LUDOWICI -- There has been history made not once, but twice on the gridiron for the Long County Blue Tide in 2021. Earlier this year, the Blue Tide boys’ football team played in the postseason for the first time in team history and next week, the girls’ flag football team will do the same.
What may be even more special about the Lady Tide flag football team is that they started their team this season. This is just the second GHSA flag football season ever and the team finished the year 10-2 and 7-1 in the region.
Head coach Paul Austin stepped away from coaching football on Friday nights after spending the 2020 season as the Blue Tide’s offensive coordinator. Initially, he said he made the decision to step away to “pursue shark research during the summers” and also noted that “the coaching drive was gone.”
However, after being giving the opportunity to lead the first ever flag football team at Long County and meeting girls that would lead his team, he fell back in love with coaching on the gridiron.
“This year has been so much fun for me,” Austin said. “These girls have taught me a lot. They are so coachable and eager to learn...This team and this sport created a new coaching spirit in me. These girls have no clue how much of an impact they’ve had on my life as a coach. Don’t get me wrong, the games and wins are awesome, but the practices are just as special to me because these kids are so special to coach.”
In the team’s 10 wins, they outscored their opponents 288-24 and recorded eight shutouts. The team was at one point ranked third in the state and sixth in the nation.
The team is led by sophomore quarterback Kyleigh Sizemore, who on the year threw for 1,340 yards and 33 touchdowns against no interceptions. Sizemore’s favorite target, Amiyah Simpkins - another sophomore - recorded 585 yards and 17 touchdowns on 30 catches.
Both Sizemore and Simpkins led the region in passing and receiving yards. Austin had nothing but good things to say about all his players putting in the necessary work to be successful every day.
“All of the success this team has had points to these amazing girls,” he said. “From day one these girls have shown up ready to work...They are amazing athletes and are truly talented, but they work every day to be elite. They focus on their job and trust the others will do theirs.”
The team’s only losses came against Southeast Bulloch and Calvary Day, two undefeated region champions. The Cavaliers are the defending state champions who have yet to lose a game in their two-year history.
The Tide wrapped up their regular season on Wednesday, Nov. 17 with two wins over Beach and Johnson and have since known their fate in the first round of the state playoffs.
This led to a new challenge for the Lady Tide: preparing for the playoffs during a school holiday. This is obviously something new to Austin and the team, but they have had to adjust regardless and know they are not alone.
“It is definitely a challenge. Most of my girls are out of town with family,” Austin said. “We have a couple days planned to get together...I’m sure other teams are having the same issues.”
Despite the team finishing second in the region, the Lady Tide will not get a home game in the first round of the state playoffs. The GHSA has it set up where each region champion hosts the first and second round.
The Lady Tide drew the Swainsboro Tigers in the first round and will travel to the host one seed Hebron Christian Academy for the first-round game.
“Swainsboro is athletic,” Austin said. “They run the ball well. We will have to get our offense going early to control the clock. It should be a good game.”
The Tigers finished 5-2 and 3-2 in Area 3 play, good enough to earn them the number three seed. In their five wins, they earned three shutouts and outscored opponents 121-25.
JaMia Smith seems to be their do-it-all player as she is one the team’s top receivers and leads the team in tackles and sacks.
The Tide will travel to Dacula for the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday, Nov. 30 with a start time of 5:00. With a win, the team would play the winner of host Hebron Christian Academy and Shaw on the same day.