Here’s what to look for this weekend in Class AAAAAA:
- Region play gets under way in 6-AAAAA, and the pressure is on Southwest DeKalb more than any team in the region. The Panthers, under new coach Michael Tanks, lost 17-10 in their opener against a Pebblebrook team that was 0-10 last season. The task will be even tougher this week against fifth-ranked M.L. King. No. 3 Stephenson opens region play against Arabia Mountain, which played everybody close but went 3-6 in region play last year. Mays and Miller Grove meet in a game that could have playoff implications.
- Gainesville hosts Class AAA Buford in the only matchup this season of defending state champions. The battle is likely to come down to Gainesville’s offense (45.3 points per game last season, 58 in the opener last week) against Buford’s defense (allowed 7.2 points per game last year and seven last week). Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, the state’s career passing leader and leading candidate for player of the year, threw four interceptions but also three touchdowns in the Red Elephants’ 19-15 victory last season.
- Allatoona and North Paulding are the new favorites in 5-AAAAA after North Paulding knocked off 2012 champ East Paulding 27-13 last week. Allatoona, which finished in second place last season, was impressive in a 50-0 victory against Woodland-Cartersville last week and likely will have little trouble with Paulding County. North Paulding, the fourth-place team in 2012, faces New Manchester, which is 2-0 for the second consecutive season but finished 2-8 last year. Eleven-team 5-AAAAA is playing a full region schedule.
- Region 7-AAAAA will be looking to bounce back from a rough start. The 11 teams combined for a 2-8 record last week, with only Sequoyah and Riverwood coming away with victories. The region is 4-9 overall after two weeks. Sixth-ranked Kell, the region favorite, opened with a 26-16 victory against Class AAAAAA Chattahoochee in the Corky Kell Classic. Region 4-AAAAA needs a boost this weekend, too, after its 11 teams went 3-6 last week.
- Thomas County Central plays host to Marist to renew one of the state’s best rivalries among teams that don’t play each other often. The Yellow Jackets have faced Marist seven times and lead the series 6-1 after winning 21-17 last year in a game that went back and forth. The teams have met four times in the state semifinals, and all but one of those (a 35-21 Marist victory in 2003) went down to the wire. Thomas County Central lost to Valdosta 28-24 last week in a game it led in the fourth quarter.