On an information sheet Harris County High football coach Tommy Parks filled out before the season began, under strengths he wrote, "team unity."
He knew the Tigers would be inexperienced as only six starters returned on offense and four on defense. And he knew they would take some lumps early in the season, although just how many might have been a surprise.
Four games into the season, Parks and the Tigers were staring at a record of zero wins and four losses.
That is enough to tear about any team. But Parks knew that wouldn't happen to this team.
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"I knew coming into the season, that more than half of the starters would be first-time starters, so we knew there would be a lot of mistakes early," Parks said Saturday. "But the kids stayed positive. This is a great group of kids who are friends off the field as well."
The coaching staff played a role in keeping the team from fracturing.
"We let them know we believed in them," Parks said, "and we took some of the blame as well. We changed some coaches and changed the scheme."
That team unity paid off Friday night when the Tigers stunned No. 4 Thomas County Central 18-12 in Thomasville to win the Region 1-AAAAA championship.
"We have the same 74 kids that we had in locker room when we were 0-4," Parks said. "It would have been easy for those kids to give up, but they persevered and hung in there. I have never coached a team
that had more of a team concept -- a family."
The Tigers faced the possibility of going 0-5 when they trailed Douglas County by 16 with about 6 minutes to play. But they rallied to win in overtime.
"We had played hard and lost to Callaway 24-21 the week before," Parks said. "We really feel good about these kids."
The turnaround came just in time to begin region play the next week against Bainbridge. A win against the Bearcats was followed by wins over Northside, Lee County and Hardaway to set up Friday night's region title game.
"It really helped that region play started so late," Parks said. "We kept telling them that you can lose every non-region game and still win the region, so that goal was still in hand.
"Sometimes when you are in a region where play starts Week 3, you can lose a couple of games and your fate is kind of sealed."
Against Thomas County Central, which some thought might win by as many as 30 points, the Tigers used their superior speed to great advantage.
Esaias Chapman scored a touchdown late in the second quarter, and the Tigers trailed 9-7 at halftime.
DiQuan Roberts scored the game-winning touchdown with 3:23 left to give the Tigers the 18-12 lead.
Then sophomore Jaborie Partridge intercepted a pass to seal the win with less than a minute to play.
It is the first region title in the more than 50 years Harris County has been playing football. Even more remarkable is how poor this program has been for most of that time. The Tigers are an astounding 194 games under .500 (182-376-6). Think about that: they would have to go 15-0 for the next 13 seasons just to reach .500.
Parks has changed all that. He is 43-50 in his ninth season. Records are incomplete on the Georgia High School Football Historians website, but it is almost a sure thing that he is the school's all-time winningest coach.
Win or lose against TCC, the Tigers had already assured themselves of hosting a playoff game for the first time. The Tigers' previous best finish in a region was third.
The Tigers had to wait until Saturday night to find out the identity of their first-round opponent. Northgate played at Mundy's Mill in a Region 4 play-in game. The winner will be the Tigers' opponent on Friday.
-- Chuck Crouch contributed to this report.
Kevin Price, 706-320-4493, firstname.lastname@example.org