Region 8 in the second-highest classification had one of the best championship races in the state last season, as Clarke Central, Flowery Branch and Heritage-Conyers fought until the final weekend only to end up in a three-way tie for the title.
Those three teams are back and undefeated in 8-AAAAA, but now the region also has Gainesville, which won four consecutive region titles in AAA before moving up this season. The first meeting of the year between two of those top four teams takes place on Friday, when Heritage travels to Gainesville.
Gainesville has the fourth-best offense in Class AAAAA, averaging 45 points per game behind dynamic junior quarterback Deshaun Watson. Heritage’s defense is the third-rated unit in AAAAA, allowing just 5.3 points per game.
Here are some of the other big games in Class AAAAA this weekend:
*Stephenson vs. Southwest DeKalb (Hallford Stadium): These two DeKalb County rivals haven’t met since 2005, and this reunion will have added meaning as they battle for playoff positions in Region 6-AAAAA. Stephenson is tied with M.L. King and Tucker for first place, while Southwest DeKalb shares fourth place with Miller Grove.
*Arabia Mountain at M.L. King (Panthersville): Arabia Mountain will present an interesting measuring stick for third-ranked M.L. King. The Rams are just 1-3 but have played well against some of 6-AAAAA’s top teams, losing to Stephenson by 10, Tucker by 19 and Miller Grove by one last weekend. The region is off next week, however, so M.L. King shouldn’t be looking ahead.
*Glynn Academy at Richmond Hill: The two teams perceived as the top challengers to Ware County in Region 3-AAAAA will face off at Richmond Hill on Friday in the region opener. The winner will emerge as the top challenger to Ware for the region title, and at the very least will have a leg up in the race for second place in the region.
*Evans at Warner Robins: Evans is one of five teams in Region 2-AAAAA with a winning record, although its 2-1 mark has come against a schedule filled with lower-classification teams. If the Knights are going to prove they’ll be a factor in the playoff race, they probably need to be at least competitive against one of 2-AAAAA’s top teams in the region opener for both schools.