Columbia County's public high school football teams hit the gridiron Friday night in season-openers for the 2002 campaign.
The Augusta Christian Schools squad kicked off last week and battered Briarwood Academy 45-13 at Pride Valley. The Lions travel to Macon this Friday for an 8 p.m. game against Tattnall Square Academy, the defending Class AAA champions in the Georgia High School Association.
Closer to home, county prep fans have three games to choose from this week.
Harlem at Aquinas, 7:30 p.m. Last season - 41-19, Harlem.
The Bulldogs have advanced to the Class AAA state playoffs two straight years, and with a 6-4-1 record in 2001, Harlem posted its first winning season in two decades.
But as Harlem coach Jimmie Lewis prepared his team for Friday's opener at Aquinas, a bitter memory lingered.
The Dogs led Mary Persons 22-7 with nine minutes to go in a Class AAA state playoff game in Forsyth last fall, but Harlem ran out of gas and eventually lost 43-22 in overtime.
"That's haunted me all year long," Lewis said. "It's not anybody's fault but mine. I didn't substitute and rest the kids properly."
The defeat has been a motivating factor during preseason practices - the endless sprints are designed to serve a particular purpose.
"We're not going to lose an overtime game because of fatigue again," Lewis said.
Harlem has not won a season opener in football since 1989, but with potent backs Tae Dorsey, Kelvin Sturgis, Larry Crawford and Tim Camp spearheading the triple-option offensive attack, the Dogs are primed to break that drought this year.
"It would be a big plus to start off with a win," Lewis said.
That potential plus turned into a minus last year - Harlem led Greene County 28-14 in the fourth quarter, but the home-standing Tigers rallied to tie the season opener at 28.
"We did the same thing in the first game and the last game last season," Lewis lamented.
Harlem tuned up for 2002 with a home scrimmage last week against Glenn Hills. The Dogs outscored the Spartans 22-0 last Friday.
"We looked fairly decent offensively, but we've got to tackle better. We gave up too many yards," Lewis said of the scrimmage. "The offensive line did better than we expected. They got on people and made blocks. They were a pleasant surprise."
Harlem fans shouldn't be surprised to see four quarterbacks taking snaps Friday at Aquinas. During the Glenn Hills scrimmage, Michael Hawkinberry, Tim Camp and Donny Demore all spent time behind center, and Jon Rickerson also will play some at quarterback this season.
Hawkinberry will start Friday, and if Harlem can build a decent lead, Lewis will give his other QBs some playing time.
"I want to use all four and get a good look at them," Lewis said. "We may do that anyhow (regardless of the score) because all four do a good job."
Evans at Greenbrier, 7:30 p.m. Last season - 9-7, Greenbrier.
The Brierpatch will be overflowing Friday night, as fans flock to see two county teams tangle.
It's the Knights vs. the Wolfpack Part III.
"It's a big ball game for us," Greenbrier coach Mickey Derrick said. "It's not a region game, but these kids have known each other since elementary school, and they'd like to have those local bragging rights."
The squads have split in two previous meetings, and in each case, the home side lost. Greenbrier pulled out a 9-7 win at Blanchard Stadium last year, and Coach Derrick expects another nail-biter Friday night.
"It should be a tight ball game. I believe it's going to come down to the fourth quarter," he said.
For Evans coach Lee Chomskis, a close game would be fine.
"Their offensive line is very impressive, their quarterback is impressive, and they have some people to throw it to," Chomskis said. "You put those things together, and we'll have our hands full. We'd be happy to have a close game going into the fourth quarter."
Evans is led by senior receivers Tanis Maynor, Steven Rogers, Osmond Brinson, along with linemen Chase Lord and Jacob Filiatreau.
"(Rogers and Maynor) are two wideouts with good speed, and their quarterback (Brad Freeman) is a tough cookie. He steps in the pocket and he stays there," Derrick said.
The Pack counters with a pass-happy attack led by quarterback Brooks Robinson. With four sophomore running backs still trying to establish themselves, Greenbrier plans to use a shotgun formation this season, and Derrick may have his team throw 20 to 30 times a game.
Still, after the Knights were punished by Westside's ground game in a recent scrimmage, Chomskis has other concerns.
"We're going to have to stop the run," he said. "I know Brooks Robinson is a very talented quarterback, but if we don't stop the run, that won't mean a hill of beans. We'll never see a pass - they'll run it down our throats."
Westside at Lakeside, 7:30 p.m. Last season - 7-0, Westside.
First-year Lakeside coach Randy Hill makes his debut at Panther Stadium, and although his team has been hurt by graduation, Hill likes to look on the bright side.
Lower expectations means less pressure.
"I definitely think so, and that's going to help the younger players," Hill said. "There's going to be less pressure, and young teams have a lot more fire, it seems. We're going to use that as a plus."
Lakeside is led by Charles O'Byrne, Phillip Choat and Galen Jones. All three will play offensive and defensive positions.
Westside, on the other hand, brings a seasoned squad to Panther Stadium. The Patriots are expected to challenge for the Region 3-AAA championship this season, and easily handled Evans and Butler in preseason scrimmages.
"We'll have to play a great game, and not make any mistakes, if we want to beat them," Hill said. "We may have a little more depth, so what we've got to do is try to wear them down and come out ahead."
While Hill expects a war with Westside, he knows the battle is just beginning.
"We have a lot of boys that don't have game experience, and you can look at that two ways," he said. "It's going to be a good year, because if we're real successful, that's excellent. If we aren't as successful as we'd like to be, we'll have a lot of juniors and sophomores coming back, and they will develop into good football players."
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