A year ago, the Adairsville High football team lost to North Murray in the final regular season game on a controversial call. An apparent fumble return for an Adairsville touchdown was called back because of an inadvertent whistle late in a one-score game, ending the Tigers’ season one win short of the postseason.
On top of it all, the loss ended a streak of consecutive postseason appearances at five. One more would have set a new program record.
The fumble return called back is the kind of play that keeps competitors up at night — so close to accomplishing a season’s goal, but unjustly robbed at the final hurdle.
Fortunately, the Tigers will have an opportunity to right the wrongs of the last season, and will have that chance today at 7:30 p.m. at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe with a state playoff bid on the line.
“I guess, [the seniors] have been talking about it for 51 weeks now,” Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop said. “The day we came back to school on that Monday after last year’s game with North Murray, that was the focus and that’s what they’ve been working hard for. So I think there is a little bit added incentive because of the way that game ended last year.”
This season, Adairsville comes in as the No. 3 seed from the south sub-region, and LFO is the 2 seed from the north.
The winner will likely be either a 3 or a 4 seed in the state tournament. The loser will have its season come to an abrupt end.
While Adairsville’s 5-4 season has gone as most would have expected it to, just being a 2 seed in a region play-in game is already an impressive accomplishment for LFO. The Warriors won a combined one game in their previous two seasons, but have turned things around and pulled off a few upsets in region play this year to get to their 5-4 overall record.
LFO lost to North Murray last week 44-15, but had previously won four in a row, including stunners over Murray County and Ringgold, which were teams Adairsville split with.
If LFO does beat Adairsville, the Warriors would be in their first state playoff game since 2009.
“They’re a football team that is peaking at the right time,” Bishop said. “They started off the season with a couple of losses that you kind of scratch your head about, and then, over the course of the crossover games and then into the sub-region schedule, they kind of came into their own. They’re definitely rolling at the right time, and outside of last week’s North Murray game, they’ve been playing really, really well.”
LFO is a senior-laden squad, and its signal caller is senior Zach Vaughn. He’ll run the ball, along with junior Nathan Williams, and the two will present a threat in the read-option.
“Their running back is one of the biggest backs we’ve seen all year, and may be the biggest back by the time we see him live,” Bishop said. “We’ll definitely start off focusing on taking care of the run game, and then be aware that, if we do get that under control, then what’s coming next is play-action passing and the passing game on the perimeter.
“It’ll be important for our defense to play solid in the box. It’s a big night for our defensive line, really could be a night that they could shine and become a big factor in this ballgame against a very big and senior-laden offense from LFO.”
“We’re not real sure about what we’re going to get, because they’re so sporadic in how they line up and we really don’t have a bead on what makes them be in the different personnel packages that they’re in,” Bishop said of LFO. “I think that’s going to be something we’re going to figure out in-game.”
As for Adairsville, the team has been hit pretty hard by the injury bug. While one linebacker is returning, tackling machine Nic Jackson, another is out for the season, Dakota Hughes.
Hughes got some good news Thursday, though, as he and senior athlete Bryce Burgess each picked up their first scholarship offers from LaGrange College, and offensive lineman Maddox Teems received his fourth from the same Division-III school.
All three are part of a senior class that has helped Adairsville make two state playoff trips, the program’s fourth and fifth in a row at that time. However, the loss last year in the play-in game ended the Tiger’s bid for a sixth-consecutive appearance.
The Tigers are hoping to begin a new streak tonight.
“This game last year was a heartbreaker for us,” Bishop said. “So these seniors remember all that and that’s been one of their focuses, is to do what it takes to get back to the state playoffs and start that streak again.”