Darlington (4-1, 2-0) at Christian Heritage (5-1, 2-0)
Control of the Sub-region 6A-A race will be on the line tonight as the Tigers visit the Lions in a battle of teams near the top of the Georgia High School Association’s Class A private school power ratings.
Both teams are unbeaten in sub-region play, and Darlington is No. 2 in the latest power ratings, while Christian Heritage is No. 6. The top 16 teams in the final power ratings make the state playoffs, but the region champions are guaranteed the highest seeds and home-field advantage in the opening round of state.
The road to a potential region title will be a lot smoother for the team that comes out on top tonight — but Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag is trying to keep his Lions, who have won five straight games, from feeling too much pressure.
“You don’t want to build up a game so much that your team plays tight,” Poag said. “We just have to play hard-nosed defense, take care of the ball and not give up the big play in special teams. Darlington is a fundamentally sound team. They are not flashy, but they are good. I have watched a lot of film on them and I have yet to see them turn the ball over. It is going to be the type of game where one or two little mistakes are going to be the difference in a win or a loss.”
The Tigers, who are ranked 10th in this week’s Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class A poll, beat the Lions 19-10 last season, with Christian Heritage failing to capitalize on four trips into the red zone. But scoring hasn’t been a problem for the team this year. The Lions’ lowest output of the season was 27 points in a win over Coahulla Creek, and the passing game behind quarterback Trevor Brown is explosive.
Brown has passed for 1,430 yards and 18 touchdowns with the majority of those yards and scores going to Nich Bartley. Bartley has hauled in 10 touchdowns, and according to the Georgia High School Football Daily newsletter, he leads the entire state in receiving yards with 753.
“Nich, as well as the other receivers they have, run precise routes, and Brown does an outstanding job of getting the ball to them,” Darlington coach Tommy Atha said. “We just have to make sure we don’t give up anything easy. There is no doubt that they have an outstanding football team. They are playing really well. They are good up front, and when you combine that with the skill players that makes it pretty tough.”
Darlington will counter with an offense that has scored 31 or more points in each of the Tigers’ four wins. The lone loss for the Tigers was 36-0 to Cartersville — and that was the lowest offensive output this season for the Purple Hurricanes, who are ranked second in Class 3A.
Christian Heritage will counter with a defense that has recorded three shutouts this season. The key for the Lions on defense, Poag said, will be to get the Darlington offense off of the field — and then to make sure Christian Heritage’s offense produces.
“We played them last year, and what I remember is they got the ball and they ate that clock up,” Poag said. “You only get so many chances on offense, so you have to take advantage of all of the opportunities. They run the same type plays over and over and a lot of the same players. It means a lot to do something when you have the ball.”