Though the current seeding may not indicate it, Friday’s game between Emanuel County Institute and Macon County is a true one versus two matchup.
At the end of the regular season Macon County stood head and shoulders above the rest of the public class A schools with 14.39 points in the class A power ratings, while ECI trailed behind with 13.87 points.
Macon was one and ECI was two — and in most worlds that meant these teams were to be on opposite sides of the public school bracket.
However, a coin flip and the Savannah class A schools had others plans.
“The Savannah schools lost a week to the hurricane, so we had to hold a vote for whether or not to lose a subregion game and play the region title— or play all the subregion games and lose the last week of the season,” said head coach Chris Kearson.
The vote would go in favor of option “B” — losing the last week of the season and the region championship game. This was a choice popular among the Savannah side of the region, i.e . Calvary Day, Savannah Country Day, Savannah Christian and others.
So, come the end of the season the region title had to be decided via coin flip— since class A demands a region winner for seeding purposes in the playoffs.
The coin toss landed in favor of Calvary Day, giving them the region title and a top four seed, despite finishing fifth in the final power ratings— giving them the automatic bump.
This left ECI out in the cold per say, dropping them to the four seed in a totally separate playoff bracket— since private and public schools play in different playoffs for class A.
ECI players were irked about the decision to say the least.
“I didn’t like that our region championship was decided over a coin flip,” said senior defensive tackle Petey Ford. “It’s a slap in our face in my opinion, I’d rather play for it.”
So now ECI can only do what they’ve done all year: win. The Bulldogs are 11-0 this season, and it’s been a mostly non-competitive three and a half months on the part of the Bulldogs.
ECI holds a point differential of +412. An average of 10.5 offensive yards a play. An average margin of victory of 37.5 points. Nine wins of over 35 points. It sounds like public relations spiel, but facts are facts. ECI has been dominant.
ECI’s dominance starts on offense, which is a run first operation as it’s always been under Kearson. However, 2016 has seen an explosion in the passing game. And the engine that powers this high octane passing attack is senior quarterback Rhett Gay.
Gay’s numbers are something out of fiction. The stuff you only see when you create-a-player on the old NCAA video games and set all the game difficulties to “freshman”.
33 touchdowns. One interception. 72.4 completion percentage. 13.8 yards an attempt. A 150.66 QB rating. And for those not in the know, 158.33 is the highest rating a quarterback can obtain.
Simply put, you won’t find a quarterback with more efficient numbers in Georgia than Gay. Gay’s 150.66 rating is the highest of any signal caller— in all classifications— in the state who’s thrown at least 100 passes.
“I’ve got receivers all over the place,” Gay said. “I think I can count on one hand how many drops we’ve had this season. And my O-line doesn’t get enough credit either.”
But as previously mentioned, ECI butters their bread on the ground. As a team the Bulldogs average 240 yards a game at 8.7 yards a carry. Between the three headed-monster of Bobby Mcnear, Jamani Kelly and Rejar Rock— along with a cast of others— ECI has rushed for 41 touchdowns.
With the depth at running back and the efficiency in the passing game, ECI’s offense has been near impossible to stop in 2016. No defense has been able to hold them lower than 38 points,
“We know what level we can play at,” Gay said. “Our coaches help keep us grounded and help us get to that level where we’re best.”
But if there’s one criticism to point in ECI’s direction, it’s the strength of their regular season schedule. Granted, they can’t help who they schedule— but MaxPreps has ECI’s strength of schedule metric rated at -0.6, the lowest of the other eight class A teams still playing.
A regular season opponent’s winning percentage of .368 isn’t a good look, but it hasn’t seemed to affect them against good playoff teams. Miller County and Irwin County were a combined 17-8, and ECI beat them by a combined score of 93-39.
“It gets brought up a lot, the whole ‘we haven’t played anyone’ thing,” Ford said. “We try not to let it get to us, and it’s a slap in the face to our region and the teams we play.”
The same can’t be said for their opponents on Friday night. Macon has the highest strength of schedule metric rating of all remaining class A teams at 14.9, with an opponent's winning percentage of .650.
And their statistics match the absurdity of ECI’s— if not exceed them, starting with Macon quarterback K’hari Lane. If Gray’s numbers are absurd, Lane’s are from another dimension where defenses don’t exist.
Lane’s thrown for 50— yes 50— touchdowns to one— yes one— interception. Those aren’t a farce, they’re real stats put up by senior. Stats so good they’ve been featured in national publications like USA Today. Add in 12.1 yards an attempt and a 63.2 completion percentage, his quarterback rating of 142.8 is third in the state.
“What I’ve noticed that makes him so good is when he scrambles outside of the pocket he never lets his eyes down,” Ford said. “He’s always looking for a receiver. It makes him extra dangerous.”
Macon runs the ball at a high of an efficiency as well, averaging 8.6 yards per carry on 192 yards per game. This is stating the obvious at this point, but Macon will be the best offense ECI will have faced all season.
“They’re one of the two to three best teams I’ve seen on film since I’ve been here,” Kearson said, whose tenure runs back to 2011. “This team is up there with the Fitzgerald’s and Washington County’s back in 2012.”
It should be noted Macon has lost two games, but they came to 2A Fitzgerald (12-1) 70-42 and 6A Northside (11-2) 45-6.
And ECI and Macon teams share a common opponent in Irwin County, who Macon beat 51-13 back on Sept. 5.
So while the big traditional powers like Grayson and Mill Creek will do battle tonight, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better offensive matchup in the state than the two class A schools playing in Montezuma tonight.