The start wasn’t what coach Tony Dragon wanted, but he has no complaints about the finish.
After losing its first two games of the regular season, the Richmond Hill High School girls flag football team finished on a four-game winning streak and Dragon is counting on that momentum to carry over into the GHSA Class A-4A state playoffs.
The Lady Wildcats (6-4) open tournament play on Tuesday against Columbus (6-3) at Walnut Grove High School. Should Richmond Hill win, it will play later the same day against the winner of the Walnut Grove (8-1) vs. Therrell game.
Walnut Grove is the host team due to its No. 1 seeding as the Area 6 winner. The Wildcats are a No. 3 seed from Area 2 behind first-place St. Vincent’s Academy (9-1) and New Hampstead (8-3). The other playoff team from Area 2 is Effingham County.
In last year’s inaugural season, Richmond Hill advanced to the Final Four, and Dragon believes he has a team capable of repeating that run.
“One of the biggest differences from last year is we’ve been able to understand the complexities of what we’re doing,” Dragon said. “Last year we felt we needed to keep it simple. This year the playbook has expanded three times.”
The Wildcats were missing 12 players who were tied up playing softball when they opened the season with losses to Long County (10-2) and Southeast Bulloch (14-0).
After wins over Savannah Country Day and Effingham County, the Wildcats lost to SVA and New Hampstead before hitting their stride. In their last four games, they outscored their opponents 96-20.
“We were missing several key players at the start of the season,” Dragon said. “They were playing other sports and they weren’t able to practice when we were installing everything.
“I think looking at everything overall, we are only four or five plays away from having eight to nine wins. I feel good about where we are going into the playoffs.”
Twelve players on the roster, for example, played softball, including quarterback Lucy Tuttle and wide receivers Allie Washington and Kayla Ragins. With the softball team reaching the second round of the state playoffs, it necessitated a late start for them.
“Offensively we’re found our rhythm,” Dragon said. “We’re moving the ball really well now.
“Kayla (Jackson) has been strong running the ball and has been impressive,” Dragon said. “Lucy is throwing the ball really well and Allie is having a huge season.”
Tuttle, who excels as an outfielder in softball and last spring won the 800-meter run in the Region 2-6A meet, has thrown for nine touchdowns and rushed for another two.
Washington, an all-region shortstop/pitcher and the second-leading scorer on a 12-2 state playoff lacrosse team, has caught five touchdown passes, and Ragins has three.
Jackson, a speedy sophomore who is at her most dangerous in the open field, has 10 rushing touchdowns. Dragon said Alena Masis and Courtney Harwood have also been key offensive contributors in the Wildcats’ stretch run.
Defensively, Akira Webb leads the team with 18 flag pulls and Shannon Lacy has 14. Gabby Lawson and Ashley McGuire each have one interception.
“Ella Snider has also had a good year at linebacker,” Dragon said. “She missed all of last year with an injury, but she has made some big plays for us. Having her back has really helped our defense.
“I think our players are as good as anyone out there. We never take the field that I think the other team will have better athletes,” Dragon said. “We just have to go out there and make plays.
“More teams have jumped on board this year and the competition is getting better. It’s way better than last year. St. Vincent’s, Long County, New Hampstead and Southeast Bulloch are all solid teams.”
As an indication of how the sport is growing, last year 87 schools fielded teams. This year, 175 had teams with the lifting of COVID sanctions by many school systems. Last year, there were two divisions (5-6A and A-4A) but a 7A classification has now been added.