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PREP FOOTBALL: Despite first round playoff loss to Coffee, Ola football’s future looks bright

Junior running back Micah Bell (27) is one of several key returning pieces in 2021 that give Ola football coach Jared Zito optimism for an encore performance next year. | PHOTO: Jeff Hurndon Photography

By Darren Nichols

McDONOUGH, Ga.—The Ola Mustangs’ magical season came to an end with a very disappointing 31-7 loss to the Coffee Trojans Friday night in the first round of the GHSA Class 5A state playoffs. 

Coming in, Ola and Coffee boasted offenses accustomed to scoring points, with the Mustangs averaging 38.3 points per game and Trojans coming in scoring 34.2 points per contest. The first half was a defensive slugfest, with seven forced punts. Although there wasn’t much scoring in the first half, it was a clean game from both teams as far as penalties and turnovers. 

Despite the score, the game was a lot closer and hard-fought than one may think. The Mustangs’ defense held firm throughout, only allowing seven points through the first three quarters. The only first half touchdown by the Trojans came when Maurice Turner scored on a 2-yard rush that was quickly matched in the next Mustangs’ drive with a 47-yard run by Jaden Barnes, tying the game at 7-7 at halftime.  

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter, that Coffee’s stalwart offensive line eventually wore down the Ola’s defense, and Turner took advantage by scoring three rushing touchdowns, and Ola had no answer. 

Despite the disappointing loss, Ola head coach Jared Zito didn’t let the disappointment take away from how special this team and season was. This is Zito’s seventh season as head coach, and to his credit, the school saw its first ever playoff game in 2016. And prior to this season’s 9-2 mark, his best record at the school was 7-4. Before he showed up to Ola, the Mustangs never finished better than 4-6. 

“At the end of the day, this is the best football team that Ola High School has ever had,” Zito said. “(You) can’t take away nine wins, and a region runner up after one night. I am extremely proud of them, so happy for them. This is bigger than us and about our school and our community.”  

Zito and his Ola program have shown steady improvement despite some ups and downs since taking over the program, starting at four wins, then five, then six. After having an off year in 2018 with a record of 1-9 finish, Ola bounced back with a 7-4 mark and the school’s staff and players bought into Zito’s system. Zito, himself, kept believing and keeping the faith in the coaches and players around him, which is why he doesn’t want the spotlight on himself. 

“This (success) isn’t about me, this is about our team,” he said. “It takes so many people. The only thing that I try to do is bring people together. At the end of the day, you have to have good players, coaches, parent support. So this is definitely not about me.”

Don’t be surprised to see Ola back in a similar place next season. Although the Mustangs will lose 20 seniors, including what Zito called “bigger named guys” such as Legend Doggett who recorded three interceptions and eight pass breakups, and Nelson Kinsey who was one of the anchors of Ola’s offensive line. 

But the junior class with quarterback Jake Hall who passed for 843 yards and ran for another 845 with 24 total touchdowns and tailback Micah Bell (1,175 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns) is promising. Ola’s also got one of the state’s top place kickers returning next year in Chase Folser.

“Not only did we have a lot of juniors playing for us this year, what a lot of folks didn’t realize is we had five 10th graders that started for us on Friday night’s too,” Zito said. “So this isn’t a deal where you look at this season and see it’s a senior-laden team and that when they graduate this success is over and gone. It’s kind of like, let’s churn out another good class on top of this one. That’s how the Bufords and some of these other top programs build. The younger guys take the torch and run.” 

It’s for this reason that Ola’s fans should have a positive outlook on the program’s future, knowing that the best is, perhaps, yet to come.

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Gabriel Stovall

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