Back in mid-September, Rockdale coach Mike Etheridge said he thought his Bulldogs team was the county's best.
It seemed to be a peculiar statement at the time, with Rockdale sitting at 1-2 after losses to both Salem and Heritage. More than a month later, it looks like Etheridge might've been on to something.
Following last week's trouncing of Winder-Barrow, the Bulldogs' third consecutive victory, Etheridge's bunch is 4-3 and has a realistic shot at grabbing Region 8-AAAA's No. 2 seed.
The playoff push began with an overtime victory over Clarke Central, a game ahead of Rockdale in the standings, on the first Friday in October. The hot stretch continued the
following week with a shutout win over Cedar Shoals before last week's 40-14 victory.
Etheridge wasn't positive, but he thinks the 2009 Bulldogs are the first team in school history to beat both Clarke Central and Cedar Shoals in the same season.
"I think that's the first time Rockdale has beaten Cedar and Clarke in the same year, I'm not sure," Etheridge said. "I really don't know that that's been done by a Rockdale team. I think (the Clarke win) really got our kids to realize we are good. I know Cedar got beat pretty good by Salem last week (but) I still think they were big wins for our program."
After the big wins over the Athens schools, some might have predicted a letdown with struggling Winder coming to town. No such luck.
The Bulldogs used a familiar formula - a dominant rushing attack (386 yards, 6.6 per carry) and a defense that looks to be one of the region's best. The combination should make for an interesting final month of the regular season with games against Habersham Central (4-4, half game behind Rockdale) and Loganville (tied with Rockdale at 4-3 and averaging 33.8 points per game) preceding the season finale against winless Monroe Area.
First things first: Today's nearly three-hour trip to Habersham.
"We're going to have a hard trip; any time you got to make a 21/2 hour trip it's always tough, (and) Hab's got a good football team," Etheridge said. "The big thing is just to keep everybody well, that's the biggest thing and ... realize how important every game is. Hopefully we've got a good plan to get there (and) when we step off the bus we'll be ready to play."
Etheridge also knows his team could be in even better shape if not for a pair of lost leads to Salem and Heritage, and a little more offense in a six-point loss to undefeated region front-runner Apalachee. The three losses have been by a combined 17 points.
"If we hadn't blown the second or third game we'd be in ideal shape right now, but we're not, so we got to take it from here," Etheridge said. "We struggled a little bit, but after that we got on a roll. We just got to keep playing good."
SideBar: Rockdale at habersham
· Who: Rockdale Bulldogs (4-3) at Habersham Central Raiders (4-4)
· Where: Raider Stadium
· When: 7:30 p.m. today
· Last week: Rockdale defeated Winder-Barrow 40-14; Habersham Central defeated Monroe Area 24-20
· Series: Habersham Central leads 6-1
· Last season: Habersham Central won 6-0