But with the region schedule back underway, the Lions are refocused and ready to remain on top of Region 4-AAA, as they host B.E.S.T. Academy at 7:30 p.m. tonight at Roy Richards Memorial Stadium. While this game might not mean more than any other to the team’s mindset, it means a lot to the region standings and Central’s playoff hopes.
“I think our kids, really quite honestly, have been great about focusing day-to-day, and that’s a credit to them and the maturity they’ve gained. We’ve gotten to, for us, the halfway point of our season and I don’t feel that their focus has lacked or lagged any. Obviously, a big issue for us is to finish the season that way. So far, they’ve been very focused, regardless of the game,” Central coach Grant Chesnut said. “But, yes, it being a region game and our goals being what they are, it’s an important game for our team.”
Central (3-2, 2-0 Region 4-AAA) won its first three games of the season — two of them region contests — before dropping the past two. The last one, a one-point loss at Pike County, was especially frustrating because of a play that could have turned the game around not going the Lions’ way.
This week the focus has been tonight’s game, the Eagles (1-2, 0-0) and putting the first five games of the season behind them.
“We can’t dwell on them and this last one was, quite honestly, very hard not to dwell on because of the way that it didn’t work out for us. It has been very easy to keep these kids motivated this week. I think they recognize the situation for what it is. I think they know last week they did what they’ve done every win this year, found a way to make a play — the call just didn’t go our way,” Chesnut said.
After playing two seasons of junior-varsity football, this is B.E.S.T. Academy’s first full varsity season, which provides some difficulties for a coaching staff to prepare for, in some regards. But the Eagles don’t necessarily come across like a normal first-year varsity team, either.
The Eagles got their first win of the year in their first game of the season — a 64-0 drumming of Cross Keys — but have dropped their last two, including a one-point loss this past Saturday.
“They’re not your average new high school situation because, simply, the way it’s set up the kids can decide to go there from any school in Atlanta Public Schools. You’re not looking at a typical ninth and 10th-grade football team. You’ve got juniors and sophomores. They’re more like a second or third-year team, so to speak, and athletically they definitely don’t look like your average new school. When you see them trot out, they definitely have very good-looking athletes,” Chesnut said.
Those athletes include several 6-foot-4 players at the skill positions and the Eagles take advantage of those players with jump balls and force their opponent’s defense to come up with the plays. They also have a good running back toting the pigskin behind a big offensive line.
“They’re smart with what they do. They understand their personnel and they try to get matchup plays against you. That’s a concern. We have to be smart and dissect their formations in order to give ourselves a chance to defend what they’re doing,” Chesnut said.
Injuries have hurt the Lions since Week 1, with the loss of junior receiver/defensive back A.J. King, and two weeks later losing offensive lineman Blake Morgan. There have been other injuries to hit the team, but with region play back, everyone that can suit up will hit the field tonight.
“We’ve got a couple back this week, but they’re not really full-go. It’s region, and we don’t really have a choice. We’ve got to get them in. We lost two of our best senior players in [King and Morgan],” Chesnut said. “We’ve plugged in some guys that are doing an adequate job and are working real hard, but you can’t replace those senior leaders. That’s been difficult. But the kids that we put in there have been fighting and have made tremendous improvement in the two weeks or more that they’ve been in there. We need to continue to heal, that’s for sure.”
“There’s not a great margin of error for our team. We have to play very well in order to be successful. We’re OK with that. We embrace that as a coaching staff and the players do, too. I think they like that. We simply need to make sure we’re doing the little things right that make the big things — keep fighting until the fourth quarter and find a way to make that play.”