By Michael Alpert
For the AJC
Welcome to Class AA football, where suddenly, nothing is certain.
Previously, one might have expected Buford to emerge state champion, or at least reach the quarterfinals, as the Wolves did in winning six of the classification’s last 10 titles and nearly a state-record fifth straight last season against Calhoun.
Buford has moved to AAA, as has Carver-Columbus, which often lurks late in the playoffs.
Clearly, there’s vacancy at the top of AA.
That leaves Region 7-AA Calhoun widely considered the team to beat, especially following the Yellow Jackets’ first AA title last year and No. 1 preseason ranking by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Jackets have reached four consecutive finals and at least the quarterfinals eight times since 2001.
Also in the mix might be Region 3-AA Dublin, which has made five quarterfinals since 2004, and 1-AA Fitzgerald, which also has been in five since ’05.
Flashback: Calhoun’s crowning moment
The Yellow Jackets ended three years of frustration against Buford in last year’s final at the Georgia Dome, defeating the Wolves 27-24 in overtime in the teams’ fourth consecutive championship game. The Jackets blew a 24-10 lead with two minutes left in regulation and narrowly survived by recovering a fumble in overtime, then winning on Adam Griffith’s 32-yard field goal.
The win helped Calhoun coach Hal Lamb join his father, Ray Lamb, as the second father-son duo to lead schools to championships.
Who’s predicted to dominate their region?
According to the Maxwell Rankings, computerized ratings based on historical scores, Calhoun is predicted to win 7-AA and finish 10-0 overall. Maxwell says Fitzgerald, Dublin and 8-AA Jefferson are predicted to clinch their regions and end up 9-1.
– Wesleyan at Greater Atlanta Christian, Nov. 2: The Spartans have won three straight against the Wolves, including 42-3 and 42-0 the last two years. This season’s meeting has heightened importance in now unified Region 6-AA.
– Model at Pepperell, Oct. 19: Of the Region 7-AA teams’ 51 meetings, the Dragons have won the last 14 and rule the rivalry in greater Rome.
– Bowdon at Bremen, Oct. 26: One of the state’s biggest rivalries, this game between teams 20 miles apart might decide Region 5-AA. The Blue Devils have won five of the last six meetings, after the Red Devils claimed 20 consecutive.
Changes at the helm
Of 77 head coaches hired by the GHSA this offseason, 14 were in AA, including Rabun County, which hired alum Lee Shaw from Flowery Branch, and Lamar County, which got Franklin Stephens from Tucker. Interestingly, four were in Region 8-AA — Robert Edwards (Greene County), Shaw (Rabun), Gary Downs (Riverside Military) and Ron Sebree (Social Circle).