By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
After the first Friday of the 2011 season, here are four things to ponder before the fresh batch of rankings comes out on Monday:
1. Eagle’s Landing Christian is going for it all. Charger head coach Jonathan Gess isn’t playing around. When he talks about his team, ranked No. 1 to begin the season, he speaks with a humble confidence that lets you know how much he believes in them (especially junior running back/linebacker Keyonte Green) and how good he thinks they can be this season.
Case in point: his decision to go for it on fourth-and-one inside of his 40-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, with an 18-14 lead on Briarwood Christian, the No. 1 team in Alabama’s second highest classification (5A). Gess put the ball in the hands of his best player, Green, who was stopped short of the first down marker. Briarwood went on to score the winning touchdown and snuffed out ELCA’s final drive with 30 seconds left to play.
That Gess chose to try to put the game away, or even schedule Briarwood in the first place, speaks volumes. He wants the Chargers to be pushed early, as their region schedule most likely won’t help steel them for the playoffs. ELCA host Class AAA Henry County next week to face a Warhawk team that drilled Ola Friday night, 44-26. Then in Week 3, ELCA will travel to Manchester, a very respectable Class AA program.
Gess doesn’t care about going undefeated or the 18-game winning streak that went by the boards Friday night. He cares about winning a state championship in four months.
2. Watch out for Darlington. The Tigers, ranked No. 8, are already 2-0. After defeating Class AA Sonoraville (35-14) last week, Darlington knocked off one of the top private school programs in south Florida Friday, Miami-Dade Christian, 42-35. Darlington quarterback Brad Butler outdueled Dade Christian quarterback Bilal Marshall, who has already committed to Kansas. Butler ran for three touchdowns, including a 73-yarder, and threw for two more scores in the win.
Darlington will challenge itself again next week when it travels to Cartersville, which is smarting after a 12-0 opening night loss to rival Pepperell.
3. Good teams come and go. Good programs reload. Clinch County head coach Jim Dickerson said he doesn’t believe his team deserves to be ranked No. 2. But the Panthers, the defending state champs, will probably be ranked No. 1 on Monday, after ELCA’s loss and Clinch’s 14-13 win over Class AA Pierce County.
Granted, Clinch lost a ton of talent from last year’s team, including quarterback Trey Dorsey, now at Charleston Southern. But all-state receiver/defensive back Fred Tiller leads a new crop of Panthers ready to stake their own claim. They will really get to see how good they are Sept. 9 when they travel to No. 7 Wilcox County, who appear to be doing just fine without superstar Nick Marshall, now at UGA.
And perennial power Lincoln County is back again as well, no matter what head coach Larry Campbell says. The Red Devils travelled to Abbeville, S.C. on Friday and knocked off the defending South Carolina Class A champs, 24-13. Senior quarterback Denzel Gunby had two touchdown passes in the win.
4. Should Emanuel County Institute be the new No. 1? The Bulldogs notched perhaps the most impressive win of the evening among the teams ranked in the Class A top 10, a 34-13 throttling of the No. 8 team in Class AA, Swainsboro, which went 10-1 last season and won the Region 3AA championship.
As always, feel free to insult me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But I’d much prefer you send me some top performances from the week as well as other possible Class A football news items.