JASPER – Class 1A football might just be the most unpredictable classification in the state. And that is a good thing.
Looking back on last night’s Regional Semifinal game between the Bell Bulldogs and the Hamilton County Trojans, these two teams are just a part of the 35 teams that create the unpredictability of Class 1A football.
For Bell it was their first trip ever to the playoffs in school history while this was Hamilton County’s first trip into the postseason since 2010.
However, let’s take a trip back down memory lane for a moment…
Let us look back just how unpredictable Class 1A football has been since the current format of this classification went in effect back in 2011. Remember all 35 teams consist of teams in rural areas and where 9-12 enrollments are 600 or under.
2011 brought us a matchup that put Jefferson County which went 5-5 in the regular season and finished the overall season 9-5 and with their sixth overall state championship. They matched up with a decent Chipley team that hadn’t been to a state final in football prior to 2011. Chipley finished the season with a 11-3 record.
2012 brought us a matchup between Northview and Trenton. This time it provide a matchup of two teams who were making their first trips ever to the state finals. Northview had finished the regular season 7-3 while Trenton was a perfect 10-0. However, Northview proved out to be the tougher team and took home its first state championship and finished the season 11-3 while Trenton finished 13-1.
Now fast forward into 2013 and we had teams including Hamilton County, Bell, Port St. Joe, Vernon, Dixie County and South Walton all making the Class 1A playoffs. Of course these teams have been to the postseason before, but not in the current rural format.
Teams like Bell and Dixie County we saw going this year, however we didn’t imagine that Hamilton County, Vernon and South Walton would be in the mix, let alone be possible contenders. Thus I was proven wrong and again shows how unpredictable Class 1A football really is.
But, back to last night’s game.
What I saw between Bell and Hamilton County was two teams that were young, hungry and excited to get on the field an play. Even the fans were fired up, some going a little over the top when it came to the sportsmanship side of things, but that is another topic for another day.
Looking at the rosters for both Bell and Hamilton County you can just see youth. Hamilton County had just eight seniors on its roster while Bell had twelve seniors. That is not a whole lot for either team considering Hamilton County had 48 players on its roster while Bell just had 43 players total.
However, shoes will have to be filled in some spots come 2014.
Hamilton County’s QB Antefernee Smith is just one set of shoes that will have to be filled next season. Smith was impressive getting out of various formations and getting the ball down field for decent games to keep drives alive. However, he can throw some nice deep balls including an 85-yard touchdown pass to La’Marcus Webb late in the 3rd quarter that gave the Trojans a huge 33-13 lead.
Looking over at Bell, the shoes of Austin Ritchey are going to have to be field big time. Ritchey is a talented rusher and can burn you if you let him do whatever he wants on the field, which was one area that Hamilton County did struggle with at times last night. However, Ritchey is the main driving force to Bell’s running game and to fill the shoes of player like Ritchey might be hard to fill, but for first year head coach Joey Whittington, you can expect he will find that replacement when spring football gets here.
And speaking of coaches, let’s talk about them for a moment.
I will start with Bell’s head coach Joey Whittington, who was a protege of Dixie County’s Brent Wilkerson who has his team looking for its first state title game appearance since 1971. Whittington took over after Adam Gore stepped down last season and he inherited what he felt was a team that had the pieces in place, but wasn’t fully sure if this would be the year. Of course being the third head coach in three years for any program could have an adverse effect, but Whittington and Bell took it the other way and was rewarded for the effort made on the field.
Looking at Hamilton County’s head man, Blair Armstrong, I can tell a major change this program had made in since he has arrived. The culture is strong, discipline in the game is a whole better, plus the Trojans are playing tougher games against strong playoff contenders. All of that is going to win games and to add to the motivation, Armstrong won a state championship back in the early 1980’s at Jefferson County and added another while he was at Peachtree Ridge in Georgia. The Georgia ring came in 2006. Add it up and it is a recipe for potential success both long term and short-term.
Overall, just looking at Bell and Hamilton County helps give the entire Class 1A classification a bright future ahead and each program should be proud of their accomplishments this season and last nights game should be looked as a great part of that accomplishment no matter who won or lost.