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Murphy: West Hall seizing its opportunity
Spartans looking for first playoff berth since 2002
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I can only imagine what the energy is like in the West Hall locker room right now.

After an 0-4 start to the season, it was shaping up to be more of the same for the Spartans, who have averaged three wins over the last five seasons, but are suddenly in a playoff race in Region 8-AAA after back-to-back subregion victories.

For a program that hasn't seen the playoffs since 2002 under then coach Tim Marchman, that's got to be the ultimate jolt of energy.

Three coaches have come and gone in Oakwood since then, but Mike Newton may finally have the right formula for the Spartans. And that's why playing a subregion schedule in Region 8-AAA may be a great idea.

The best teams in the region, like Gainesville and Stephens County (both 5-1 overall) are rightfully still almost a lock to make the playoffs no matter what the region format, but subregion play also gives a team like West Hall a chance to see if it can come up clutch down the stretch for a spot in the state tournament.

The key to this debate is by making it clear that playing a format that could give a team with a sub-.500 record a chance at the playoffs could only work in high school football.

We're not talking about trying to find the best teams for the Bowl Championship Series in Division I college football, or bestow the Lombardi Trophy to the NFL's best.

High school football is an entirely different animal. This is about keeping kids motivated to show up to practice every afternoon and play with a purpose.

And fans will continue to fill the seats on Friday nights, even for road games.

For West Hall, it probably needs to pull out a win Friday against Oconee County Friday in Watkinsville.

There's enough cushion between West Hall and the bottom three in the subregion (Walnut Grove, Johnson and Oconee County, all 0-2 currently in the subregion), that it would give the Spartans one of the top three spots in the subregion and a spot in a playoff-qualifier game on Nov. 4.

A win Friday would also give West Hall head-to-head advantage over all three of the above mentioned programs.

The final week of the regular season for West Hall against Gainesville at City Park on Oct. 28 should garner more interest inside the Spartans football program than any other season finale in a long time.

Even though the Red Elephants will be a considerable favorite to win that game, the Spartans could possibly be in a position to get in the region playoff without any help from other teams.

Or, maybe, even play for a spot in the region title game. Again, that's what's great about the way the subregion has shaped up in Region 8-AAA.

The clearly superior football programs will get to the playoffs, but it also rewards others a chance to make the playoffs based on performance in a handful of games.

West Hall doesn't have any chance of playing for a state title in the Georgia Dome, but a playoff spot hanging out there with its name on it is all the incentive in the world for these guys.

Bill Murphy is a sports writer for The Times. He can be reached at


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