November 13, 2013

Second time around

Christian Heritage and Darlington headed for a state rematch

Chris Whitfield
chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com

— A month ago, Christian Heritage School’s football team allowed Darlington to score 15 second-half points as the Tigers overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and won 18-15 in a crucial Sub-region 6A-A contest at Lions Stadium.

Darlington scored with 38 seconds remaining to finish the rally, which was a big step in the Tigers’ run to the sub-region championship.

When the Georgia High School Association’s Class A private school state playoffs begin on Nov. 22, Christian Heritage will likely have a chance to avenge that loss at Darlington’s Chris Hunter Stadium. The Lions and Tigers appear to be headed for a first-round rematch in Rome.

Unlike the GHSA’s Classes 2A through 6A, Class A is split into private and public school brackets for several sports, including football, with 16 teams making the field in each of the Class A brackets. Also unlike those classifications, where the top four teams in each of eight regions make the 32-team bracket, making the postseason field in Class A isn’t solely dependent on the region standings.

Starting with last year, when the postseason split for Class A went into effect in response to criticism that private schools had an unfair advantage in enrollment flexibility — with some schools threatening to leave the GHSA and form their own independent athletic association — Class A sports in which the field is split into private and public brackets have used power ratings to help determine who makes it to state.

The power ratings are based on a team’s success in the win-loss column as well as the success of its opponents, with extra weight given to defeating opponents in higher classifications. Region champions receive automatic berths for state, but the rest of the field is determined and seeded based on the power ratings.

The GHSA’s final power ratings for Class A football were released Tuesday at ghsa.net, and barring a successful appeal from a school reshuffling the ratings, Christian Heritage and Darlington will meet for the second time this year.

“We are excited about playing them again,” Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said. “We feel like we had that game and let it slip away at the end. It is funny how things work out sometimes.”

Based on the power ratings, Darlington would be the No. 8 seed in the 16-team bracket and Christian Heritage would be the ninth seed. Because Darlington would be the higher seed, the Tigers would be the host.

Darlington (8-2) is No. 6 and Christian Heritage (8-2) is No. 9 in the power ratings. However, in the rules for the seeding of the teams for the playoffs, region champions are guaranteed to have the highest seeds. Seventh-rated Calvary Day of Savannah and eighth-rated Prince Avenue Christian of Athens were both region champions, so they will jump over Darlington in the seeding process, pushing Darlington back to the No. 8 seed. Christian Heritage’s seeding will be unaffected.

Region 6 and Region 5 both have four teams in the playoffs, with Region 6 teams having four of the top 10 power ratings. Besides Christian Heritage and Darlington, No. 2 Mount Pisgah and No. 3 Mount Paran Christian are the other teams from Region 6 in the top 10.

The winner of Christian Heritage-Darlington will advance to face the winner of top-seeded Eagle’s Landing Christian and No. 16 Athens Christian in the quarterfinals the following week.

For Christian Heritage, having the chance to see Darlington again will give the team some added motivation in the first round.

“It definitely does, especially after how close the last one was,” senior fullback Austin Lowe said. “We had that game and we felt like we let it slip through our fingers. We have a lot of motivation for that game, that is for sure.”

Poag agreed.

“I think the kids will have a lot to play for because of how the whole thing unfolded and how they celebrated on our field,” Poag said.

While teams in higher classifications will kick off the playoffs this week — including Alexander at Dalton and Northwest Whitfield in the Class 4A bracket on Friday — Poag is glad to have two weeks to prepare for Darlington.

The Lions didn’t seal their 24-20 win at Trion on Nov. 1 until the game’s final minutes, and last Friday’s 27-24 victory at Fellowship Christian — a team the Lions beat 41-0 earlier in the year — required overtime.

“It is really good for us,” Poag said of the break. “We have had two emotional games the last two weeks of the season, so we can recharge our batteries a litlle bit. Plus with some injuries we have had, that helps you, too.”