MOUNT AIRY — Habersham Central football coach Gene Cathcart is not fond of Region 8-AAAA’s playoff seeding system — but you won’t hear him complaining too loudly these days.
After all, the Raiders (9-1, 6-0 Region 8A-AAAA) clinched a share of their second-consecutive region title on Friday night with a 28-0 win over Heritage (3-7, 1-4 Region 8B-AAAA).
"I’m so proud of our guys and our team," Cathcart said. "We had to adjust to what we had this season versus last season. And we did what we had to do to get back into the playoffs."
That meant avoiding a letdown on Friday in a game that, had they lost, would have knocked the Raiders — tied for best region record with Salem — completely out of the playoffs.
The victory also ensured that the Raiders will get to play host to a first-round state playoff game next week against Marist.
"We think we’re going to be playing Marist," Cathcart said just after the game. "Marist has been where we want to go. They’ve played for state titles. And if you go back, there’s been some historic battles between Habersham and Marist.
"When you think of Marist you think of great football and a great winning tradition. We hope that when people think of Habersham football, we can get them to think of the same things."
The Raiders certainly took a step toward that goal with Friday’s victory, dominating a talented Heritage team early before cruising to a comfortable win.
Habersham scored on three of its first four possessions, including a 9-yard touchdown run from quarterback Bo Hatchett on the game’s opening drive. Raider running back Robert Renshaw also added two short scoring runs to give Habersham a commanding 21-0 halftime advantage.
And while Heritage kept Habersham’s star receiver, Tavarres King, out of the end zone, the University of Georgia commitment made up for it with five catches for 85 yards in the first half and a 16-yard gain on a reverse.
"This was the first time all season we got genuine double coverage on Tavarres," Cathcart said. "They kept two guys on him all night. But you’ve still got to get him his touches."
Even when his hands weren’t on the ball, King opened up space for Habersham’s other playmakers, as Hatchett connected with six different receivers. The senior quarterback finished the night with 160 yards on 12 completions, a perfect complement to the Raiders’ 181 yards rushing.
"Bo just takes what he’s given," Cathcart said. "He’s done a great job of that all season. We don’t want to limit ourselves to just one option, and we’ve shown that we’re not one-dimensional."
Meanwhile, Heritage might have been happy for one dimension. The Raiders’ defense stifled the visitors, allowing just 156 total yards and eight first downs. Habersham also forced three turnovers and held Heritage to turnovers on downs on three occasions.
Habersham Central 28, Heritage 0
Heritage 0 0 0 0—0
Hab. Central 14 7 7 0—28
HAB—Hatchett 9 run (Hulsey kick)
HAB—Renshaw 3 run (Hulsey kick)
HAB—Renshaw 1 run (Hulsey kick)
HAB—Chitwood 2 run (Husley kick)
First downs 8 21
Rushes-yards 22-53 43-181
Passing 9-29-2 12-21-0
Passing yards 103 160
Total yards 156 341
Penalties 11-78 11-100
Punts-avg. 5-27.4 4-26.75
Fumbles 3 3
Rushing: Heritage, Parker 4-54, Cheek 4-7; Habersham, Renshaw 16-80, Chitwood 11-83, King 2-22.
Passing: Heritage, Seabolt 9-29-2, 103; Habersham, Hatchett 12-21-0, 160.
Receiving: Heritage, Peters 5-33, Hunter 2-34, Jones 1-30, Jones 1-6; Habersham, King 5-85, Walters 2-25, Anderson 2-18, Scott 1-19, Ellison 1-12, Chitwood 1-1.