Less than three minutes into their key Oct. 29 football game with Peachtree Ridge, visiting Mill Creek already trailed 7-0 against one of the area’s best defenses.
The Hawks, in their seventh season of football, were at a major crossroads.
Would they suffer another loss, one that would kill their playoff hopes, to a Region 7-AAAAA frontrunner? Or would they get one of the biggest wins in school history?
They chose the latter. A score midway through the third quarter tied it, then John Russ hit Cody Rediger for a 44-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 1:38 left in the fourth quarter.
In that instant, Mill Creek’s coaches noticed a change in their players. They were tired of losing. Tired of mediocrity.
“Our kids started believing in themselves, period,” Hawks head coach Shannon Jarvis said. “That’s when it happened, that touchdown pass at the end of the Peachtree Ridge game. Everything changed right then. Our kids haven’t looked back since. We got down at Duluth at halftime (the next week) and I didn’t have to say a word. I could already tell how we were going to play in the second half.”
They outscored Duluth 21-3 in the second half, clinching the second playoff berth in school history. Their road warrior ways have continued in the playoffs, with back-to-back wins (the first postseason wins in school history) over Region 5-AAAAA champion Etowah and 8-AAAAA runner-up South Gwinnett. The journey continues to Moultrie Friday, when Mill Creek (7-5) faces Colquitt County in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals.
The enjoyable run has announced the Hawks’ football program as a player on the state level, a satisfying reward for a high school that had been known for its athletic success predominantly on the girls side.
The Hawks’ display case has five state championship trophies, two in girls golf, two in cheerleading and one in fastpitch softball. That doesn’t factor in a powerhouse girls basketball team that also regularly makes deep runs in the state playoffs.
Now the football program is making believers around the state with its historic, first-ever playoff success.
“Right now we’re so engrossed in going to practice and the next game, we don’t think too much about (the accomplishment),” Jarvis said. “It’s something we can look back on in February. Right now we’re trying to take this as far as we can. There’s not a kid on this team who doesn’t think we can win this game. We expect to go down there and play well. This is not a time to reflect. I’m not ready to do that yet.”
When that time comes, Jarvis’ satisfaction will only grow.
He’ll remember his first team from 2004, full of effort but not overflowing with talent. His next two teams built up to the 2007 state playoff team. What followed were two solid seasons, but youth and injuries kept the Hawks from a playoff berth in 7-AAAAA, one of the state’s toughest regions.
This year’s team has a different feel, that Jarvis and his coaches can sense. It has the right mix of veterans and youth, and most importantly, the desire.
That attitude has thrust Mill Creek into the statewide limelight, just three wins from a state title.
“We could instill the work ethic, the schemes, and we did (from the beginning),” Jarvis said. “But as far as that belief in themselves, you can’t give that to them. They have to get it. And once a team gets that, it can be a very dangerous team. And right now we feel like we’re a dangerous team.”