By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
It’s Week 7. We look at three important games this weekend, one huge one on the horizon and check in with three programs making noise this season, one for the wrong reasons.
Mt. Pisgah Christian at Holy Innocents (Saturday). Holy Innocents might be the best team in all of Class A that nobody is talking about. The Golden Bears (4-1, 2-0) have racked up wins over Class AAA Riverwood (17-7), Washington-Wilkes (37-19), a perennial playoff contender, and shut out Region 5 North favorite Wesleyan (14-0). A win over the upstart Patriots would put Holy Innocents firmly in the driver’s seat for the sub region title.
“I know there are other programs that kind of have the spotlight,” said Holy Innocents head coach Ryan Livezey, who has guided the program since it began competing on the varsity level six seasons ago. “I’m OK with us flying below the radar screen.”
Mt. Pisgah has continued its steady climb toward making the playoffs for the first time in the Georgia High School Association, since moving over from the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA) in 2006.
“Our philosophy when we came here was to build this program with a solid foundation from the ground up, like building a house,” said Patriot head coach Doug Dixon, who spent eight years crafting the program at Riverside Military Academy. “We felt like we laid a strong foundation. Now we’re putting the bricks on the house.”
The Patriots are led by FBS (formerly Division IA) recruit Kyle Sloter, a 6-foot-5, 210-pound dual threat quarterback who picked up an offer from Tulane last week and has been garnering interest from several other schools, including Arkansas. Sloter is protected by a line that features three more college prospects in senior Alex Dixon (6-4, 295; no relation to the coach) and juniors Flint Geier (6-3, 280) and Dylan Dixon (5-11, 215; the coach’s son).
The Golden Bears are led by quarterback John Galloway, fullback/linebacker Harrison Andros, fullback/linebacker Lee Davis and defensive end Justin Fashaw. Even though his team has 15 seniors, Livezey said he has reminded them that they cannot afford to let up, even after the win over Wesleyan. The Golden Bears have beaten the Pats the last three seasons by combined score of 131-34.
“The win over Wesleyan was big because it allows us to control our own destiny,” Livezey said. “But all of the programs on our side of the region have gotten better. This isn’t the same Mt. Pisgah team we’ve played in the past. We’re not taking them lightly.”
George Walton Academy at Athens Academy. After spending 40 years competing in the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA), George Walton Academy (3-1, 2-0) jumped into the Georgia High School Association and Region 8 last season with both feet, going 10-2. The Bulldogs’ only regular season loss was to Athens Academy, 20-13, in two overtimes. They’ll try to avenge that loss and darken Athens Academy’s playoff hopes even further. The Spartans (3-1, 0-1) can’t afford to lose too many more in the region, after last week’s 18-0 loss to Prince Avenue Christian, now ranked No. 9. The Bulldogs, who have allowed a total of only 31 points this season, are led by safety Hunter Rice, who has three interceptions this year after picking off 10 passes last season. The Spartans are led by quarterback/punter Lake Lindsey and center/linebacker Mason Mallory.
Marion County at Taylor County. Taylor County (3-1, 3-1) dropped a close one last week to undefeated Brookstone, 14-7. Now the Vikings host No. 7 Marion County (5-0, 5-0), the other unbeaten team in Region 4, whose teams proudly proclaim it as “the SEC of Class A.” Seven teams, including traditional power Hawkinsville (2-3, 2-3) and Dooly County (2-2, 2-2) still have a realistic shot at claiming one of the four playoff spots in the league. Taylor was averaging 36 points a game before last week. They are led by dual threat quarterback senior Bodarius Johnson. Marion, which has outscored its opponents 215-13, is paced by quarterback DeMarquez Mallard.
Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy at Landmark Christian (Oct. 14). It’s the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room. Everyone knows that No. 2 ELCA (3-1, 1-0) and No. 8 Landmark (5-0, 2-0) are like two freight trains on one track, speeding toward each other. The collision occurs in two weeks.
ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess is guarded about looking too far ahead. The Chargers travel to Whitefield Academy (2-3, 1-1) this week and host Strong Rock Christian (3-2, 1-1) next week before the date with the War Eagles.
“We tell our players it won’t be a big game if you look ahead and lose,” said Gess, who is 39-13 in his fifth season at ELCA. “We’re really dialed in on Whitefield Academy this week. “
Meanwhile, Landmark head coach Kenny Dallas admits the obvious. “Here’s the honest truth. If I’m looking at our schedule and I see a game on there that I get excited about at the beginning of the season, I know our kids are doing the same thing,” said Dallas, who is 81-38 in 11 seasons at Landmark. The War Eagles host Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy (0-4, 0-2) this week and have a bye week prior to welcoming ELCA to downtown Fairburn.
“Our kids are excited about homecoming this week and playing SACA, but I know they’re excited about ELCA, too,” Dallas said. “We want our kids to be excited. You want to play in big games against teams like ELCA.”
Checking in with …
Bacon County (4-1, 2-1 in Region 2). The Red Raiders, who have made the playoffs just seven times in 60 years of playing football, are still flying high after knocking off Turner County last week, 33-24. They travel to Telfair County (1-4, 1-2) this week, have a bye next week, and visit Atkinson County (1-2, 0-2) Oct. 14, before they host No. 6 Charlton County (5-0, 3-0), Oct. 21, on Senior Night. The town of Alma was beside itself last week. If the Red Raiders keep winning, the atmosphere for the Charlton game will be downright scary. “We’ve already got people standing five deep along the fence,” said Bacon head coach Bobby Johns, who has engineered the program’s dramatic turnaround in his first year. “We’re not looking past anyone. This region is too good. But we might need to buy some more bleachers for [Charlton].”
Bowdon (5-0, 2-0 in Region 6). After going 4-6 last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1987, the Red Devils are right in the thick of things. Bowdon, which cracked the rankings this week at No. 10, has its vaunted wing-T offense working to perfection, averaging 46 points per game. The talented senior backfield features quarterback Tyler Wright, halfback/fullback Alonzo Wyatt, halfback/fullback Wezley Stephens and speedy halfback Maricio Askew, who ran a 4.29 and a 4.32 40-yard dash at Georgia’s camp this summer. He missed most of last season after breaking his ankle in the first game, but is back with a vengeance this year. In last week’s 47-21 win over Walker, Askew scored on all four of his touches – two carries from scrimmage, one kick return and one reception. “Last year was the first time we missed the playoffs in 23 years,” said head coach Dwight Hochstettler, who had guided Bowden to the playoffs in each of his 22 years at the helm, prior to last season. “The kids were determined to get back there this year and they really dedicated themselves and worked extremely hard this off season.”
Clinch County (3-2, 1-2 in Region 2). The defending state champs are now in sixth place in the nine-team region and face a must-win next week when they host Turner County (1-3, 1-1). The Panthers are off this week after falling, 32-31, to previously winless Irwin County last week. Injuries kept four starters out of the lineup. “We lost 19 seniors and we have been very fortunate around here,” said Clinch head coach Jim Dickerson. “Nobody needs the off week more than we do, but that’s football. Hopefully we can get all of them back next week.” The Panthers are giving up 22 points per game, which is way out of character for a team that set a national record in 2004 by yielding just 116 rushing yards for the entire season. That team tied Hawkinsville, 14-14, for the state title. “If teams are running on you then that means you’re not being physical,” said Dickerson, who incorporated some of the old school toughness drills, like “Oklahoma,” in practice this week. “That’s the only way I know to get more physical. But then you’re holding your breath hoping no one gets hurt.”