Augusta Christian's Cole Rabun is taken down in the first half by George Walton Academy's Arthur Williams. The Lions'victory Friday earned them the spot as No. 1 seed in the Class AAA state playoffs, which begin Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Pride Valley against Windsor Academy.
Photo by Jim BlaylockThe Augusta Christian School football team already had Pride Valley.
Now the Lions have Victory Lane.
First-year head coach Bruce Lane has led AC to the Region 1-AAA championship, which is only the second region title in school history. The Lions also won region in 1998 and finished that campaign with a record of 11-3.
Lane's Lions improved to 8-2 with their region-clinching win over George Walton Academy last week at Pride Valley, and play host to Windsor Academy in a first-round Class AAA state playoff game Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Last spring, when former Augusta Christian football coach Steve Price decided to move on to a position at Long County High School, he recommended Lane as his successor.
Price was right about Lane, who previously had built a solid coaching record with several Georgia Independent Schools Association squads, including his most recent stint at Southland Academy.
Coaching changes normally don't lead to instant success, but Lane can explain why AC was the exception in 2002.
"Our seniors are a special group of players. If I live to be 100, I don't think I could have a group that is more team-oriented," Lane said. "They have been so unselfish regardless of whether they get to play every snap on Friday night. We've got a lot of talented football players, but our seniors' greatest quality is their ability to step forward and be leaders."
Augusta Christian's 10 seniors stepped forward last week, acting as team captains for the George Walton game - David Nelson, Matt Lane, Scott Brantley, Ryan Bates, Jordan Haywood, Trey Pitts, Lance Tucker, Carson Smith, Dagan Holland and Brock Ballis marched in unison to midfield for the pre-game coin flip.
After the hard-fought 21-20 win over the Bulldogs, Lane praised the newly-crowned champions, and the Lions readily returned the favor.
"Coach Lane has done a great job," said Bates, who hauled in two touchdown passes Friday night. "He came in here and changed the attitude. We just had the attitude that we would get the job done, have fun and just play."
Part of the attitude adjustment was Lane's belief in the "Big Team-Little Me" concept, which focuses on the entire unit and not on individual accomplishments.
While the players have bought into that philosophy this season, Lane's innovative offensive play-calling certainly made for a smoother transition.
"We had confidence in him," junior quarterback Adam McKinney said. "He came from a good background and we knew that he was going to give us everything he's got."
For Lane, the feeling is mutual.
"I have told folks a lot of times this year that Augusta Christian is a great school and has a lot of great assets, but our greatest asset is our kids," he said. "They play with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion. That's what's so fun about this group. Every Friday night it's a different guy who steps forward. My hat's off to them."
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