Class A Blog: Changes in the Divided Top 5’s and the Power Rankings; Coach Speak with Marion County’s Mike Swaney

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

Here’s the AJC.com Class A Blog Divided Top 5 (overall AJC/Georgia High School Football Daily ranking in parenthesis), along with this week’s top 16 in the Georgia High School Association/MaxPreps Power Rankings, public and private, and a link to the full lists. As always, last week’s power ranking for each team is in parenthesis, and a list of teams that dropped out of the coveted to 16 is at the bottom of the list.

This week’s “Coach Speak” features No. 5 Marion County’s Mike Swaney, who is building a program that will be one to reckon with for years to come.

PUBLIC

1. Seminole County (3) (8-0, 4-0). Seminole County manhandled Raldolph-Clay (3-5, 2-3), 56-21 last week. Next up is a trip to Colquitt for a tough game against Miller County (4-5, 3-2) on Friday, before Seminole County hosts Mitchell County (6-3, 5-0) next week to decide the Region 1 champion.

2. Marion County (5) (8-0, 5-0). The Eagles beat up Brookstone (5-3, 2-3), 39-14 and can either win or share the Region 4 title for the fourth consecutive season with a win at Hawkinsville (5-3, 3-2) on Friday.

3. Johnson County (4) (8-0, 3-0). The Trojans romped over former No. 8 Emanuel County Institute (5-3, 2-1) last week, 65-29, to essentially wrap up the Region 3 – Division B title. JoCo travels to Alamo to take on Wheeler County (3-5, 2-1) in the regular season finale before next week’s region cross over games.

4. Clinch County (7) (5-3, 4-0). The Panthers won their fourth in a row last week in convincing fashion, 34-7 over rival Charlton County (5-3, 3-1), to assume command of Region 2. Clinch County will visit Lakeland to take on Lanier County (2-7, 1-4) on Friday.

5. Commerce (NR) (6-3, 4-1). The Tigers trounced Hebron Christian Academy (2-6, 1-5) 48-12, and will take a week off before closing out the regular season at Pinecrest Academy (5-3, 3-2), Nov. 8.

Another half dozen to watch: Dooly County (5-3, 4-1), Emanuel County Institute (5-3, 2-1), Hawkinsville (5-3, 3-2), Irwin County (6-1-1, 3-1), Lincoln County (4-2, 3-1), Mitchell County (5-3, 4-0).

POWER RANKINGS

1. Marion County (1)

2. Seminole County (2)

3. Clinch County (5)

4. Johnson County (4)

5. Irwin County (6)

6. Charlton County (3)

7. Emanuel County Institute (7)

8. Dooly County (11)

9. Lincoln County (10)

(Tie) 10. Commerce (8)

(Tie) 10. Trion (9)

12. Mitchell County (12)

13. Hawkinsville (13)

14. Gordon Lee (14)

15. Claxton (15)

16. Terrell County (NR)

Who Fell Out: Turner County (16)

PRIVATE

1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (1) (7-0, 4-0). The Chargers dominated Strong Rock (2-6, 0-4), 46-6, last week. ELCA hosts Pace Academy (4-4, 1-3) on Friday. A win would set up the game of the year in Class A next week – undefeated ELCA at undefeated Landmark Christian.

2. Aquinas (2) (8-0, 4-0). The Irish took another step toward clinching the Region 7 championship last week with a 42-14 win over Warren County (0-7, 0-5). Aquinas hosts Georgia Military (3-5, 3-3) on Friday.

3. Prince Avenue Christian (9) (7-1, 4-0). The Wolverines were off last week. A win over Pinecrest Academy (5-3, 3-2) at home Friday will give PAC its second Region 8 title in three seasons.

4. Landmark Christian (6) (8-0, 4-0). The War Eagles had a bye last week, and head to north Atlanta Friday to face Holy Innocents (5-4, 3-2).

5. Mount Pisgah Christian (8) (8-0, 4-0). The Patriots pulled out a 28-24 win over previous No. 9 Mount Paran (6-2, 3-1) last week, taking a huge step toward winning the program’s first region title. Mt. Pisgah will host Fellowship Christian (5-3, 2-2) on Friday.

Another half dozen to watch: Calvary Day (6-2, 4-0), Christian Heritage (6-2, 2-1), Darlington (7-1, 4-0), First Presbyterian Day (5-3, 4-1), George Walton Academy (5-3, 2-2), Mount Paran Christian (6-2, 3-1).

POWER RANKINGS

1. Mount Pisgah Christian (3)

(Tie) 2. Darlington (1)

(Tie) 2. Landmark (2)

4. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (4)

5. Mount Paran Christian (6)

6. Aquinas (5)

7. Calvary Day School (10)

8. Prince Avenue Christian (8)

9. Christian Heritage (7)

10. George Walton Academy (11)

11. Brookstone (12)

12. Athens Academy (NR)

13. St. Anne-Pacelli (9)

14. First Presbyterian Day (14)

15. Holy Innocents’ (NR)

16. Our Lady of Mercy (13)

Who Fell Out: Pace Academy (15), King’s Ridge Christian (16)

Coach Speak: Marion County’s Mike Swaney.

When asked to name the Class A program other than defending private school champion Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy that is 38-6 since 2010 with a least a share of a region title in each of the previous three seasons, several names probably come to mind: Lincoln County. Landmark Christian School. Seminole County.

None of those is correct. The answer is Marion County, where Mike Swaney and his staff are quietly building one of the state’s most consistently successful programs, just east of Columbus in Buena Vista – birthplace of baseball Hall of Famer Josh Gibson.

“I’d say we’re probably a little ahead of schedule, and have exceeded expectations a bit,” said Swaney, now in his fourth season. “This summer we had about 115 kids consistently participating in workouts at the school. We have 86 kids in our middle school program and 55 on our varsity. When you have those numbers, you’ve got a real shot to be successful, especially in Class A.

“It’s amazing how much the kids have bought in and how hard they’ve worked, and our coaches do a great job,” Swaney said. “And the community has gotten behind the program and the support has been tremendous.”

An example of that support was on full display last week when the Eagles traveled over to Columbus to face a Brookstone team that upset them last season, preventing them from winning the Region 4 title outright. Students filled up two charter busses and tons of other supporters from the town of a little over 2,000 packed into the visitors’ section to watch Marion County dismantle the Cougars 39-14.

“The whole town is excited. Our [home] gates have been incredible and when we go on the road the folks are there, too,” Swaney said. “It’s really something to see and it really motivates the kids. I tell them these folks are here to see you. They didn’t come to see me or the other coaches or the band. They came to see you and so you owe them your best effort.”

The loss last year at home to Brookstone, a game in which his team didn’t come with its best effort, according to Swaney, has served as the catalyst for this season. Marion County had just come off of an emotional win over eventual public school runner-up Dooly County (12-7) the week before, while Brookstone struggled to defeat a Schley County team (35-27) that won just two games all season.

“Our kids were listening to people telling them that and reading about that stuff, and they took Brookstone for granted,” Swaney said. “Before we knew it we were down 21-0 in the first half. We came back and made a game of it (35-28) but we couldn’t pull it out.”

The loss eventually cost the Eagles a higher seed in the public school playoffs, and put them on a course to meet Wilcox County and the record-setting quarterback-receiver duo of Makail Grace (now at Garden City Community College in Kansas) and Jonathan Howard (now at North Carolina).

“Those two were amazing,” Swaney said of the tandem that led the Patriots to a 39-21 win over Marion County. “We fought as hard as we could but [Wilcox County] was just a little better than we were.”

This season the Eagles are focused on making it out of the second round of the post season, which would be another first for the program. Marion County is presently No. 1 in the public school GHSA/MaxPreps power rankings.

“The kids don’t fully understand it, so we’ve tried to explain to them how it works,” Swaney said. “Last season they couldn’t understand how we beat Dooly County at their place and they still ended up rated higher than we were even though we finished with the same record (8-2). That higher seed helped [Dooly] a little and hurt us. But it taught us that you can’t take any of your opponents for granted.”

It is a mantra that is repeated daily by the team’s 16 seniors, led by all-state kicker A.J. Wells, LB Brandon Green (6-0, 210), a three-year starter, and C Dustin Pickren (5-11, 180). Senior RB Johnny Royal (6-0, 185) is on course to gain more than 1,500 yards and sophomore Lorenzo Smothers (5-8, 155) is the Eagles’ game breaker.

“[The seniors] are the kids who were freshmen when we came here,” Swaney said. “It’s a special group of kids and it’s been fun coaching them and watching them grow up.”

31 comments Add your comment

Bystanding...

October 29th, 2013
7:16 pm

Pace over ELCA… Calling it, Pace has to win a close one… It is time, I can feel it…. idk why…

Watching...

October 29th, 2013
7:19 pm

@Bystanding as an Landmark fan…Pace will match up well on the exterior, they have a great defense, and IF, I emphasize “IF”… their offense clicks, they have a better shot than anyone, as much as I hate to say it, but you can’t consider them favorites…

I will be watching this on my phone friday night… I would love to see an upset by a young Pace team… But It WILL BE VERY TOUGH.

Tiger Patpaw

October 29th, 2013
7:25 pm

I know I’m ignoring the point of your Blog @STC. But hold on GHSA/Maxpreps! How is it that Southwest Atlanta Christian who is unable to field a team this year has a 7.50 power rating?

C’mon Man!!

Tiger Patpaw

October 29th, 2013
7:30 pm

Hebron Christian Academy who by my records are 2-6 overall have a 6.00 power rating. Am I missing something?

Tiger Patpaw

October 29th, 2013
7:49 pm

Here, here Patriots. Congratultions on a great comback character victory. Save an unexpected hicup, looks like you’ll carry the Region 6A banner into the post season.

moodswing

October 29th, 2013
10:00 pm

GWA loses to Athens Academy and moves UP in the rankings! What a great system!!!

CheerTigerDad

October 29th, 2013
10:07 pm

@Tiger Patpaw: As the saying goes: Garbage in = garbage out. Christian Heritage is shown on Maxpreps as playing SW Atl instead of their real opponent, Providence Christian. SW Atl is also shown to be playing Darlington this week on Maxpreps. These will have to be fixed to get accurate Power Ratings.

Also, Hebron’s 2 wins are against non-region teams, so they don’t count towards the Power Ratings. Their rating is solely based on their opponents’ win/loss ratio.

@STC: I was shocked to see Commerce in the top 5, ranked higher than Irwin, Dooly, Lincoln, and ECI. I know ECI took a beat down this past Friday, but still think they will put it together to go deep in the playoffs. Plus, I kind of liked my Commerce Tigers sneaking into the playoffs unnoticed until it was too late for the opposition!

JSP

October 29th, 2013
10:58 pm

I’ve said it 57 times and I’m going to make it 58……..THIS SYSTEM IS GARBAGE! As proud as I am to be a Pisgah fan right, we should not be carrying the number 1 ranking. Even with being number 1, what would our reward be if the season ended today? Well how about a first round date with OLM who led us 16-0 at halftime and would love nothing more to play us again.

I’ve also noticed that Whitfield now stands at the 17th spot in front of Pace How? They’re technically 3-5, but one of those losses came against St. Francis who does not play a region schedule. So they’re 3-4 (1-4 inside the region) and their wins have come against Riverside Military (4-4), Gordon Lee (3-4), and Walker (4-4). It should be noted that they lost to Pace 38-23 and I’m pretty sure it was a 30 point game at halftime. I just don’t understand this system. Heck, wasn’t OLM 13th last week? How did they get knocked back 3 places after a victory?

16 of the 29 teams in Private A make the playoffs. Didn’t making the playoffs use to mean having a good season? Now you can finish under .500 and still make it in.

Tiger Patpaw

October 30th, 2013
5:40 am

@CheerTigerDad

Brother tiger, check the power rating formula on the GHSA site. Part of the reason Darlington maintained their lofty position for so long was the loss vs Cartersville. Even if you lose to a team that continues to win, you accumulate points for each of that opponents victories.

Granted, the Roman Tigers have won otherwise, but they dropped this week since they beat a team with a loosing record.

Another example, Mt. Pisgah benefitted this week from Mt. Paran’s earlier victories.

Class A, Region 6 will determine their champion based on the final power rating, not on a 100 yard long rectangle.

Tiger Patpaw

October 30th, 2013
5:49 am

@JSP

AMEN!

Think there’s any chance to decide Region 6 on the field during the post season?

MY DREAM SCENARIO (rev. 1): Patriots and Tigers win out, earning 1 and 5 or 2 and 6 seeds and play DEC-6/7 for an on-field region championship and a Dome birth.

Could we enjoy some of that JSP?

Swamp Lizard

October 30th, 2013
5:58 am

UPSETS …… here are you two upset specials for this Friday night.

Holy Innocents over Landmark
Our Lady of Mercy over Darlington

Swamp Lizard

October 30th, 2013
6:21 am

@ Bystanding ….. hope your coming down to McDonough Friday night ….. so you can “feel” it. ;)

Swamp Lizard

October 30th, 2013
6:31 am

@CheerTigerDad & JSP ….. I’m glad y’all agree that this “point system” is a mess! Sometimes I feel I’m the only one. As I’ve said numerous times, I would perfer the Maxwell Ratings to do the seeding at season’s end ….. just think it’s 100 times closer ( better ) at seeding the teams 1 thru 16 than the “point system”.

TCDAWG25

October 30th, 2013
7:50 am

@Swamp Lizard maybe the will get it right next year.

this guy

October 30th, 2013
9:02 am

Why would Holy Innocents’ over Landmark be an upset? I mean I could see some upset fans if Landmark lost but wouldn’t call a win by Holy Innocents’ an upset. Holy Innocents’ isn’t some up and rising school looking to make a statement in Single A football. They are an established and successful program with tough hard nosed kids and really good coaching. Truth be told they probably have players with more natural football talent than the Landmark team. Holy Innocents’ is the Bigger, Faster, and Stronger team in that match up. Not saying Landmark won’t win or can’t win because in 5 out of their 8 games that has been the case probably, but I am saying a loss shouldn’t be considered an upset. When two well coached and tough nosed teams play, it will probably come down to the team who makes the least amount of mistakes or the team who takes advantage of the other teams mistakes.

Don’t see Pace over ELCA unless ELCA self destructs. I think Pace has enough athletes to keep it close as in a 14-21 point defeat, but I also think Pace has enough athletes to make it a 35-42 point loss for Pace.

Mercy over Darlington will be tough. Mercy won’t sneak up on Darlington and the Tigers know they will have to play their best game to win. I think Darlington will be prepared and win with a 10-17 point margin.

Swamp Lizard

October 30th, 2013
10:04 am

@ this guy ….. you really haven’t said much that I will disagree with you on …. your take on Holy Innocents is pretty accurate. I called it an “upset” with nothing more than a 4-4 team beating an 8-0 team. I also agree with you that Pace will not beat ELCA, Pace does have “playmakers” ….. but I think you are WAY OFF thinking they can keep it within 7 or even 10 points …. I think ELCA is ready to change gears ( playoff time ). Once again, I agree with you thinking the OLM / Darlington game will be “close” ….. I’m just thinking OLM comes away with a win ….. & that wold be a 3-5 OLM beating a 7-1 Darlington team ( upset ).

Swamp Lizard

October 30th, 2013
10:11 am

@ TCDAWG25 …. I know it’s been a rough week for you. Just tell those boys to remember that bad taste in their mouth, regroup, and take it out on everyone in the playoffs. I’ll be the first to say …… I did not see that coming !!

this guy

October 30th, 2013
10:33 am

@Swamp Lizard…I didn’t say Pace could keep it 7-10 points…I said they had just enough players to keep it 14-21 point defeat or enough athletes to make it a 35-42 point defeat….meaning scores like 14-28 or 14-35 if close or 7-42 or 14-56 if a blowout. ELCA is the better football team make no mistake about it and I am sure they will show their dominance.

I understand your stance of an upset based on records for the HIES/Landmark game and OLM/Darlington games. From reading many of your comments on the blogs and on the vent I know that you are not just the casual fan when it comes to Region 5-A and you know that Holy Innocents’ and OLM are both better than their record may indicate. I am sure the spread will have Landmark favored by some absurd amount of points again…more points than they ever even score in close games, so I will just continue to take the underdogs and the points and see if Landmark can continue to help pay my mortgage. Having to double up this week though because ELCA cost me a bundle not covering that 41 point spread last week!

Swamp Lizard

October 30th, 2013
10:44 am

@ this guy …. I too can see you know your football. I guess I just didn’t take my time to “read” your first reply …. looking back you are clearly right. We will not talk about my prediction last week that ECI would beat JoCo by 20+. I love “talking” football and mean no ill will towards any team, player, or coaches. But you know as well as I do, if you make a “prediction” or say you think this team is better than that team, it rubs fans the wrong way.

Independent Pigskin

October 30th, 2013
11:45 am

In my opinion, Landmark beats HI by 10-14 points since they are coming off a bye week.
Pace would have to play their best game and establish the run against EL to have a chance. EL’s front 7 on defense is plenty formidable, so that will be difficult. Pace’s qb would be in for a long night if run not established as EL can get mucho pressure with 4.
OLM vs Darlington too close to call which is a positive testament to the difficult scheduling of 3-5 OLM.

fed up with GHSA

October 30th, 2013
4:36 pm

GHSA knew since the beginning of the season that one team in Region 6 would not have a cross over(10 th game) and has done nothing to resolve this problem. The GHSA appears to be penalizing one team since SW Atlanta dropped their program at the last moment.and created an uneven number of teams in Region 6A and Region 6B., Maybe GHSA should penalize SW school and not the teams that played the entire season and thought they would have a 10th game. Way to go GHSA and you screwed up another team’s year/program.

S. Thomas Coleman

October 30th, 2013
5:13 pm

JSP:

While it’s possible, it will be hard for a team to finish 4-6 and have enough points to make it in. If that happens, that team will have played a very difficult schedule.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 30th, 2013
6:09 pm

All:

I have not covered the topic of how the champions in Regions 3 and 6 will be determined, so here goes:

Region 3: The championship will be decided on the field next Friday (Nov. 8), with the subregion champions facing each other at the home stadium of the team with the most power rating points. The No. 2’s from each region will cross over and play the No. 3’s at the home field of the No. 2’s. The No. 4’s would face each other at the home field of the team with the highest power rating. As of now, here’s how the match ups break down:

Calvary Day at Johnson County
Wheeler County at Savannah Country Day
Claxton at ECI
Portal at Treutlen

*Surprise team that will most likely miss the playoffs: Savannah Christian

Region 6: The champion will be decided by the power ratings after the No. 1’s from both sides cross over and play the No. 4’s next Friday. The No. 2’s and No. 3’s will face each other as well. Here’s the current breakdown, with a lot still up in the air:

King’s Ridge Christian at Darlington
Gordon Lee or Mt. Zion-Carroll at Mt. Pisgah
Christian Heritage or Trion at Mt. Paran
Fellowship Christian at Christian Heritage or Trion

*Surprise team that will most likely miss the playoffs: Walker

Pace Student

October 30th, 2013
6:49 pm

ELCA is a passing team correct? I think that helps Pace due to our defensive backs being strong. Our safety is commited to Stanford and one of the DBs is committed to Vandy. So I think we can possibly keep it close. But it’ll be tough,

Independent Pigskin

October 30th, 2013
8:42 pm

ELCA is balanced offensively but their running show starts with the quarterback, behind a powerful offensive line. He is first team all-state in my book. If Pace holds him to less than 50 yards rushing they will have a chance. I think he was out for the Pace game last year. Good luck!

Tiger Patpaw

October 31st, 2013
4:30 am

Congrats’ to Region 3A for having the foresight to decide their top representative on the field. Shame on you 6A.

Cold Hard Facts

October 31st, 2013
7:38 am

@ Pace Student….If you guys expect to have a chance vs ELCA, then you’ve got to get your fans fired up. I was at the Pace/HI game last Friday and your crowd was more interested in socializing that cheering the team on. I believe you could have won that game if the 12th man was present. No support from your fans at all. A lot of crowd noise can make a difference in how your team gets excited.
100% chance of rain on Friday….wonder if that will change the outcome of some of these games?

Swamp Lizard

October 31st, 2013
7:49 am

@ Cold Hard Facts ……. you are so right as far as “turnovers” ….. those are great equalizers!! I agree that the weather Friday night will play a part in many games this week.

Nickajack Observor

October 31st, 2013
9:31 am

STC … Weren’t all Region 6 Cross-Over games held at SubRegion A locations in ‘12 and will be flipping over to B sites for ‘13? I seem to remember that ADs wanted to guarantee 5 home gates at all schools for both years. Works about as poorly as the rest of the Power Rating system, except the basement of the B programs will get the short straw due and lose out in getting a cross-over matchup, due to SW Atl Christian’s season-abandonment fiasco, mentioned above

Norman Carter

November 1st, 2013
5:15 pm

Mike Swaney deserves to be Coach of the year; what a great job of building a contender at Marion County!!

TripleFan

November 2nd, 2013
12:38 am

Swaney might need to review facts before he explains…..“The kids don’t fully understand it, so we’ve tried to explain to them how it works,” Swaney said. “Last season they couldn’t understand how we beat Dooly County at their place and they still ended up rated higher than we were even though we finished with the same record (8-2). That higher seed helped [Dooly] a little and hurt us. But it taught us that you can’t take any of your opponents for granted.”

Let.me.say.it slower.and.louder…(Dooly) rated higher last season YES…because of the strength of their schedule…. SEEDED higher NO….Marion won the region. Region champs are SEEDED at the top of the bracket…so how did that HELP Dooly and hurt Marion? Marion lost in the second round…period. Dooly finished State runner up…..by way of Turner, Seminole and Lincoln…period.

Here it is STRAIGHT from the GHSA: “The region champions will be seeded at the top of the bracket ranked in order by their power ratings. For example if four of the eight region champions are public schools these four schools will have the top four seeds in the 16-team bracket.”