The state high school playoffs get underway for five Henry County football programs Friday with two at home and three on the road.
Ola and Eagle’s Landing Christian host first-round games — a new experience for one and an annual tradition for the other.
Ola (9-1) will play at home in the state playoffs for the first time in school history with a home game against Coffee (7-2) in Class AAAAA. The Mustangs, in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time, hope to add to their school-record nine wins, already having passed the previous mark of seven established by the 2019 team.
Ola, whose loss this season was a 38-35 thriller at Jones County that decided the Region 4-AAAAA title, has used a powerful running game to power its breakthrough season. The offense averages 291.4 rushing yards led by Micah Bell (1,034 yards, 11 touchdowns), quarterback Jake Hall (845 yards, 12 TDs) and Naziq Dahniya (422 yards, five TDs). Hall has been efficient in the passing game, completing 70 of 118 passes (59.3 percent) for 843 yards and 11 TDs. His top targets have been Jaden Barnes (30 catches, 318 yards, four TDs) and Freddie Felton (14 catches, 268 yards, three TDs).
The Mustangs defense has a whopping 31 sacks, led by Devin Lee (8), Chris Ramos (7) and Jabari Adams (6 1/2).
On the other hand, home playoff games have been the norm for years at ELCA (7-3), which opens up defense of its Class A Private state time with a home game against Aquinas (7-3). The Chargers have won the past five state championships, and have reached at least the Final Four every year since 2011.
They average 228.8 rushing yards with Josh Rogers (771 yards, 11 TDs), Philip Massengale (578 yards, seven TDs) and Brandon Hood (393 yards, five TDs) leading the way. Massengale has thrown for 747 yards and seven more scores.
Henry’s other three playoff-bound teams — Dutchtown, Luella and Union Grove — must travel for the first round.
In AAAAA, Dutchtown (6-4) heads to Ware County (8-1), while Union Grove (6-4) travels to Warner Robins (8-1), the state runner-up three years in a row. Ware’s only loss is 22-19 to Warner Robins.
Dutchtown won five straight games in region play before falling to region champion Jones County 21-13 in the regular-season finale. Union Grove closed the regular season with four straight victories after dropping its first three region games.
Luella (6-4) heads north to play Flowery Branch (8-2) in the AAAA first round. The Lions started 5-1 before losing three of their final four games. They are led by a ground game that averages almost 200 yards — James Jones (763 yards, five TDs) is the top rusher.