Football season in Columbia County doesn't get any better than the next three weeks. Let the Region 3-AAAA rivalry games begin.
Part one of the three-part series starts Friday when Lakeside travels to Greenbrier. Want a seat to this game? Show up early.
Expect both sides of the Brierpatch to be filled well before the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Both teams are undefeated after the first week of the season, and hopes are still high. Add the Evans fans to the attendance tally, also. The Knights are on a bye week, so those fans (players and coaches, too) will make their way to the big game.
Part two is next weekend when Lakeside goes to Evans. Part three will probably be the most anticipated matchup when Greenbrier travels to Evans two weeks from Friday. All three games promise to bring excitement and big interest from all over the county.
The big question is: What about the rest of the season?
The story has been the same the past two years. The rivalry games, played in the first four weeks of the season, are about as much fun, intense, meaningful and passionate as any game in the area. Then a few weeks of region beat-downs and missed opportunities send the football interest-o-meter into a gradual but consistent decline until the back half of October leaves most Columbia County fans looking for basketball season.
That's been the typical pattern the past several years except for Evans in 2004, Greenbrier in 2003 and Harlem in 2001. Those three teams went to the state playoffs, but they all lost in their first-round games. With the exception of Augusta Christian's dominance over SCISA, Columbia County hasn't seen a state playoff win since 2000.
Are we doomed to repeat our past this year?
The overwhelmingly definitive answer is ... well ... this could be the year ... possibly ... you know, in a hopeful but noncommittal, I've-been-burned-in-the-past kind of way.
Does this sound like you? Take heart, Columbia County fan. This might be the year to give your team one more shot.
Feel free to jump on the Evans bandwagon after watching them in the fourth quarter against Harlem last Friday. The two teams were tied 7-7 after three quarters, but the Knights' defense forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter against Harlem on a fumble recovery by Garrett Greer and an interception by Brandon McCladdie.
Evans' offense responded with two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a pair of passes from Kevin Millward to David Smith. It was the kind of strong finish to a game that would encourage even the most skeptical of Knights fans.
The Greenbrier bandwagon had a few more members after the Wolfpack's 10-point win over Westside last weekend. After losing to the Patriots the past three years, Greenbrier beat up on Westside, thanks to quarterback Nick Richards' 114 yards of passing and a 135-yard rushing performance from senior Zach Boulineau.
Lakeside's fan club increased thanks to a 15-8 win over Aquinas. Senior Patrick Tynan's two rushing touchdowns was almost as impressive a performance as the Panthers defensive shutout effort.
Are those three wins enough, though, to signal a change in the mediocre winds that have been blowing around the county for the past few years? Obviously, it's too early to predict whether we'll see a state playoff team this year. The other part of the equation is the region competition (the big reason past Columbia County teams haven't made the playoffs). At least a few of those teams down in the southern portion of the region are bound to be good. I'll give the nod this year to Ware County and Statesboro.
So considering everything - the season opening wins, the strong finishes, the region competition, the mediocre past - should you get your hopes up? Do you risk the chance at disappointment one more time? Absolutely.
Go ahead, dream state playoff dreams. Expect a win every Friday.
You aren't a true fan of your team if you don't.
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