Banks County could have gotten frustrated after losing its first two Region 7-AAA games by a total of eight points.
Instead, the Leopards bounced back to hand Lumpkin County its first region defeat, 49-46, in an offensive shootout in Dahlonega on Friday.
The player at the controls of the offense, sophomore quarterback Griffin Goodwin, had his best outing yet in that triumph. Goodwin passed for 230 yards and three touchdowns while running for a fourth score.
Banks County head coach Biff Parson, a former quarterback himself for Liberty University, likes what he has seen this season from his young signal-caller. Goodwin started the final four games of his freshman campaign in 2013, when the Leopards finished 0-10.
“He’s going to get us in the right play,” Parson said. “He’s a very heady quarterback. He’s still developing his tools and skills. He’s going to be a good one for us.
“He gave our receivers a chance to make plays. He gave our running backs a chance to make plays. They did.”
Goodwin credits his receivers, running backs, offensive line and coaches for helping him lift his game. In particular, he said new offensive coordinator Theo Caldwell and Parson have put the players in position to be successful in the transition from a pro style system to a spread offense. Goodwin said having a variety of offensive weapons was crucial in capitalizing on offensive chances in such a high-scoring affair.
“We were pretty efficient by moving the ball around,” Goodwin said.
Even though Parson has plenty of responsibilities as head coach, Goodwin said his coach always has time to give him input. The coach also still has the physical tools to show his quarterback how to do what he’s asking him to do.
But for a team following a winless season by already winning four of its first seven games, Goodwin said Parson’s intangible impact may be the most important.
“He put in our mind that we have to fight and we’re going to be the underdog,” Goodwin said. “But we’ve got to show them who we are and make them see how good Banks County can be.”
Following the coaching staff’s lead, Goodwin and his teammates committed themselves to the necessary hard work in the offseason, and they made a commitment to vigorously chasing improvement.
“We decided that this was going to be a better year for us,” Goodwin said. “We were going to turn this program around.”
Goodwin points to the team’s senior leadership as vital in the turnaround. At 4-3 overall and 1-2 in Region 7-AAA after a victory against a Lumpkin County team that started 3-0 in region play, the Leopards are squarely in the race for one of the region’s four playoff spots.
“It has put a buzz in the air in the community in Banks County,” Parson said. “People are talking playoffs, which hasn’t happened in a while. You have to keep your team focused.”
That focus for Parson and his players is squarely on Dawson County, which comes to Homer on Friday. The Tigers (1-6, 1-3 Region 7-AAA) have been much improved since scoring a total of 16 points in their 0-4 start. They’re 1-2 the last three weeks while averaging more than 27 points per contest.
Parson said Goodwin’s “strength is his mind.” The coach has become accustomed to Goodwin asking for advice from him and Caldwell at halftime. A night like Friday, with such strong numbers, can’t help but make an impact.
“He’s starting to gain the trust and confidence of his teammates,” Parson said.
With its three losses this year coming by a total of 15 points, it would be easy for Banks County to look back and wonder what could have been. But with the enticing possibility of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2011 still looming, the Leopards don’t have much time for such thoughts.
“Our guys have been resilient all year, the character of not quitting and playing for four quarters,” Parson said.
Goodwin notes the tough breaks in early losses and notes that the Leopards could be 6-1 or 7-0 with a few more breaks. But he acknowledges “the plays didn’t fall that way.”
“The only thing we can keep doing is have faith in each other and faith in our coaches and keep playing,” Goodwin said.
After all, with the way they’ve started, there’s still plenty at stake. The victory at Lumpkin County gave the team an infusion of confidence, serving as a breakout performance that cemented the belief the players have held all along. Now they can realistically imagine the possibility of the postseason.
“It gives us that vision of going to the playoffs and really accomplishing that goal that we’ve had from Day 1,” Goodwin said.