Here’s a football appetizer for you — Georgia High School Association football schedules have recently come out.
So be honest. How many of you knew that already, and have already taken a gander at your team’s schedule, or at the schedules of some of your school’s biggest rivals? Yeah, we thought so.
We at thecrescentbuzz.com are planning some pretty exciting ways to take high school football coverage beyond simply reporting gamers, stats and scores. We can’t wait, and I know you can’t either. But reality says we must.
Nothing wrong, though, with taking a peak into the future. So we’ve decided to pull together a list of what we believe will be some of the headliner games around the Southern Crescent this upcoming season.
Earmark these as just a few of 2015’s must-see matchups:
SANDY CREEK at JONESBORO
WHEN: August 28
2014 RECORDS: Sandy Creek was 11-2 (4-1 in Region 5-AAAA) and finished with a 35-31 quarterfinals loss to Cartersville. Jonesboro finished 4-6 (3-2 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B.
PREVIOUS MATCHUPS: Sandy Creek leads the all-time series 3-2. The Patriots beat Jonesboro 35-6 last season.
SANDY CREEK OUTLOOK: Sandy Creek will be Sandy Creek. The Patriots, under coach Chip Walker, have never won less than seven games, and have won at least 11 since 2008 with three state championships along the way. It seems no matter who the Patriots graduate they always reload. This year won’t be any different. Gone are playmakers such as Ole Miss signee Eric Swinney (1,878 rushing yards, 21 TDs) , quarterback Trey Walker (1,388 passing yards, 8 TD passes) and Christian Branch (23 catches, 457 yards and 4 TDs). But returning is leading pass catcher Korey Banks, Jr., who snagged 34 balls for 542 yards. Rising junior tailback Marvin Hubbard has the potential to be special. Defensively, rising senior safety Javon Jackson will anchor the secondary, while rising senior linebacker Elijah Gilmore is the team’s returning tackler.
JONESBORO OUTLOOK: Offensive coordinator Nate Wardlaw isn’t keen on putting too much emphasis on one player in his offense, but when he chooses to break that rule it’s only for special players like 4-star quarterback Zerrick Cooper. The rising senior missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL suffered in summer workouts. He’s the kind of difference make, though, that can singlehandedly put three or four more “Ws” in the team’s win column. He’ll have a matured supporting cast of weapons around him, starting with 6-foot-5 WR James “MJ” Walker, the return of a fully healthy Montrailius Mosely at running back, and an emerging player in rising sophomore Matavian Brooks. Defensively, look for Jordan Griffin to be a force in the secondary and Jeff Taylor could be a star in the interior.
IN THE GAME: There will be talent aplenty on the field when these two squads lock horns on August 28. The Patriots dominated the Cardinals last season, which was understandable given that Jonesboro’s offense was held back without its star signal caller and Sandy Creek had seasoned playmakers on both sides of the ball. But with Cooper’s return and Sandy Creek being the one having to plug in some holes from graduated standouts, this game should be far more competitive this season. It’s a huge one because it can be an earlier indicator of where these teams stack up in the state playoff race.
DUTCHTOWN at LOVEJOY
WHEN: September 4
2014 RECORDS: Dutchtown finished 5-5 (4-1 in Region 4-AAAAA, Div. B). Lovejoy finished 7-4 (4-1 in Region 2-AAAAAA) with a loss in the first round of the playoffs.
PREVIOUS MATCHUPS: Lovejoy defeated Dutchtown 41-14 last season in the only matchup between the two schools.
DUTCHTOWN OUTLOOK: In high school football, if you’ve got an elite talent at quarterback, you’ve got a chance to be good. And the Bulldogs potentially have that in 6-foot-2, 205 pound senior-to-be K’Lin Epps. His leadership skills were impeccable last season in coach Mark Bryant’s first year, and now with a second full season of familiarity of Bryant’s system, Epps’ comfortability could help take the Bulldogs a long way. Last year Epps passed for 958 yards and eight scores while tacking on an additional 574 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He loses tailback Malik Barkley to graduation, but players like D.J. Montgomery and Jatavien Weems showed tremendous playmaking bursts in spots last year. If they return to form, they could blossom around Epps.
LOVEJOY OUTLOOK: It wasn’t too long ago that we were tossing around the name “Lovejoy” regularly in conversations about the best teams in Georgia. So if you hear someone call last year’s 7-4 season “subpar,” you’ll understand why. Lovejoy’s always got talent. The question will be how comfortable those potential stars are in year No. 2 of the Edgar Carson regime. Quintarius Neely should return for his senior year under center. But his favorite target, 5-star WR Preston Williams is on his way to Tennessee. Also, four year starter at center Randy Robinson (Jacksonville State) is departed. Look for some young talents to emerge like rising sophomore Zion Custis who’s already raising eyebrows at various offseason camps, as well as 6-foot-4, 230 pound DE/LB Chris Henderson. He’s a sleeper athlete that could become one of the area’s top talents before the year is over.
IN THE GAME: There is perhaps more unknowns about Lovejoy this year than at any point in the last five seasons. But that doesn’t mean they can’t grow to be elite. Dutchtown actually played Lovejoy well in about the first 2 1/2 quarters of last season’s game before Preston Williams’ All-American talent took over. As of now, no such athlete exists on either roster, so that alone will equalize this game quite a bit. It’ll be interesting to see if Dutchtown can stick this feather in its cap as Bryant’s first big win over a “name” opponent.
GRIFFIN AT JONESBORO (Tara Stadium)
WHEN: September 25
2014 RECORDS: Griffin finished 11-1 (5-0 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B) with a 31-21 loss to Marist in the second round of the state playoffs. Jonesboro finished 4-6.
PREVIOUS MATCHUPS: Griffin is 40-2 all time against Jonesboro. The Bears defeated the Cardinals 34-6 in last year’s matchup.
GRIFFIN OUTLOOK: Two years removed from a Class AAAA championship and moving into year No. 2 of Jarrett Laws’ head coaching era, the Bears are another one of those squads that seems to find a way to reload every year. Whether in contention for a state championship or not, Griffin’s rosters are always loaded with talent. Even with the loss of guys like Jordan Colbert, Christian Owens and Quandarius Weems on offense and Ryan Cochran and Armon Holston on defense, Laws is expecting his second Bears team to be improved. Watch for the emergence of rising junior quarterback Tylan Morton, senior CB/WR Jaylon Harden on offense and junior DE Terry Fuller and senior DT Noah Clowers to make noise on defense.
IN THE GAME: If you just showed up to this series in 2011, you’d think these teams were fairly even over time. The Cardinals almost knocked off Griffin in the first round of the 2011 state playoffs, and then again in Griffin during the 2012 regular season. But in 2013 and 2014, Griffin has gotten the best of Jonesboro to the tune of a combined score of 72-6. Granted, those two Bears’ squads were championship contenders while Jonesboro struggled. But this year the Cardinals feel they’ve got the proper mix of championship level talent, maturity and seasoning to compete with anyone in the state. They’ve also got a chip on their shoulder to prove that last season’s losing record — the school’s first since coach Tim Floyd’s first season in 2009 — was an anomaly. This should be Griffin’s stiffest test of the season These two teams will likely get after each other and make things far more competitive than the last two seasons.
SANDY CREEK at WOODWARD ACADEMY
WHEN: October 23
2014 RECORDS: Woodward Academy finished 11-3 (4-1 in Region 5-AAAA) with a 28-21 state semifinal loss to St. Pius X. Sandy Creek was 11-2 (4-1 in Region 5-AAAA) and finished with a 35-31 quarterfinals loss to Cartersville.
PREVIOUS MATCHUPS: Sandy Creek is 5-6 all time against Woodward Academy. Woodward Academy defeated the Patriots 28-7 in last year’s matchup.
WOODWARD ACADEMY OUTLOOK: Last season, between senior quarterback Jes Sutherland, junior tailback Elijah Holyfield and sophomore wideout Joshua Johnson, the War Eagles had one of the most potent “big three” tandems offensively speaking in Class AAAA. This year Sutherland should be the only piece of that puzzle that will be missing. Holyfield is one of the state’s top talents, compiling over 2000 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns last year — 25 of those were rushing scores. Defensively, K.J. Phillips was one of Class AAAA’s top defensive performers, registering 130 total stops and four sacks from his linebacker spot. He and rising senior Max Richardson should help strengthen an already stout defense.
IN THE GAME: There are only two programs that can boast a winning record against Sandy Creek with a minimum of five head-to-head matchups. Those programs are Stockbridge (5-3 against the Patriots) and Woodward Academy (6-5), although most of Woodward’s wins against Sandy Creek came in a stretch from 1996 through 1999. In fact, Woodward’s 2014 win at Sandy Creek was the first victory against the school since 2001. This game could be a midseason matchup of state championship hopefuls in Class AAAA. You can bet Sandy Creek would love nothing more than to go into College Park and return the favor from last season when the War Eagles beat coach Chip Walker’s bunch on their own field.
ELCA at STOCKBRIDGE
WHEN: August 28
2014 RECORDS: Stockbridge finished 11-3 (4-1 in Region 4-AAAA, Div. B), losing 30-15 against Mays in the Class AAAAA semifinals. ELCA finished 7-7 (4-0 in Region 5-A), losing 49-7 to Mount Paran in the Class A championship game.
PREVIOUS MATCHUPS: Last season’s 33-3 loss to Stockbridge was the first meeting between the teams.
ELCA OUTLOOK: The Chargers are returning full throttle, considering most of their best players from last year were young, underclassmen. No offense to guys like Jordan Long or Nick Dawson or Ryan Maneely who were studs in their own right, but ELCA could be — pound for pound — one of the teams returning the most playmakers in the Southern Crescent. Of course when you juxtapose a Class A school with other, higher classifications, the difference always comes down to depth. But the Chargers’ top tier depth chart is solid with the return of quarterback D.J. Hammonds leading coach Jonathan Gess’ offense. Running backs Trevor Gear (rising junior) and Josh Mays (rising sophomore) could become the best tailback tandom in Class A. Rising senior linebacker Chase Burdette amassed 170 tackles and won his county’s newspaper defensive player of the year award. This bunch should more closely resemble the Class A juggernauts of seasons past.
STOCKBRIDGE OUTLOOK: Every year under head coach Kevin Whitley the Tigers have improved, and last year was no exception. Though Stockbridge finished with 11 wins for the third straight season, it came within one game of achieving that coveted state championship game berth in the Georgia Dome. And this year’s team could possibly be the most talented, explosive and seasoned group Whitley has had to date. Rising senior quarterback Malachi Brown’s maturation from his sophomore season to now has been astounding. Bouncing back from a devastating leg injury in 2013, Brown was 56 yards away from achieving 1,000 yards rushing and passing last year. He completed passes at nearly a 60 percent clip, and looked masterful at times running Whtiley’s wing-T option attack. Rising sophomore receiver Marquez Ezzard is a big, talented target at 6-feet-3 inches who caught 43 balls for 518 yards four touchdowns. Defensively, there may not be a better player in the Southern Crescent — and arguably the state — than defensive end Charles Wiley. The recent Ole Miss commit notched 20 quarterback sacks in 2014 and will anchor what should be another one of Whitley’s stingy defenses.
IN THE GAME: During the years that ELCA was running roughshod over all its opponents, many area football fans were interested in how the Class A power could stand up against other opponents from larger classifications. Well, last season’s inexperienced group may not have been the team to get an accurate comparison, yet ELCA competed fairly well in its 0-6 start in last year’s meat grinder schedule. One of those games was a 33-3 loss to Stockbridge, where ELCA didn’t play too badly in the first half before superior talent and depth took over. A year stronger, bigger and faster, it will be intriguing to see how the Chargers stand up to mighty Stockbridge at Tiger Stadium. Keep in mind, however, that the Tigers are faster, bigger and stronger as well, and this could be the year that Whitley and company find the Georgia Dome. With plenty to play for on both sides — even in the early season — this should be a game fun to watch.
Check back later today for our Sleeper Report, as we’ll look at the 10 best Southern Crescent football players no one is talking about….yet.