The year 2016 was another great year in sports for the Golden Isles. From championship runs to individual exploits — with a hurricane thrown in for good measure — the year brought a lot of excitement and stellar play to the fields, courts and links around Coastal Georgia.
The News has compiled a list of the Top 10 sports moments of the year as we look back on 2016 and look forward to a new year.
1. Classic Monday
In its young history, the RSM Classic has already proven its penchant for a dramatic finish. But the seventh edition of the PGA Tour event on Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside and Plantation courses found a new way to add drama in November.
The leaderboard was a jumbled mess during Sunday’s final round with five players — Mackenzie Hughes, Camilo Villegas, Blayne Barber, Henrik Norlander and Billy Horschel — tied at 17-under with 72 holes completed. Darkness crept in as the quintet returned to the 18th tee for the sudden-death playoff.
Horschel was eliminated on the first playoff hole after his par putt failed to find the bottom of the cup. Four more pars on the second attempt at 18 still meant a gridlock at the top of the leaderboard. With the ability to see more three feet in front of your face compromised by the lack of light, four golfers would return Monday morning for the Classic’s first ever Monday playoff finish.
That Monday morning felt like it took place at a different tournament. The mild weather of previous days were replaced by a frigid, 42-degree morning with a nice gust of wind that made it feel colder. Luckily, it wouldn’t take much time to crown a champion.
Every golfer missed the 17th green, the third hole total in the playoff, but Hughes was the only one able to make par, converting a tricky putt from just off the green while the much closer attempts of the remaining golfers went to the wayside. It was the Canadian rookie’s first PGA Tour victory.
2. Bucs to the Dome
Considering McIntosh County Academy’s football team was 0-10 two years ago, it is safe to say not many people expected the Buccaneers to make a run at a state championship. But head coach Robby Robinson knew his team could be great, and he made sure they knew it too.
The Bucs entered the Class A public school state playoffs as the No. 6 seed. After a first-round bye, MCA defeated perennial powerhouse Lincoln County 14-7 in the second round and Greene County 39-22 in the quarterfinals to reach the semifinals.
To play for a state title, the Bucs would have to go through defending champion Clinch County, who beat the Buccaneers 32-7 at MCA in the second game of the season. It would be a different outcome this time at Clinch.
The Bucs trailed 8-7 entering the fourth quarter, but scored 17 unanswered points on a Valentin Salazar field goal, and two touchdowns from JP Palmer (interception return for a score and a rushing touchdown) to take down the defending champs 24-8.
McIntosh would lose to Macon County in the title game, but it was quite a turnaround for a program that was winless just two years ago.
3. After the storm
Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc up and down the coast, and that included the sports schedule.
Matthew’s aftermath wiped out region games for Brunswick High, Glynn Academy and McIntosh. Camden County lost a game against Charlton County that was scheduled during the season so both teams could get in an extra game after both schools didn’t make up games due to Tropical Storm Hermine in early September.
Frederica Academy, playing on the road, suffered its only loss on the regular season, 8-7 at Bulloch Academy. The game was moved up to Wednesday instead of Friday to get it in before Matthew’s arrival.
Brunswick, Glynn and McIntosh would have to reconfigure their schedules to fit in all the region necessary region games. The City Championship game between Brunswick and Glynn was the first game to be played after the hurricane and was on a Saturday to accommodate the new schedule.
The Pirates would end up playing four games in a two-week stretch. The Red Terrors were lucky to have a bye week scheduled during the stretch, but still played three games in an 11-day stretch.
McIntosh would play its final four games over a 17-day stretch and the subdivided region eliminated the crossover games at the end of the season so the games could be completed.
4. Final Four bound
The Brunswick High girls basketball team put on a show in the 2015-16 season. The Lady Pirates tallied an impressive 30 wins, won the Region 2-6A title and made it all the way to the Class 6A Final Four. They also showed some mettle along the way.
Brunswick fell behind in its Sweet 16 game home game against Creekview. In fact, the Lady Pirates were behind in the fourth quarter but outscored Creekview 27-7 in the frame to win 54-41.
The same problem popped up in Brunswick’s Elite Eight showdown against Flowery Branch in Columbus. The Lady Pirates were behind 38-31 entering the fourth quarter, but BHS saved its best for last. BHS outscored Flowery Branch 21-9 in the fourth to pull out a 52-47 win to reach the Final Four.
The comebacks would end in the semifinal loss to Winder-Barrow, but that doesn’t take away from the Lady Pirates’ spectacular season.
5. Changes at the top
Change was a theme for 2016 with some head coaches changing positions.
In football, Brunswick High second-year head coach Larry Harold resigned after the Pirates went 5-5 on the season and missed the playoffs. Also, Camden County head coach Welton Coffey stepped down from his post to take over as the school’s athletic director. Searches are currently underway to fill both positions.
In basketball, an era ended as Glynn Academy head coach Dan Moore retired from coaching at the end of the 2015-16 season. Moore had been leading the Terrors’ for 22 years. Former MCA boys head coach and principal Terrence Haywood was hired to lead the GA boys program.
Also on the hardwood, Frederica Academy athletic director and boys basketball coach Ed Wilson left the Knights for Athens Academy. In 10 seasons at the school on St. Simons Island, Wilson led the Frederica boys to two state championships. Carl Nash, an experienced head coach, assistant coach and administrator at the college and pro level, was hired to replace Wilson at both positions.
6. Love family superlatives
It was another good year for Davis Love III and his son, Dru, on the links.
The elder Love captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team to its first win in eight years with the help of Isles pros Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar. The Ryder Cup was a fixture at the RSM Classic, which is hosted by Love’s foundation.
Love’s son, Dru, also turned in a solid year on the links, capped off by winning his second Golden Isles Invitational in July.
7. One step closer
College of Coastal Georgia athletics continue to make waves at the national level.
The volleyball team, with new coach Leah Mihm, won its third consecutive Southern States Athletic Association title, and turned in a strong showing at the NAIA tournament. The Mariners made history by winning its first ever game in pool play at the tournament.
The Coastal men’s tennis team also made history by reaching the quarterfinals at the national tournament. It was the third-straight year the Mariners reached the NAIA national tournament, but the Mariners had been ousted in the second round until this year’s squad broke through to the quarters.
8. Collett closes strong
One title had eluded Glynn Academy’s Julianna Collett during her golf career: an individual state title. Collett ended her Terror career by winning the Class 5A state individual medalist honors.
Collett won the title in dramatic fashion. She was tied with three other golfers going to the 18th tee. The other golfers were in the clubhouse, giving Collett a chance to birdie the final hole and win outright.
That’s exactly what she did. She reached the par-5 green in two shots and got up-and-down for birdie to win the state title. Collett was also named Class 5A Player of the Year.
9. Softball surprise
Brunswick High and Glynn Academy’s softball programs both reached new heights in 2016.
The Lady Pirates surprised the rest of the region by earning the No. 2 seed for the state tournament. Brunswick swept Lovejoy at home to advance to the second round, but came up short of making it to Columbus for the first time with a loss to River Ridge in the second round.
Glynn Academy made the playoffs as a No. 4 seed out of the region and pulled off a stunning first-round upset to reach the second round. The Terrors swept previously undefeated Mundy’s Mill in the first round before losing to Harrison in the second round.
10. Playoff pushes
State playoffs in a variety of sports had a Coastal Georgia influence.
The Glynn Academy football team didn’t reach the Dome in 2016, but the Red Terrors did make it all the way to the quarterfinals and finished the season 11-2.
The Frederica Academy baseball team made it to the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history while the golf team continues to wrap up state championships. Brunswick High’s boys soccer team made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years while McIntosh’s Darren Brisbon won the Class 2A 100- and 200-meter state titles.
That was just the tip of the iceberg of area teams’ success in the playoffs in 2016. Hopefully, 2017 will bring even more titles to the coast.