Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Notebook: Teams close to breaking finals droughts

Several teams in the semifinals are on the verge of reaching the state finals for the first time in quite a while time. Among those are Woodward Academy (last time 1980), Westminster (1978), Brooks County (1994) and Benedictine (never). What's also interesting about these teams is that they are traditionally strong, short of winning a lot of state titles. The four lists below are ways to gauge their success in the playoffs, without getting to the finals.

Most playoff wins without a final: Dacula is knocking on the door with quarterfinal runs the past two seasons, but the Falcons remain the program with the most wins without a championship appearance. Note that Laney does have state championships in the Georgia Interscholastic Association before full integration. Schools marked with an asterisk are those in this season's semifinals.

31 - Dacula

27 - Metter

24 - Bremen

22 - Miller County

20 - Crisp County

19 - Athens Academy

18 - Wayne County

17 - Baldwin

17 - Rome

17 - Stephenson

16 - *Benedictine

15 - Laney

15 - Westside

Most playoff wins before making the finals: Jeff Herron and Jimmy Dorsey are close friends. They share the accomplishment of taking a school to its first state final after 23 playoff victories, Herron at Camden County, Dorsey at McEachern.

23 - Camden County (2003)

23 - McEachern (1998)

22 - Northside, Warner Robins (2001)

22 - Wilcox County (2007)

18 - Walton (2011)

17 - Swainsboro (2000)

16 - Grayson (2011)

16 - Hart County (1999)

15 - Lamar County (2014)

14 - Creekside (2014)

14 - Mary Persons (1980)

14 - Starr's Mill (2010)

14 - Thomas County Central (1992)

13 - ECI (2007)

13 - Oconee County (1999)

12 - Norcross (2013)

12 - Peachtree (1982)

Most playoff wins after a state final, without a return trip: Three of the top four are teams in the semifinals, and the team at the top - Vidalia - lost in the quarterfinals.

29 - Vidalia (1969-)

24 - *Fitzgerald (2000-)

24 - *Woodward Academy (1980-)

23 - *Westminster (1978-)

22 - Marietta (1967-)

22 - Cook (1949-)

21 - *Brooks County (1994-)

21 - Wheeler (1973-)

19 - *Cartersville (1999-)

19 - Bradwell Institute (1965-)

18 - Newnan (1981-)

18 - Stephens County (1988-)

Most playoff wins between finals: Lovett had very strong teams through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s but didn't return to the state finals until Mike Muschamp's 2007 team.It took another seven seasons before Lovett won a title. Griffin ended a pretty good drought of its own last season.

41 - Lovett (1970-2007)

32 - Griffin (1980-2014)

32 - Marist (1989-2003)

30 - Dalton (1978-2001)

25 - Tucker (1963-2008)

25 - Southwest DeKalb (1972-1990)

22 - Carrollton (1974-1997)

22 - Gainesville (1982-2009)

21 - Commerce (1981-2000)

20 - Cairo (1990-2007)

20 - Colquitt County (1994-2010)

20 - Lakeside, Atlanta (1974-1991)

19 - Buford (1978-2000)

19 - Carrollton (1998-2010)

19 - Thomson (1985-2002)

19 - Early County (1977-98)

Belief in process helped ELCA through rough start

As noted in a Daily List this week, Eagle's Landing Christian and Archer are among 19 teams in GHSA history to reach the semifinals despite an 0-3 start. ELCA (6-6) is the first to survive an 0-6 start, and coach Jonathan Gess concedes he'd stopped dreaming of state championships.

"Oh yeah, I was worried, and I wasn't thinking semifinals," he said. "Once we went 0-6, we had to win every game to make the playoffs. I know everyone says this, but we really had to trust our process. You go through the thoughts of thinking you're an idiot and you're awful, me professionally as a coach and our team, and I probably am all those things. However, at one point in this program we had gone 48-5 and won 24 games in a row. We feel like we have a good process on how to win and we had to stick to it."

Gess credited his coaching staff, particularly assistant head coach Kenny Dallas and defensive coordinator Zach Davis, for getting the ship turned. Gess said the staff emphasized three core values - win the day, never quit and hard work.

"These are all consumed with getting better each day no matter what happened in the past," he said. "It keeps you humble when you win and allows some grace for when you lose. Every day presents an opportunity to win."

Three teams that started 0-3 have won state titles. They are 2005 Peach County, 2005 Lincoln County and 1961 Waycross. We neglected to include Waycross in our Daily List. Two of Waycross's losses were forfeits.

Semifinal coaches with game

Mount Paran Christian coach Mitch Jordan was a member of Georgia Tech's 1990 national championship team. Buford coach Jess Simpson played on Auburn's 1989 SEC championship team. Northside-Warner Robins coach Kevin Kinsler played on West Georgia's 1982 national championship team. Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley played on Georgia Southern's 1989 and 1990 national championship teams. Benedictine coach Danny Britt played on Georgia Southern's 1990 and 1993 national championship games.

Famous forefathers

Woodward Academy running back Elijah Holyfield is a son of boxer Evander Holyfield. GAC running back Micah Abernathy is a grandson of civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy.

More than a hobby

Benedictine quarterback Stevie Powers, who leads Class A in passing yards, has committed to Southern Miss as a baseball player. Westminster middle linebacker Charlie Trense, who leads his team in tackles, has committed to Notre Dame as a lacrosse player. Archer linebacker Quinn Miller, who leads his team in tackles, is a nationally ranked wrestler.

Let's play two

Westminster punter Blake Gillikin and long snapper Tyler Gillikin are twins. Tyler Gillikin is also the starting defensive end. Etowah guard Brad Morgan and defensive end Scott Morgan are twins. Scott also plays running back on short-yardage situations.

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