Bowdon is a small city about an hour west of Atlanta and three miles from the Georgia-Alabama border. With a population of a little more than 2,000, it’s known for two things – 1) being “The Friendly City,” and 2) Bowdon Red Devils football under coach Dwight Hochstetler, who is a fixture in the program in his 26th season. Since his first season with the Red Devils in 1988, Hochstetler has compiled a 230-84 record according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, including 12 region titles, 24 playoff appearances and a state championship. Only once since Hochstetler has been at Bowdon have the Red Devils missed the state playoffs.
With the Red Devils’ 40-8 win over the Spencer Greenwave Owls on Friday, they clinched the 25th postseason berth under Hochstetler – along with home field advantage through at least the first round – while taking control of Region 5-AA. At 8-0 (6-0 in region play), Bowdon holds a No. 8 ranking and is seeking its first region title since 2005. The Red Devils are off to their best start since 2008 and two wins away from their first 10-0 regular season since 1995.
Hochstetler credits the success of this year’s team to the return of key players, including Chris Keith (52 carries, 653 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Jarod McKey (46-361-6).
“Going into the season, our strength was the skill people coming back,” he said. “We had our quarterback, fullback and both halfbacks returning. With that kind of experience on offense, we were expecting to put up some points, and we were able to expand the playbook this year because of our experience. It’s been paying off.”
To reach 10-0 and clinch the region title, the Red Devils have two major roadblocks in the Bremen Blue Devils on Friday at home and at the Heard County Braves on Nov. 8. The Blue Devils (4-4, 3-3) are playing for their postseason lives. It was Bremen that ended Bowdon’s chance at a 10-0 season in 2008, winning that regular season finale, 31-7. Bowdon is 22-5 against Bremen under Hochstetler, including a 20-game win streak from 1988-2005. However, since ‘05, the Blue Devils hold a 5-2 edge. Bowdon won last year, 26-21.
“That’s our big rivalry,” Hochstetler said of Bremen. “Anything can happen.”
The Braves are 6-1 and 5-0 in the region, so if Bowdon can hold off Bremen and the Braves beat the much-improved Greenwave Owls, the season finale will determine the region championship. Heard County has won four of the last five meetings, including last year’s by a score of 28-13 on the way to the 5-AA title.
“We knew going in that they were the top dog,” Hochstetler said.
Regardless of the outcome of the Red Devils’ final two games, they will be in the playoffs. Like many small schools that moved to AA when the Georgia High School Association reconfigured to six classifications last year, Bowdon struggled in the playoffs. The Red Devils were bounced last year in the first round by Washington-Wilkes, 66-28. Hochstetler said Bowdon is six students over the threshold to qualify as a Class A school.
“We were a Class A school for the first 24 years I was here,” Hochstetler said. “But we’re pleased playing here and we’ve accepted the challenge. Just making the playoffs last year was big and it gave us the confidence we needed to play AA ball.”
Hochstetler said it’s the number of players – he said the Red Devils fielded less than 30 kids last year – that hurts them in the playoffs and admitted that will likely hurt them again this year. He’s not counting his team out from making a deep run, however.
“When we get in the playoffs, we’ll look at the other team on the sidelines and if it’s third-and-long, they’ve got their punt team prepared to go on the field the next play,” Hochstetler said. “Our punt team is on the field playing in that situation because we don’t have the numbers to platoon. All our guys are playing both ways. … We’ve just got to play disciplined football and we can’t afford to get hurt.”
Adam Krohn covers all things Class AA football. Have a question or tip? Want to see more coverage of your team? Want to drop a line to compliment how awesome the Class AA beat coverage is? Send Adam a message on Twitter @AdamKrohnAJC and follow him for the latest in Class AA coverage.