Game: Christian Heritage (4-0, 1-0) at No. 3 Darlington (5-0, 2-0)
Last meeting: Darlington 24, Christian Heritage 21 (Sept. 28, 2018)
All-time series: Darlington leads 6-0
On the air: WLAQ-AM 1410, FM 96.9
The Darlington football team has come this far in the season with an extra boost compared to last season.
Last week’s 38-0 win over Mt. Zion-Carroll ended a streak of three straight years where they Tigers had come up short to the Eagles. It also gave Darlington’s defense it’s second shutout of the season and fourth where they’ve held an opponent to a touchdown or less.
But the season’s just half done. And there are plenty of obstacles in the Tigers’ way, beginning Friday with 4-0 Christian Heritage team visiting Chris Hunter Stadium in a Region 6-A/A showdown.
“They are a physical football team on both sides of the ball, and it will be a tremendous challenge for us,” Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said, going so far as to make a prediction.
“It’s going to be a 48-minute nail-biter.”
The No. 3-ranked Tigers have reaped the benefits of stability and consistency this season after relying on toughness and determination last season when they advanced to the Class A Private state quarterfinals.
“I think we’re a little more mature of a football team than we were this time last year,” Atha said. “Practice is a little more intense. Everybody is working when we’re out there. There’s not a lot of wasted time. Everybody believes in what we’re doing, and there’s a lot of enthusiasm right now.”
Several players have been playmakers for the Tigers this season, including running back Kolin Rogers and receiver Trystin Wright. But having quarterback Griffin Brewster back behind center has allowed Darlington to open up its passing game to a level they never got to experiment with last year after the senior was injured and missed most of the season.
“We’re just a different football team. No question,” Atha said. “Our passing game is different, but we still have a quick game and the ability to run the ball when we need to.”
Brewster was nearly perfect against Mt. Zion last week, going 17 of 18 for 182 yards and three touchdowns, while Rogers ran for 111 yards and another score.
“I was really pleased with the way we played. We were very focused and came out and played with a purpose and executed very well,” Atha said, adding that they’re not ready to claim perfection yet. “We still feel like we’ve got a lot of improving to do and we continue to have chances to become a better football team.”
Christian Heritage has yet to beat Darlington in its program’s short history, but the two teams have had some close contests over the years, including last season in Dalton.
Darlington was down 21-16 in the fourth quarter when Frank Manning threw an 18-yard TD to Casey Gunn for what turned out to be the final score in a 24-21 win for the Tigers.
“Their kids are coached up and play great technique and play tremendously hard,” Atha said. “When you do that and know what your doing, it makes you a good team. That’s been the situation with them. We knew it would be tough game last year, and we don’t expect anything different this year.”
The two teams are close in the current GHSA Class A Private Power Ratings as well. Darlington is at No. 4, while Christian Heritage is No. 5.
— Jeremy Stewart