If you read last week’s column, then let me say “I told you so.”
Putnam County’s performance Friday night was a night-and-day difference from its rocky season opener against North Oconee. The War Eagles did a complete 180 against Temple High School and came out on top, 28-7.
The Eagles had a good week of practice and spent time finding themselves, and their patience paid off in a huge way to give the War Eagles a solid victory. Putnam is going to be riding high as it goes on the road for the first time to face Lake Country rival Greene County, and the game should be a good one.
Unfortunately, I’m here for a second week in a row telling somebody not to panic.
The Gatewood Gators suffered a hard defeat at the hands of their hated rival, John Milledge Academy, in a 45-7 loss. For the Trojans, this game could be considered a redemption from last season’s defeat at the Gators’ hands in a 34-17 loss that derailed their playoff run and set them up with a mismatch in the state playoffs against eventual champion Valwood.
I wasn’t able to personally go to the game, as The Messenger recently brought on Gatewood senior Preston Brown to help us cover the Gators’ sports teams this school year. However, I spent a lot of time watching practices and talking with coaches, so I know what kind of situation this team is in.
Something was amiss about the Gators in this one; blocking on the offensive line wasn’t there, tackles weren’t made, special teams had issues and, arguably the biggest issue, five turnovers by the Gators ultimately accounted for 35 Trojan points on the night.
It was a rough night but, like I said last week about Putnam, Gatewood does not need to panic.
Yes, there were many issues that need to be addressed this week in practice, and only hard work and a desire to get better will resolve those issues. However, although the talent needed to be another great Gatewood team like it was the last two seasons is still present this year, there are still some hurdles that the Gators must jump over in order to return to their standard of excellence.
The Gators only returned a few starters from their absolutely loaded team last season, and many key players had to be replaced during the offseason. Particularly, the departure of the heart of Gatewood’s high-powered option offense – quarterback Reid Sasser and running back Brandon Belans – really left a void to be filled.
However, from what I’ve seen, Sasser’s successor Luke Haley is very capable, and the real kicker is that he is only a sophomore. Haley still has two more years to get used to being the man in charge but, at this very moment, he is shaping up to be a tremendous athlete in his own right.
As for the running game, the stable of John Decker, Walt Jarrett, Nash Sinclair and fullback Yale Stapp, for whom Gatewood head coach Jeff Ratliff had high praise during the offseason, is capable of doing great things this season. Despite issues with blocking, the offensive line also has a chance to get over several growing pains and develop into a stout force before season’s end.
Speaking of Ratliff, I know that he will have a plan in store to turn things around in the second week. I’ve spoken to him on many occasions and I know that he is not a coach who will take a loss like that lying down.
With a new challenge approaching in Trinity Christian-Dublin, the Gators will have a chance to redeem themselves against another challenging opponent. The Crusaders will enter the game with a solid quarterback, a very talented lineman who plays both sides of the ball and an option-based winged-t offense and multiple defensive fronts.
However, the Gators have plenty of talent and potential on their side, as well as strong leadership in their coaching staff. I don’t expect the Gators to have another result like this, and I know that Gatewood has a lot to prove this season and will return to its winning ways by the end of the season.
Don’t panic, Gatewood. There is still a lot of ball left to play, and anything can happen on any given Friday.