It was the kind of night Columbia County needed.
After two Columbia County high school football programs spent most of the week in the news for all the wrong reasons (an illegal play by Lakeside, ineligible players at Greenbrier), Columbia County residents flocked to Evans High School's John Pierce Blanchard Stadium for postseason football action. The home crowd rocked with excitement as the Knights played host to Lee County in the team's first home state playoff game in 12 years.
"The fans were crazy," Evans football coach Marty Jackson said. "We all needed that win. Everybody was excited about it."
Evans didn't disappoint the home crowd as the Knights claimed a convincing 35-16 victory. Jackson said his team wasn't content just to be in the state playoffs.
"I had all kinds of people from the community coming up to me and wishing us luck and telling me how proud they were of us," Evans football coach Marty Jackson said. "I just told them I hope this isn't all."
Tailback Jonathan Finch turned in the best performance of his career on the biggest night of the season. The sophomore scored on the Knights' first two possessions and finished with three rushing touchdowns on 106 yards.
Senior Trey Henderson opened the second half with a 75-yard kickoff return that sparked the Knights and led to a two-touchdown lead. Evans never looked back, and the 19-point victory ensured them another week of football.
"We're still climbing our ladder, but now it's more like a highway," Jackson said. "That highway is I-20, and that's where we're headed next."
On the road again
Evans will travel to Warner Robins on Friday to take on Northside High School in the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament. The Knights, a No. 2 seed in the state playoffs, will battle a team ranked No. 1 in all of Class AAAA with an undefeated record of 11-0. The Eagles have won by double-digits in all 11 games this season.
"They've got these two backs that look like clones. They get the ball to them every way they can," Jackson said. "They'll be the best team we've faced."
The road trip to Warner Robins covers about 150 miles one-way. It's a distance that would concern most high school football coaches, but the Knights have traveled farther than that this season -- twice.
"This trip isn't very long compared to our other road games this year," Jackson said. "We had a good routine when we went to Glynn Academy so we're going to stick with it. We'll take the right mental approach."
What about the turkey?
Though every Knight will say he's thrilled to still be alive in the state playoffs, Friday's football game does interfere with a certain national holiday Thursday. It's a problem all 16 remaining teams in the Class AAAA state playoffs must deal with.
At Evans, Jackson said it's a new dilemma.
"Our kids aren't used to playing during the Thanksgiving break," he said. "We're going to practice Wednesday morning, and on Thursday we always have a walk-through. I don't want them coming up here with turkey in their bellies anyway."
At least one Knight, senior quarterback Kevin Millward, will have to make a change in his usual Thanksgiving plans.
"Just about for as long as I can remember we've always gone to Kentucky for Thanksgiving. This will be the first year we're not going out of town," he said. "But that's perfectly fine with me."
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