‘Tis the season for predictions.
Last Friday was the appetizer, but this week is the full course meal. Friday Night Lights are officially on, and this week will serve up a full course smorgasbord of high school football action.
This week will be the only week of the season where every single team in the four-county Southern Crescent area is in action. All of ‘em.
That means several things: First, the testing of the patience of score keepers and sportswriters everywhere who will likely be working overtime Friday night to ensure that stories, scores and roundups are in. Then secondly, we’ve got a lot of games to predict.
I’ll bring this prediction column to you each week, and I’ll keep my own personal stats of how well I do from week to week. Each week, I’ll select a few games to give a more exhaustive analysis, followed by my specific score prediction. The rest of the games I’ll simply select winners and losers.
Once the state’s college football season kicks off next week, I’ll add college picks in as well from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State.
This is, by far, the hardest week to predict since no one really knows much about anyone yet. But we’ll push through.
On with the predictions.
JONESBORO AT SANDY CREEK. Let’s call this the Southern Crescent’s game of the week, if for no other reason than the fact that Twitter has added to the intrigue of this already hotly anticipated matchup. Jonesboro wants to prove that last year’s 35-6 trouncing at the hands of the Patriots was an aberration. It was just the Cardinals second game. They were still working out the details of how they would be without star quarterback Zerrick Cooper who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.
By the end of the season, Jonesboro was respectable while Sandy Creek was disappointed by a quarterfinals loss to Cartersville in the playoffs. This year’s different. Jonesboro’s got Cooper, a Clemson commit, along with a plethora of skill guys like tailback Montraliaus Mosley and Matavian Brooks. On defense, Kentucky commit Jordan Griffin anchors the defense and defensive tackle Kali James is a beast. Meanwhile, Sandy Creek is a perennial power that does what perennial powers do — reload instead of rebuild. There’s a three-headed monster at running back with Jaelen Greene, Drezyn Parson and Marvin Hubbard, and safety Javon Jackson and wideout Korey Banks are two of the best in the state at what they do.
This game will definitely be different. Jonesboro wants to prove it can compete with anyone — including the state’s No. 5 team according to the Georgia Sportswriters Association poll. Sandy Creek wants a state title. Nothing less. I think this one will be an almost dead even dogfight during the first half, but I think Sandy Creek depth will prevail in the end. SANDY CREEK 35, JONESBORO 21
DREW AT FAYETTE COUNTY: I had Fayette as one of my dark horses in Region 5-AAAA, and that season opening loss to McIntosh hasn’t hurt that initial belief, but it has raised a few questions about the Tigers — particularly in the area of ball security. It’s not a stretch to say that Fayette County literally gave away its 16-7 loss to McIntosh after committing a plethora of turnovers that helped them surrender a 7-0 lead. But the coaches say that the biggest moment of improvement in a football team happens between weeks one and two.
This game will be Drew’s season opener. And if you haven’t seen Drew play offense. Think high school Oregon Ducks. As much as I don’t want to see Fayette County go 0-2 to start the season, I think Drew’s big three of quarterback Joseph Newman, running back Quaderman Sloan and 6-foot-5 inch wideout Bryson Duckworth will be too much for the Tigers to try and outscore. Expect a bit of a shoot out as the Titans are still figuring out their defense. DREW 41, FAYETTE COUNTY 27
UNION GROVE AT EAGLE’S LANDING: This game is jam-packed with story lines, starting with the fact that both teams are breaking in new head coaches — one by design, and one by circumstances of life. Craig Melton is the new head man at Union Grove after the retirement of coach Paul Burgdorf, meanwhile Shawn Jones is interim head coach at Eagle’s Landing, named shortly after coach Joe Teknipp passed away in July from cancer. The sideline advantage is pretty even. Both new head coaches are good football minds and will have their teams ready to play. But where I give the edge to Eagle’s Landing is in athleticism and — at least for this game — intangibles. The Golden Eagles will want nothing more than to win its first game in memory of Teknipp. As long as they can keep those inevitable emotions in check, Eagle’s Landing should come away victorious. EAGLE’S LANDING 21, UNION GROVE 17.
ELCA at STOCKBRIDGE: It’s a game pitting Class A’s No. 1 ELCA against Class AAAAA’s No. 3 Stockbridge, and ELCA coach Jonathan Gess likened this game to “Jacksonville State going to play at Auburn.” He claims he nor his team are really worried about whether they win or lose this game. And really there is no reason to worry about it as this game does nothing for either team in terms of region or state title implications. What it could do for ELCA is give the Chargers a measuring stick to see how better of team they are from this time last year when ELCA lost 33-3 against Stockbridge.
Here’s the thing, though: ELCA didn’t look too bad against the mighty Tigers. For about a quarter and a half, they were very competitive. It proves this: ELCA has some top shelf talent on the top of its roster that can hang with a lot of the big boys. But Class A depth compared to Class AAAAA depth is like comparing apples and pizzas. Don’t be surprised to see tailbacks Trevor Gear and Josh Mays find some running room against Charles Wiley and that Stockbridge defensive line. Don’t be shocked to see quarterback D.J. Hammond have some nice moments, but don’t expect an upset of epic proportions either. That said, if Stockbridge takes this talented team lightly, you could see some interesting headlines come Saturday morning. STOCKBRIDGE 35, ELCA 17.
MUNDY’S MILL VS. LOVEJOY: With all of coach Greg Manior’s success at Mundy’s Mill — the Tigers are one game away from notching three straight playoff berths, and have sent multiple players to high level Division I schools — sometimes it still seems like Mundy’s Mill just kind of sits in the background behind Clayton County teams like Lovejoy, Jonesboro, Riverdale and Drew — even though Manior is 2-1 against the Titans. Some of that is due to the Tigers’ 0-3 record against Lovejoy with a combined score of 132-31. But two of those three Lovejoy teams were competing for Class AAAAAA championships, and the third Wildcats squad had arguably the best high school wideout in the nation in Preston Williams.
This year, though, the Tigers’ confidence is at an all time high, and Manior said he believes his bunch has what it takes to beat the Wildcats Friday night in what’s being dubbed “The Big Cat Classic. A pair of first-year starters at quarterback — Hajj-Malik Williams (Lovejoy) and Kaziah Hall (Mundy’s Mill) will take center stage, and Lovejoy DE Chris Henderson and Mundy’s Mill tailback Khalid Hylton will try to help each team gain control early. Secretly, I’ve been wanting to pick Mundy’s Mill over Lovejoy for the last three years, just because it would be cool to see Manior stick one of the county’s big feathers in his cap. I’ll do it this year. MUNDY’S MILL 27, LOVEJOY 20.
NORTH CLAYTON VS. RIVERDALE (Thursday, 7pm): One thing Riverdale never has a shortage of is talent. That’s the case this year also, as the Raiders boast one of the state’s top talents in Tennessee-committed D-end Chidi Okonya. But guys like quarterback Joseph Cambridge and wideout Greg Taylor will no doubt start drawing more attention as the season progresses. Riverdale also boasts perhaps one of the most talented offensive lines in the area that no one is really talking about — yet. Meanwhile, North Clayton coach James Soza has steadily built a region contender in Class AAA. This one should be an entertaining one, showcasing good skill position talent in a battle for Riverdale-area bragging rights. I say coach Terry Herrod and the Raiders start off 2015 with a “W.” RIVERDALE 38, NORTH CLAYTON 14.
Now, winners for the rest of this week’s games. Winners in CAPS.
Starr’s Mill at WHITEWATER
McIntosh at LUELLA
Dutchtown at CAMDEN COUNTY
Hampton at WARE COUNTY
Henry County at GRIFFIN
LOCUST GROVE at Ola
STRONG ROCK at Social Circle
WOODLAND at Apalachee
Forest Park at SPALDING (Thursday)
MOUNT ZION at Morrow
Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for sports news tips and story ideas. Follow him on Twitter also @GabrielStovall1, and follow Southern Crescent Buzz @crescent_buzz.