Here are the 10 biggest surprise teams at the halfway point of the season:
1. Butler: The Bulldogs ended a 41-game losing streak in their opening game and are 4-0 with three shutouts. Second-year coach Ashley Harden, a former Georgia Southern player, says better weight training has been the key ingredient. This is Harden’s first head coaching job. He had been an assistant coach in his hometown of Starke, Fla., before coming to Augusta.
2. Cook: The Hornets were supposed to be good, but a 4-0 record for a Class AA school that played four bigger schools (including Colquitt County) has Cook and first-year coach Ken Cofer off to its best start and highest ranking (No. 4) since 2002. This also is a school and team that have persevered through the tragic deaths of 2009 head coach Mac Thompson and 2008 star running back Roy White.
3. Kell: This is another team that was expected to be pretty good after dropping into Class AAAA, but no one predicted a 5-0 start against five teams that are otherwise undefeated. Kell’s opponents – Grayson, Etowah, Woodstock, East Paulding and Hiram – are 19-0 when not playing Kell. This week’s opponent, Pope, is 4-0.
4. Our Lady of Mercy: Our Lady’s best finish in its nine-year history was 4-6. Under first-year coach Mike Earwood, the Bobcats are 4-0. They beat Landmark Christian 42-35 last week. Landmark won 35-7 the year before. It’s easy to pull for Earwood, who built the Starr’s Mill program into a success but had little choice but to leave amid school system cutbacks that threatened all part-time employees.
5. Monroe Area: The Hurricanes are 4-0 after breaking a 20-game losing streak. The move down to Class AAA is helping. So is having a Notre Dame recruit in DE Stephon Truitt and a quarterback averaging more than 150 yards rushing in Demontavous Smith. Monroe Area is bidding for its first playoff berth since 1995.
6. Norcross: The Blue Devils missed the playoffs for the first time in five years in 2009 and finished 5-5. Now, they’re 5-0. The big test will come in their next game Oct. 8 against North Gwinnett.
7. Chattahoochee: The Cougars returned a lot of starters and a star quarterback in Tim Byerly and dropped to Class AAAA, but not many picked this team to win 7-AAAA. The Cougars (4-0) are the only unbeaten team in the region.
8. Allatoona: A three-year-old school, Allatoona could become the youngest region champion this season. The Buccaneers are 3-1 with a victory over Ridgeland and a narrow loss to Dalton. Their coach is Gary Varner, the offensive coordinator on Roswell’s 2006 state championship team.
9. Wheeler County: It doesn’t look like much, but Wheeler’s 2-2 start represents the most wins for this school since 2005, and both victories avenged 2009 losses. Dennis Logue is the new head coach. He was an assistant for six years and also head coach of the baseball team.
10. Randolph-Clay: The Red Devils’ schedule has been much easier this year, but 4-0 is still nice after winning just three games total in 2008 and 2009. Daniel McFather, in his second year, is trying to bring Randolph-Clay back to the glory of its 10-win seasons in 2004 and 2005. If you throw out the newer schools, the Maxwell Ratings indicate that Randolph-Clay trails only Butler as the most improved team in the state.
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