Baldwin High School’s 2019 homecoming isn’t until Oct. 18, but the Braves and their faithful fans will be celebrating a homecoming of sorts this Friday night when the football team plays its first home game since Aug. 30.
The four-game stretch of away games culminated in Baldwin (1-5) getting its first win of the season 40-14 against Greenbrier. Now after the team’s first of two scheduled bye weeks the Braves are preparing to kick off region play Friday against the Academy of Richmond County (ARC, sometimes referred to as Richmond Academy). This week’s matchup in Milledgeville also marks the start of Region 3-4A play for ARC. The Musketeers are 3-2 this season having played all their games in the Augusta area, one BHS head coach Jesse Hicks knows very well having played there himself.
The bye week was good to the Baldwin Braves, per their third-year head coach. The team enjoyed a week of work without an opponent to play Friday, and with the entire Baldwin County School District on fall break this week players’ minds can focus solely on the region foe.
“Last week was great,” Hicks said. “We’re probably about 90 percent healed, so that means everybody’s on board and ready to roll. Things are on the upswing right now. It’s been a real relaxed atmosphere with the bye last week and now no school this week. We got a lot of reps in, and I think we’re totally prepared to play this football team we’re about to play. Now it’s time to see if we can run the table and win this region again.”
The BHS head coach is of course referring to last season when his team began the year 0-5, got its first win in game six against Greenbrier, and then went undefeated through region play to finish the regular season at .500. While the tough schedule handed the 2019 Braves the exact same overall result as a year ago, those losses were — for the most part — more competitive ballgames than they were in 2018.
“It’s tough to go into venues like Warner Robins and play,” said Hicks, “but I really do think it gave our kids a lot of character.”
The ARC Musketeers have only played away from their home field once up to this point this season. Their most recent result came Friday in a 13-6 home win over Greenbrier, the same Greenbrier team Baldwin beat 40-14 before its bye week. Other ARC wins include a 3-0 decision over Westside of Augusta and a 19-0 victory over Midland Valley, a South Carolina school. Their losses came back-to-back against Evans (20-10) and Grovetown (13-7). The common thread in every Musketeer game is that they have all been low-scoring affairs with neither team getting past the 20-point mark. Hicks was quick to point out the fact that the ARC defense is only allowing a little over seven points per ballgame.
“Some of my coaches want to attribute that to their level of competition, but you’ve got to respect anybody that’s just giving up seven points a game,” Hicks said.
The Musketeers will line up in a 3-3 stack on defense, a scheme the Braves will see from every opponent through the remainder of the regular season. While the ARC defense has largely been shutting down opponents, the offense has yet to reach 20 points in a single game and only averages 10.4 points per contest. The film shows that the Musketeers will run two different quarterbacks onto the field based on what they want to do. Coach Hicks says No. 14 is the runner while No. 27 is more of a thrower. Identifying which one is behind center has been a focus on the practice field this week, something that could put the Baldwin defense a step ahead when it comes to stopping the ARC offense.
Every game up to this point has been a forge, shaping the BHS football team into what it could become. Now — with playoff seeding on the line from here on out — it’s time to see just how sharp the Braves are.
“Our team has to understand what the standard is, and that’s to put up a goose egg,” said Hicks. “We want to zero these guys, and offensively we don't want to make this game close. We want to be up at halftime so we can give everybody a chance to play. I think if our guys are locked in like they are at practice this week we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Kickoff between the Braves and Musketeers is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday in Milledgeville.