Gainesville vs. Alexander
North Hall at Sandy Creek
No. 3 Buford vs. Fayette County
Dawson County vs. Ringgold
East Hall vs. Sonoraville
West Hall at No. 1 Calhoun
Jefferson vs. Pepperell
Being the eternal optimist, West Hall football coach Tony Lotti never wavered in his team’s ability to rebound from where it sat at 2-5, with only three games left in the schedule.
And making the postseason? Sure, even though it would take a little help for the Spartans (5-5) to make the playoffs for the third time in Lotti’s four seasons as coach in Oakwood.
“At the time, I said that’s where my heart is, so that’s where I choose to keep my mind,” Lotti said, referring to his confidence in his program, despite starting 0-3 in Region 7-AAA play.
Slowly but surely, the pieces started to fall into place for West Hall. And with three wins to wrap up the regular season, that 3-3 region mark was enough to get into the state tournament as the No. 4 seed out of Region 7-AAA.
On Friday, West Hall opens the postseason against top-ranked and undefeated Calhoun (10-0) at Phil Reeve Stadium in Gordon County. The Yellow Jackets have not lost since the 2013 Class AA state title game against Benedictine Military.
West Hall’s regular season was essentially saved when senior Cesar Villa came on the field and drilled a 50-yard field goal — his first of the season — near the end of regulation against Fannin County on Oct. 23.
The kick tied the score at 27-all in the final minute, and the Spartans battled successfully to win 40-37 in double-overtime on the road.
After that wildly-emotional victory, the Spartans would not be denied. The following week, West Hall came out on top against Banks County, 27-21, then beat Lumpkin County 14-7 to round out the regular season last Friday in Dahlonega.
And the part about needing help to get into the postseason? The Spartans got just what they needed when Franklin County topped Fannin County on the final night on the regular season, one of the scenarios coupled with a victory by West Hall that earned it the playoff berth.
Waiting for about 20 minutes after the win at Lumpkin County, Lotti got the news that West Hall was headed for the playoffs when the school’s principal, Scott Justus, ran up and delivered the good news.
Coming off a region title in 2014, West Hall’s seniors feel equally satisfied by grinding out an up-and-down regular season to get back to the postseason this season. Spartans running back Kwon Williams said that after beating Lumpkin County, the entire team raced off to the locker room to check for game updates of other games around 7-AAA on their cell phones.
According to Williams, the entire team broke out in spontaneous celebration once it registered that the season would continue into the state tournament.
“It feels amazing to know we’re going back to the playoffs,” said Williams, who had an interception return for a touchdown to take the lead against Banks County. “We never lost faith.”
Before boarding the buses home, Lotti was able to belt out loud his favorite words at the end of the regular season: “I’ll see you at practice on Monday.”
Despite winning three games at the end of the season, none of the playoff chatter would be possible had Villa, only in his second year of playing football, not stepped in and booted that long field goal that had plenty to spare after it split the uprights. Even though it was his first field goal since a preseason scrimmage, Villa had made one as long as 62 in practice.
With 43 seconds left on the game clock, Lotti called on Villa to keep the game against Fannin County alive — and also any chance of making the postseason.
Villa said his first concern was making the kick, but he also knew that the Spartans had to have it to keep making the postseason mathematically possible. Villa said as soon as he heard the ‘pop’ off his foot, he knew the kick was good.
The long field goal was posted to hudl.com on his page. Villa, who also is a talented goalkeeper for the soccer program, said he would love to kick in college playing football. He credits much of his personal development and success as a team to Lotti’s positive influence.
“Coach Lotti has been great to us,” said Villa.
Interestingly enough, Villa pointed out it was Calhoun that West Hall defeated for the Class AAA boys soccer state championship last season in Macon.
Calhoun, possibly the most successful football program in recent years out of Northwest Georgia, scored 50-or-more points six times during the regular season in 2015. The Yellow Jackets won state titles in 2011 and 2014.