a team that's been beaten by 106 points over past three games. But the Eagles (0-5) did show up in a 7-6 loss to Cross Creek and a 23-21 loss to Butler.

Wagener-Salley: The War Eagles, even with Ronnie Tyler, saw this coming. A young squad has played hard but is 0-5 and has only 32 points in those games.

Wardlaw Academy: Numbers crunch with very little depth for 8-man football has meant another down year.

Incomplete

Fox Creek: The Predators (0-3) get a pass in the first year of their football program.

Last team standing

These are the area's five Georgia teams with the best chance at a trip to the Georgia Dome for the semifinals of the state playoffs:

1. Washington-Wilkes (Class A)

2. Thomson (Class AAA)

3. Laney (Class AA)

4. Jefferson County (Class AAA)

5. Warren County (Class A)

The area's five South Carolina teams with the best hopes at playing in Williams-Brice Stadium for the South Carolina High School League state championship:

1. Strom Thurmond (Class AAA)

2. Aiken (Class AAAA)

3. South Aiken (Class AAAA)

4. Silver Bluff (Class AA)

5. Ridge-Spring Monetta (Class A)

The highlights

TOP TURNAROUND: New coach Charles Rutland already has led Warren County (4-1) to as many wins as the team has had in the past 13 years. Warren County should win at least seven games this year.

HISTORIC SLIDE: It was hard to imagine seeing Lincoln County at 0-3 this year. That was the worst start to a Red Devils season since 1955. The hard part was the Red Devils led in each of those games.

Top player of the year contenders

The strongest contenders at this point for the area player of the year awards:

GEORGIA

- Ricky Young, RB, Glenn Hills 951 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns

- Kenneth Walker, RB/DB, Laney 11 touchdowns in six games

- Reggie Rice, RB/LB, Greenbrier 619 yards and nine TDs

- Tommy Seals, QB, Warren County 430 yards passing, 354 rushing yards and 42 yards per punt

SOUTH CAROLINA

- Coco Hillary, QB, Strom Thurmond 2004 Player of the Year has hit on 61 of 90 passes for 835 yards and 7 TDs

- Dekoda Watson, DE, South Aiken 41 takles, five sacks and 18 hurries in four games

- Calvin Fuller, QB, South Aiken 464 rushing yards and seven TDs through four games

- Lawrence Boyd, WR/DB, Silver Bluff 44 tackles, 277 yards receiving and six total touchdowns

INDEPENDENTS

- Lee Banks, QB, Augusta Christian 609 yards passing and 546 rushing; 17 total TDs

- Bryan Dye, G/LB, Thomas Jefferson Academy 62 total tackles and four fumbles forced

- Derrick Mathis, RB, Thomas Jefferson Academy 52 carries for 572 yards and nine TDs

- Ben Bartley, QB, Wardlaw Academy Over 1,300 yards of total offense

Best coaching jobs

1. Dan Pippin's work at South Aiken: Great game plan and smart midgame adjustments against Strom Thurmond. Prepared quarterback Calvin Fuller on four days of practice to start in the season-opening win.

2. Russell Morgan at Washington-Wilkes: His stick-to-basics offensive approach has worked. But he gets extra kudos for relaxing the mantra to own the skies in the Thomson win.

3. Eric Parker at Laney: Changed his base offense. Lost his offensive stars and has had to rely on defense. But somehow the Wildcats still average 27 points per contest.

4. Carey Johnson at Aiken: This coaching staff does a great job every season, not just this one. His teams bring a gritty effort every game.

Sportsmanship in style

A fine moment came after Strom Thurmond's 35-21 loss at South Aiken. Rebels quarterback Coco Hillary found South Aiken standout Dekoda Watson in the post-game handshake line. He stopped him. The best player on each team talked for 20 seconds.

"No grudge between us at all," Hillary said. "We went to a couple of football camps together. We've got a good relationship. We both appreciate one another and hope to get up out of this area and make it to college football somewhere."

The moment was initiated by Hillary.

"I told him 'Good game' and I had a lot of respect for him and his team," Hillary said. "That didn't change because they beat us."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.