Most of the state’s teams will be opening their seasons next week, but a few get a head start this weekend. Here are some of the things to watch in Class AAAAA in the coming weeks:
*Check back on Nov. 2 for the 2-AAAAA championship game: Can anyone challenge Warner Robins or city rival Northside for the region title? It appears unlikely. Fellow region members Evans, Greenbrier, Grovetown, Houston County, Jones County and Lakeside-Evans combined to win 27 games last season (compared to 24 by the Demons and Eagles) and have an all-time combined record of 12-72-1 against the Warner Robins schools. So look for the region title and No. 1 seed to be on the line when Northside and Warner Robins meet on the first Friday of November. And the race for the region’s other two playoff spots should be a good one.
*Freedom, sort of, for the Savannah schools: The decision by the Savannah schools to not play in the highest classification will allow them to escape the Camden County powerhouse, but it might make it more difficult to reach the playoffs. In the previous setup, eight Savannah schools were guaranteed the three playoff berths not taken by Camden in the old Region 3-AAAAA. Now, Bradwell Institute, Grove, Jenkins and Windsor Forest will have to compete with Effingham County, Glynn Academy, Richmond Hill and Ware County for the four playoff sports in the new 3-AAAAA.
*East Paulding will cruise, at least early: Three of East Paulding’s toughest challengers in Region 5 over the past few seasons – Kell, Pope and Sprayberry – have moved on to Region 7. Hiram remains, however – the Hornets won the Region 5 title in 2009 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs in 2010. And the region will get two strong newcomers in Rome, which came over from Region 7, and Allatoona, which moved up from Class AAA. We won’t find out much about East Paulding until the second half of the season, because the Raiders will play Hiram, Rome and Allatoona in the final five games.
*A good race shaping up in Region 6-AAAAA: If second-ranked Tucker, No. 3 M.L. King (which is dealing with a coaching turnover) and No. 5 Stephenson live up to early expectations, the region’s top three playoff spots should be locked up. That will leave perennial playoff teams Southwest DeKalb and Mays to battle for the remaining berth. Both teams have missed the postseason just once in the past seven years. Dunwoody and Miller Grove could stay in the playoff hunt for a while, but both will have their work cut out for them.
*The Athens-Gainesville rivalry heats back up: There weren’t many better rivalries in North Georgia than the one between the Athens Trojans (now Clarke Central) and the Gainesville Red Elephants in the 1950s and ’60s, back in the days of Weyman Sellers, Graham Hixon and Bobby Gruhn. Gainesville held a 28-23-2 advantage in the series with the Trojans and then won four of six against Clarke Central in the early 1970s, but the schools haven’t played each other since 1975. Now they’ll be forced to meet again as fellow members of 8-AAAAA, where they are expected to be two of the top contenders for the region title, along with Gainesville-area school Flowery Branch.