By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Week 1 is in the books but not every team in Georgia played its first game. Many will take the field for the first time in 2012 this weekend.
Heading into Week 2, we’ll take a look at our Top Five public and private school teams and check in with possible title contenders Calvary Day and Wilcox County.
Darlington loses to defending Tennessee AAA champ
Before we get to the Top 5, a bit of house cleaning. Darlington (0-1), the preseason No. 10 team in Class A, was beaten by Christian Academy of Knoxville (Tenn.) last Saturday, 42-23.
It was a tale of two halves as CAK (2-0) dominated the first two quarters and led 35-9 at intermission. But their star player, senior receiver Josh Davis, who has committed to Tennessee, broke his collar bone and did not play in the third and fourth quarters, according to the Knoxville Sentinel. Darlington took advantage, outscoring the Warriors 14-7 in the second half. Darlington finished with 401 yards of offense – 204 on the ground and 197 rushing. CAK was led by quarterback Charlie Davis, who was 33-of-42 passing for 438 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed six times for 60 yards and a touchdown. His other top receiving target, senior Davis Howell (11 catches for 178 yards), set a Tennessee state record with the 241st reception of his career.
Darlington travels to AAA Cartersville on Friday. They lost to the Purple Hurricanes 24-0 last season and 28-23 in 2010. If you’re counting, the Tigers will pick up at least four power rating points each for playing CAK and Cartersville, but should earn considerably more than that once those opponents’ win totals are factored in at the end of the season.
It’s the list that everyone is talking about … well, maybe not, but we like it. It’s our Top Five public and private schools in Class A. Or, at least the way we see it:
PUBLIC: 1. Lincoln County (also No. 1 overall, will open at McCormick, S.C., this week, a team it has beaten 19 consecutive times); 2. Wilcox County (No. 2 overall, will open with rival No. 4 Wilkinson County on Friday, more on that below); 3. Wilkinson County (No. 4 overall, travels to No. 2 Wilcox on Friday); 4. Charlton County (No. 5 overall, opens at AAA Brantley County on Friday); 5. Emanuel County Institute (No. 8 overall, beat AA Metter 42-7 last week).
TRENDING: Lanier County (unranked, beat AA Atkinson County 19-7 last week).
PRIVATE: 1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (No. 3 overall, rallied before losing its opener 24-19 to No. 8 in AAA Washington County); 2. Aquinas (No. 6 overall, beat AA East Laurens 33-13 last week, huge game at George Walton Academy on Sept. 7); 3. Calvary Day (No. 7 overall, overcame a 21-0 deficit at Landmark Christian to win 28-21 in the opener for both teams last week, more on the Cavaliers below); 4. Landmark Christian (No. 9 overall, lost to Calvary Day 28-21 last week after building a 21-0 lead, several key players began cramping up in the third and fourth quarters); 5. Savannah Christian (No. 10 overall, lost to AAAAA Jenkins 21-20, after losing its starting quarterback).
TRENDING: Holy Innocents (unranked, beat AAAAA Lakeside-DeKalb 20-14 last week, home opener against AA Wesleyan Friday); Prince Avenue Christian (unranked, beat St. Francis 48-20 last week, hosts Savannah Christian on Sept. 7); Athens Academy (unranked, beat Glascock County 41-6 last week).
Calvary Day’s big win
The Cavaliers’ 28-21 win over Landmark, last year’s Class A runner-up, was the type of win that can define a season. Calvary Day trailed 21-0 at halftime, but rallied after being challenged by head coach Mark Stroud and his staff in the locker room.
“We just told them to come out and play hard, be courageous,” said Stroud, who is now 27-17 since taking over in 2008. He was 120-60 in 16 years at Toombs County before arriving in Savannah. “We made some adjustments, too. Landmark dominated us in the first half. They’re a tremendous team. But we told our kids to forget about the scoreboard and just go out and play as hard as they could, with courage and with character and they did that.”
Stroud said any talk of Calvary Day knocking Savannah Christian off of the throne as the kings of the city, and of Class A, are extremely premature. He believes his core group of 12 seniors, led by quarterback Jake Clemens, are mature enough to handle the added attention and not look too far ahead. The Cav’s next three foes – AA Bryan County, Montgomery County and Treutlen County – were a combined 10-20 in 2011. After hosting Treutlen on Sept. 21, Calvary Day has a bye week before facing Savannah Christian.
“We’ve got a strong, good group of seniors and I hope they realize that we’re not that far removed from a pretty bad half of football against Landmark,” Stroud said. “I think they know we have to keep working hard and keep practicing with a purpose, taking things one day at a time.”
Wilcox County’s huge opener
Please believe that Wilcox County head coach Mark Ledford was not trying to make a statement by scheduling rival Wilkinson County for his Patriots’ home opener on Friday.
“This year was the hardest I’ve ever had trying to make out a schedule,” Ledford said. “It wasn’t a plan at all to open with them. It was tough for a lot of coaches here in south Georgia making schedules this season, for some reason, without having two or three hour drives. It just worked out that we both needed a game.”
Some of Wilcox’s scheduling woes stem from the fact that the Patriots are pretty good. They are 90-41-1 since Ledford took over in 2001, and have been one of the state’s dominant programs over the last five years. Wilcox is 60-8 since 2007, with four region championships and a state title in 2009.
Meanwhile, Wilkinson County, which is still known primarily for its basketball prowess, is 38-13 since 2008 with a region championship in 2010 under head coach James Hagins.
Wilcox is ranked No. 2 while Wilkinson County is No. 4. The overall series is 6-6, with Wilkinson taking the last meeting, 25-21 in 2009. The schools are located about 50 miles apart.
Update on a former (maybe future?) Dawg
When we caught up with Ledford he was pretty busy. He was breaking down film with his staff, trying to wolf down some dinner and preparing to listen to a podcast by a Kansas radio station of an interview with his former quarterback/defensive back Nick Marshall, one of the greatest athletes to come out of Wilcox.
Marshall was released from his football scholarship at UGA in February, where he was playing defensive back, for violating team rules. Ledford said Marshall is “doing fine” at Garden City Community College, located in southwestern Kansas. In the Broncobusters’ opener last Saturday against Independence Community College, Marshall, playing quarterback, led the team to a 56-49 win. He finished with 202 yards passing and 162 yards rushing on 17 carries. He threw a 67-yard touchdown pass and ran for scores of 6, 35, 12 and 20 yards. There have been whispers that Marshall may be allowed to return to Athens at some point.
That’s all for now. Time for you to have at it. Look for new material on Thursday, when we’ll take a look at some of the key Class A games this weekend.
You can also email S. Thomas Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.