By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Region 3-A looks to keep cranking out champs
Area programs look to give Bulldogs, Savannah teams a run for their money
Class A Championship  Heal
Emanuel County Institute quarterback Caleb Pressey and cheerleader Brittany Sherrod, back to camera, celebrate the Bulldogs' win over Dooly County in the Class A-public GHSA State Championship football game at the Georgia Dome, in this Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, file photo, in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

GHSA Region 3-A Final Standings, 2012

Region 3A-A
Team                          Region    All

Savannah Christian           5-0    8-4
Calvary Day                    4-1    9-2
Jenkins County                3-2    6-4
Claxton                           3-3    6-4
Savannah Country Day    2-4    3-7
Portal                              0-5    1-9

Region 3B-A
Team                            Region    All

Emanuel County Institute    4-0    13-1
Johnson County                   3-1    7-3
Treutlen County                  2-3    5-5
Wheeler County                  1-4    1-9
Montgomery County            0-5    0-10

    Opening night for most high school football teams is still a couple of weeks away, but — if recent trends continue — it’s safe to assume that at least a few of the teams competing in Region 3-A will be hanging around in November and December.
    Since 2007, the region has been represented in the Class A title game every season, winning three with three second place finishes. The last couple of seasons have seen the region grow even stronger. Five different teams from 3-A have cracked regular season top-10 polls since 2011, with as many as three schools making the grade in one week’s time.
    “We know what we’re dealing with each season,” Claxton coach Patrick Hendrix said. “It’s going to be a tough road filled with a lot of good teams. Our goal is to be one of those good teams.”
    Last year’s splitting of Class A into public and private sub-divisions only served to further showcase the region’s power. While the teams compete together in the regular season, the playoff brackets separate them and provide a chance for more teams from one region to make a deep run.

Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs
    Any discussion about Region 3-A needs to begin with the reigning region and Class A public state champion.
    The Bulldogs have won nine or more games in each of the last seven seasons, seamlessly transitioning through graduating classes and coaching changes to be one of the most feared teams in Georgia.
    That ability to reload rather than regroup will be tested as ECI said goodbye to two of its biggest offensive weapons that graduated in the spring. Rising senior Jakobie Boatwright was the only Bulldog other than departed quarterback Caleb Pressey to attempt a pass last season and looks to pick up the reins of the offense.
    Greg Purcell led ECI with 1,168 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in his final year. But the Bulldogs’ backfield remains in good hands as James Brown — who also tallied over 1,100 yards and scored three touchdowns in the state title game — returns for his senior campaign.
    T.J. Hackle and Jarrett Henry return to the offensive line, whose imposing size and wealth of experience should keep ECI near the top of the polls and power another run at a state title.

Claxton Tigers
    No matter the age or experience of any Claxton player, all of them enter 2013 with a chip on their shoulder.
    In four consecutive seasons, the Tigers advanced to the region play-in game, only to lose and fall one victory short of the state playoffs. Last season, a new poll was put in place to fill out the playoff bracket. The Tigers finally won their last game of the season — then watched as the computer rankings left them on the outside looking in.
    “It was tough,” Hendrix said. “But we kind of did that to ourselves. We started strong and then dropped a couple of games at the end. This year, we’re looking to stay strong through the season.”
    Usually a run-heavy team, the Tigers now have the athletes to attack from anywhere on the field. Tanner Lee returns for his second season under center while Khalil Brewton —injured for much of 2012 — is back to full strength.
    A strong effort from Niam Bacon and the Claxton defensive front will be necessary as another long, grinding schedule awaits the Tigers.

Jenkins County War Eagles
    When a region is loaded with solid teams, it usually means that teams stuck at the bottom of the standings won’t be moving up anytime soon.
    The Eagles of Jenkins County turned that notion on its head last season. After 12 consecutive seasons of six or more losses, new head coach Ashley Harden led the team to a 6-4 mark and finished just out of the playoff hunt.
    The best news for the Eagles is that plenty of starters return to try to make a habit out of winning. If Tyler Lyles — who recorded 80 tackles in 2012 — can lead the defense to a better performance (22.8 ppg allowed last season), Jenkins County might be able to take the next step. The offense figures to keep its rhythm as Ira Hendrix returns under center and will be protected by a veteran group of linemen.
    “I think that we got inspired by that success last year,” Harden said. “Of course, those wins last year won’t help us this year. I’ve been happy with how our guys have been working hard to make sure that the success continues.”

Portal Panthers
    There aren’t many good things that can happen when a roster has only eight players with previous high school football experience. Luckily for the Portal Panthers, that issue was left back in 2012.
    Decimated by graduation and injuries, the Panthers were barely able to field a full squad last season and managed just one win. Undeterred by the rough season, nearly everyone is back this season to get the team on the right track.
    “Morale is good,” Portal coach David NeSmith said. “Winning our final game last season definitely helped. At least we saw a little progress and had a starting point to work forward from.”
    Evan Street is back for his third year at quarterback. Casey Jones also returns and will contribute as both a running back and linebacker. The Panthers’ biggest asset this year will be more depth. The roster currently has over 30 members — a virtual army compared to last season, when Portal dressed less than 20 for almost half of the season.
    With so many veteran teams dotting the region, a winning season might be a tall order for the Panthers. Then again, Portal is no stranger to succeeding with small numbers and as an underdog. Portal will have to earn back the fear of region foes, but that’s a task that the Panthers are up for.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.