The Darlington Tigers enter the second round of the playoffs with four losses to their name and are traveling across the state to play one of the top-ranked Class A Private teams.
And yet coach Tommy Atha was calm at practice on Tuesday. Because, as he points out, when a team has made it this far, it’s capable of beating anyone.
The Tigers take on Aquinas this Friday night in Augusta looking to make the quarterfinals for the first time since 2013. To do that, Darlington needs the execution it’s possessed in its best moments of the season.
“Everybody is going to be good this time of year,” Atha said. “When you get past the first round, everyone is good and you just have to be at your own best. Just control the things you can control.”
It’s the second straight season Darlington has made it to the second round of the Class A Private playoffs. Last season, the Tigers came up a point short in a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to Landmark Christian in the round of 16.
Awaiting the Tigers in Augusta is a powerful Aquinas team that has allowed more than 15 points only twice all season. The Fightin’ Irish have posted wins against Stratford Academy, Washington-Wilkes and Savannah Country Day through a brutal schedule.
But Atha believes his team is trained for not only the competition, but the traveling. Darlington is known for going long distances and playing tough opponents in its non-region slate, a practice that comes in handy when November rolls around.
“Our kids are more than use to traveling,” Atha said. “We’ve played in out-of-state games in past years, and we’ve gone on the road for the playoffs before. It’s just a matter of making sure everything is organized and stays on schedule.”
In between that traveling, Darlington has been up and down when it comes to finding its team’s potential. Whether it is injuries, late-game miscues or a schedule full of playoff-bound teams, the Tigers have taken time to find their groove.
Darlington certainly showed improvement last week in a 26-3 win in the first round against Mount de Sales, it’s fourth largest win of the season. Senior running back Tijai Whatley, back from an injury the week before, recorded 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
With players like Whatley fully healthy and a win behind them, Atha is ready to see how his team responds to the game.
“We always talk about being our best entering November, and I certainly think we are,” Atha said. “Our execution has been excellent on both sides of the ball. The defense has been out of its mind, and when you have a good defense you’re always going to be in a game.”
Note: Tickets for all second round games are $10 per person. Rome High will be selling tickets for the Wolves’ game against Southwest DeKalb at Barron Stadium on Thursday and Friday from noon to 2 p.m.