By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
The season gets underway tonight in a few places, but the first games in Class A will kickoff on Friday. Each week on Thursday, we’ll take a look at some of the more intriguing match ups, list a few others, and get your thoughts on the games to watch as well.
But first, let’s take care of a loose end. There’s been some discussion about how out-of-state opponents will be counted in the new power ranking system being used in Class A. Here’s the skinny from the Georgia High Schools Association:
– An out-of-state opponent will be counted just like an in-state opponent, in terms of the number of points awarded for playing that school – 10 points for the win, plus extra points if the schools is from a higher classification. So, just like an in-state opponent, a AA out-of-state opponent is worth two (2) points; a AAA school is worth four (4); a AAAA school is worth (6) and so on.
– However, the out-of-state school’s enrollment will be held to the Georgia criteria, not that of their home state. For example, in Georgia, a school is classified as AA if it has between 350 and 649 students; the AAA enrollment scale is 650 to 859.
We hope that helps. Now, on to this week’s games.
Washington County (No. 9 in Class AAA) at Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (No. 2 in Class A). ELCA and head coach Jonathan Gess aren’t wasting any time seeing how good the Chargers can and will be this season. Gess, who is 48-14 in five seasons at ELCA with two region titles, makes no bones about the fact that he believes his program is at the level where it should compete for state titles. Scheduling the Golden Hawks proves that, and ELCA will pick up an extra six points for playing the Class AAA powerhouse.
While Washington County isn’t quite the juggernaut it was in the 1990s, when it won five region championships and three state titles, the program is still one of Georgia’s finest. The Golden Hawks are 36-19-1 over the past five seasons, though they haven’t won a region crown since 2006.
ELCA lost two-way lineman Justin Thomason and RB/DB John Tatum to graduation, but return one of the state’s most productive players in senior RB/LB Keyante Green (committed to Purdue; 300 tackles and 3,000 yards rushing in three seasons) along with senior two-way lineman Isaac Rochell (committed to Notre Dame), senior DB/WR D.J. Curl, and juniors LB Josh Shockley and quarterback Dalton Etheridge.
Holy Innocents at Lakeside-DeKalb. Ryan Livezey has built a very solid program at Holy Innocents, where the Bears are 45-24 in just six seasons of football. They have the unfortunate pleasure of competing in Region 5 with ELCA and Landmark Christian School, last year’s state runners-up. The Bears came within three points of winning the region championship last season, falling 21-17 to ELCA on the final day of the regular season. The following week they couldn’t stop Bowdon in a 57-43 first-round playoff loss.
But look for Holy Innocents to challenge for the region championship this season behind seniors Sam Jokerst (DB/WR) and E.J. Thurmond (TE/DE). And in the all-important scramble for points in Class A this season, a win over Class AAAAA Lakeside-DeKalb (0-10 last season) could net at least 18 points for the Bears.
Calvary Day at Landmark Christian School (No. 4 in Class A). This is a rematch of last season’s second round playoff game, which Landmark won, 21-7, at Calvary. The win by the War Eagles ended one of the best seasons (10-2) in Cavalier history. They had won 10 games only two other times in school history. Landmark went on to play in the state finals for the first time, where the War Eagles lost to Savannah Christian, 20-3, and finished with a record of 12-3.
This season Calvary could be a dark horse to play for the private school state title. The Cavaliers return most of last year’s bunch, including quarterback Jake Clemens (1,084 yards rushing, 26 combined touchdowns running and throwing), two-way lineman Justin James, and tight end Milan Richard, the nephew of Herschel Walker, who has offers from Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, among others. While Landmark opens the season in the top 10, it will have to find a way to replace QB/DB Cantrell Frazier. Seniors Joshua Nobles (WR/DB), John Paul Reed (OL/DL) and Cole Higbie (DB) — all pre-season All-State selections — and junior running back Jerimiah Kirkland will lead the way. New head coach Wayne Brantley, the offensive coordinator last season, takes over for Kenny Dallas, who was 88-41 in 11 seasons at Landmark. Dallas has moved on to become an administrator at a private school in his home state of Tennessee.
Clinch County at Brooks County. Clinch finished 8-4 last season, losing to Lincoln County in the second round of the state playoffs (21-7). The Panthers are one of the most storied programs in the state, with four undefeated seasons and five state titles, the last of both coming in 2010. Clinch enters the season unranked, which is rarity in Homerville. But head coach Jim Dickerson, now in his eighth season, will have the Panthers in the thick of the title hunt by season’s end. The match up with Brooks will be the 14th meeting between the two squads. The Trojans won the last meeting, 7-6, in 2005. Clinch will pick up at least four points for playing the AA squad from Quitman.
Prince Avenue Christian at St. Francis. Prince Avenue had a dream season last year, going undefeated — and winning the school’s first region title in the process — until it ran into eventual state champ Savannah Christian in the state semi-finals. The Wolverines looked primed to make another run at a state championship before word came that four of the team’s starters, including the son of head coach Mark Farriba, left the school voluntarily over the summer after an off-campus incident. But PAC still has plenty of talent on the roster including quarterback Carl Mattox, OL/DL Sam Kennon, DE Tyler Parrish and LB/TE end Christian Payne. St. Francis, located in Alpharetta, is in its first full season as a varsity football program.
Other games of note: Darlington (No. 10 in Class A) at Christian Academy of Knoxville (Tenn.), Christian Academy is the defending Class AAA champion in Tennessee … Aquinas (No. 8 in Class A) at East Laurens … Atkinson County at Lanier County.