Ray Bonner has seen enough five-win seasons.
The Cedar Grove coach, in his eighth season at the school, led the Saints to five 5-5 marks since going 0-10 his first season in 2003. Cedar Grove also was 6-4 in 2008 and 4-6 in 2005.
“It’s time for us to get to the next level,” Bonner said.
To do that, Bonner has bumped up the Saints’ pre-region schedule. Cedar Grove (1-1) played AAAAA power Stephenson for the first time in nearly a decade last week and faces perennial AAA power LaGrange on the road on Sept. 10.
“We just need to play somebody who can get us ready for our sub-region schedule,” Bonner said. “We’ll see if we can get things turned around. We’re young, but I think we can play with them.”
Cedar Grove is 1-4 against Stephenson, with its only win in the series coming in 2001 by a score of 22-21. The Saints have never played LaGrange. The Grangers have advanced to the state playoffs 10 straight seasons and have won two state championships in that span.
“I feel good about the group of kids we have,” Bonner said. “I think it’s time.”
Bonner liked what he saw on opening night. Sophomore Jonathan McCrary passed for 386 yards and four touchdowns, and senior Desi Banks caught six passes for 196 yards and a touchdown.
The Saints are managing without preseason all-county receiver Vincent Dallas, who has been out six weeks with a broken foot. Dallas has nearly a dozen scholarship offers, including Oklahoma, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee.
A mix of seniors and underclassmen have Bonner hopeful that the Saints will be ready to compete for a state playoff berth by the time the sub-region schedule begins. The Saints open their Region 5-AAA, Division A schedule on Sept. 17 against Stone Mountin and follow that with games against Columbia and Towers.
Many of the sophomores and juniors were on the Saints’ junior varsity teams that have gone undefeated the past two seasons.
If all goes well, an Oct. 15 date with Woodward Academy at Panthersville could be pivotal for the Saints.
And Bonner is hoping that the games against Stephenson and LaGrange will make his team better, regardless of the outcomes.
“To my kids, it’s just a game,” Bonner said. “We may get beat 50-0 and we may win 50-0. It’s going to be a good thing for us no matter what happens, but I feel like we can play with them. I don’t know what anybody else can do, but I know what we can do.”