'Weak' region in for big weekend

The whispers have trailed them after nearly all of their victories -- 30 combined -- and will follow the four local teams tonight into the first round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs.

"Our region's weak -- you just hear that; people talk about it all the time," Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes said. "But we play the teams in our area just like everybody else gets to."

The playoff teams from Region 3-AAAA, which is made up of 10 schools from Richmond and Columbia counties, will try and earn respect on the state level with a strong collective performance in the playoffs, which open with 80 games across five classifications.

Evans, Hephzibah, Glenn Hills and Richmond Academy are matched up with four teams from Region 4-AAAA (Clayton/Spalding County area).

When you factor in Laney's performance -- the Wildcats made the playoffs out of Region 3-AA -- this season marks the first time since 1983 Richmond County has put more than three schools into the playoffs. Josey, Richmond Academy, Laney, Glenn Hills and Westside all made the postseason 25 years ago.

"That was a very strong year for whatever reason," said Gene Crislip, who coached Glenn Hills to the playoffs that season and is now the offensive coordinator at Richmond Academy.

Outside of Laney, which made the playoffs for the ninth consecutive year, the Richmond County schools are enjoying rare moments of triumph.

- Glenn Hills is in the playoffs for just the second time since 1989.

- Hephzibah is in for the second time in school history and will play a home playoff game for the first time.

- Richmond Academy, losers of 17 in a row entering the season, is in for the first time in 10 years.

But the jubilation stops there. The playoffs represent an opportunity for the area to earn respect, because it has collected so little recently. The area's four Class AAAA playoff teams have combined for one postseason win since 2000.

Of the five regions in Class AAAA that play non-region games, Region 3-AAAA has performed the worst this season. Its non-region record is 3-7, with two wins over Greenbrier and one over Aquinas (Region 4-AAAA is next at 8-10).

Robert Naddra, managing editor for Georgia Football Magazine , organizes a weekly poll of the state's top 25 teams. He said Evans, Region 3-AAAA's undefeated champion, had yet to crack the rankings until this week even though the Knights are one of only three unbeaten teams in the state's second-largest classification.

"I would say (Region 3-AAAA) is among the weakest when you're talking about the four playoff teams ... but that doesn't mean a team like Evans is one of the weakest teams in the playoffs," Naddra said.

This reputation, though, could be defused with a few wins. Area coaches say they are highly interested not only in their result, but the performance of the region's other teams.

"We want to go in and get a 4-0 sweep," Hephzibah coach John Bowen said. "We are rooting for the hometown teams, of course."

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