Heard County fights back to big Mercedez-Benz Stadium game
Today is the day that Rockmart and Heard County square off in the Mercedez-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with one prize on the line: the 2018 GHSA Class AA Football State Championship.
The two teams met in Week 3 of the regular season with Rockmart winning 33-0 after inclement weather at halftime forced Heard County to forfeit the matchup.
Despite the Braves starting off 1-2, they have rallied and won their last 11 games and will enter Mercedez-Benz Stadium as the second ranked team in the state in Class AA, facing off against the top-ranked squad, the 14-0 Rockmart Yellow Jackets.
Heard County had a rough go of things in their opening few games of the season: they barely defeated LaGrange 10-3 in overtime on opening weekend, fell to Hapeville Charter 33-3 at home, and then were heavily defeated by the aforementioned Yellow Jackets at the Rock.
However Braves Head Coach Tim Barron will be the first one to tell you that these tough early-season games helped his players tremendously.
“You play tough teams like Rockmart in the non-region games so that if there are issues, they get identified. Had we played a softer schedule, we wouldn’t be where we are at now. After the Rockmart loss, we looked at ourselves really closely and began the process of getting things right.
“It didn’t happen in just one game; it was a continuous process throughout the season. As coaches you can see problems in the areas of your scheme and personnel but the only ones who can truly fix it are the kids,” he said. “They had a strong desire to get it back on track. The kids are the ones who have made the big improvements. Most of these improvements really came in how they prepared Monday through Thursday. You take care of those days and then Fridays will take care of themselves.”
Barron definitely knows how to resolve issues for the Braves program. He accepted the position as head coach in Franklin prior to the 2002 season.
The previous two years, the Braves were 1-19. Since 2002, the tides have most definitely turned in favor of Heard County as Coach Barron has boasted a 14159 record, matched with seven region titles in his 17 seasons at the helm. Despite his success over the years and the numerous big victories, none will matter more than the one on Wednesday: it will be Heard County’s first state finals appearance in school history.
As far as keys to the game for the Braves, it starts on defense: “We have to get some stops on defense. They are explosive on offense and can score on any play. You don’t shut down an offense like Rockmart’s. You can only hope to slow them down some. Additionally, on offense, we need long drives and we need to finish those drives. The longer we have the ball, the less time their explosive offense is on the field.”
He also added that they needed to “try to avoid big plays from (Rockmart’s) return game.”
Needless to say, Heard County has obviously improved in multiple assets of their game since their defeat at the hands of the Yellow Jackets back on Sept. 7.
“As far as big improvements for the Braves, the biggest and most notable improvement has been the improvement of quarterback Alijiah Huzzie,” Barron said. “As a backup for three years to former quarterback (and current Florida Gator) Emory Jones, Alijiah didn’t get much experience. We knew he was going to be special but he needed the experience. His QB play has improved every week and therefore, we have improved offensively.”
Along with that, their defense has come together as a unit and made opposing offenses struggle all season. After the loss to Rockmart, the most points the Braves allowed to an opponent all regular season was 14, as they defeated Lamar County 40-14 on Oct. 26.
The offense found ways to win tight games all season long, explaining their 13-10 victory over Callaway, their 20-7 win at Bremen on Nov. 2, and their triumph in last week’s semifinal classic, defeating Fitzgerald 38-30 in overtime.
The Braves squad includes one of the top athletes in the entire state of Georgia in Aaron Beasley, a three-star Safety commit to the University of Tennessee. Beasley plays running back and free safety for Coach Tim Barron. Another Division 1 commit from Heard County is defensive lineman Zaylin Wood, a Temple commit. Other Braves, such as quarterback Alijiah Huzzie, defensive lineman Trey Owens, and linebacker Andrew Leak have garnered interest from colleges such as Georgia State and Charleston Southern.
Will Rockmart win their first state championship since 1950? Will Heard County pull off the upset and walk away victorious in their first state title appearance?
These questions will all be answered this afternoon. Kickoff for the game is slated for 1 p.m., and the game will be televised on Georgia Public Broadcasting Television.