If this first full week of Southern Crescent high school football is any indication, buckle up your seat belts for a topsy-turvy, exciting and dramatic ride.
After all, that’s what we all want to see out of our beloved football season, right?
And just in case you weren’t tuned in to Twitter last night, you missed some of the most exciting action you’ll probably see all season long.
Yes, it’s just Week 1. Yes, for most teams it was the first game of the season. But the nature of some of these Friday night match ups were mettle-testers — games that can tell a coach, a team and its fans about what to expect when that team is able to operate at full throttle.
Many coaches in football say that the biggest improvement jump a team experiences is between week 1 and week 2. But we learned a lot from the first week — a LOT.
Here’s a Friday Night Rewind to recap and analyze some of Friday’s action:
JONESBORO AT SANDY CREEK: The Cardinals swayed into The Battlefield in Tyrone, got punched two swift times in the mouth by the Patriots, staggered, fell, got back up and delivered the final knockout blow that fell the No. 5 team in Class AAAA. It came in the form of a 24-yard touchdown strike from Clemson commit Zerrick Cooper to Kentucky pledge Jordan Griffin. It was the most important in a set of three or four plays throughout the second half when Cooper found Griffin open in the middle of Sandy Creek’s defense — which was slightly surprising, given the ample talent at linebacker and safety Sandy Creek boasts.
A pair of botched field goals by Sandy Creek — one late in the fourth quarter where a bad snap resulted in Jonesboro’s Matavian Brooks tackling the holder, and the one that was blocked by Joshua James on Sandy Creek’s last possession of the game — sealed the deal for Jonesboro, and was a perfect way to capsulize what made the Cardinals successful. Defense. It was assumed that the only thing that would really separate Jonesboro and Sandy Creek was depth, in that Sandy Creek had it and Jonesboro didn’t.
The top shelf skill players for both teams are very, very comparable, so trust me when I say this win was no fluke. Jonesboro’s defense — particularly defensive linemen Kali James and Kannon Banks — disrupted the Sandy Creek offensive line — one that features Ole Miss commit Chandler Tuitt — for a good chunk of the night. And go ahead and get off that “Sandy Creek isn’t as good this year” train. The Patriots are still state title good. But maybe…just maybe…Jonesboro is too.
Biggest win in program history? Well, let’s see: Jonesboro’s been playing football since 1946. During that time, the school has seen just four 9-win seasons. Two of them have come under seventh year coach Tim Floyd (2011, 2012). The other two? A 10-2 mark in 1949 and an 8-1-1 campaign in 1953. That means there haven’t been many big wins over “name” opponents. So in short? Yes, biggest, most meaningful victory in program history. But you’ve gotta love the caveat Floyd added when he was asked that question Friday night.
“I’d say it’s our biggest win,” he said. Then he paused and added, “To this point.”
ELCA at STOCKBRIDGE: Did you hear that Jacksonville State and Auburn were playing at Tiger Stadium in Stockbridge Friday night? And did you know that Jacksonville State almost — and by some accounts, should have — won?
After the Chargers disposed of North Florida Christian in last week’s opener, ELCA coach Jonathan Gess called his team Jacksonville State and referred to Stockbridge being Auburn to describe the gargantuan task ELCA would face in last night’s show down of Class A and AAAAA schools.
And it was a bonafide showdown. Stockbridge won it 28-21, which I know raised eyebrows across the state, simply because, although both teams are state title contenders, you don’t expect a Class A school to battle with a Class AAAAA school the way ELCA did. And here’s the number that tells you all you need to know about this game.
That’s the number of RUSHING….yes, RUSHING yards ELCA rolled up on the vaunted Stockbridge defense. That, to me, is more impressive than the score itself, because it showed that the ELCA backs and offensive line stood toe-to-toe with the “big boys,” and in some cases got the best of them.
“They played harder than we did,” Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley said after the fact. And Gess, while happy with the showing, acknowledged it as a game that he thinks his team could’ve and should’ve won.
A couple of things we learned:
-Trevor Gear at running back is the real deal. He notched 130 rushing yards on 27 carries against a big, fast, physical defensive line led by another Ole Miss commit in defensive end Charles Wiley. Speaking of the trenches, what does that say about Clemson commit Chandler Reeves (OT) and the rest of the ELCA O-line? I’ll tell you what it says: That ELCA, regardless of classification, is one of the state’s best teams, and can beat a lot of people with a lot of “As” behind their names.
-Stockbridge has a better passing game than you may think. Senior quarterback Malachi Brown went 9 of 15 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Two of those came on big plays — a 53-yard touchdown pass to running back Jalen Holston to open the scoring, followed by a 45 yard scoring strike and a 50-yard dart to 6-foot-4 sophomore receiver Marquez Ezzard that went for six. For so long, we’ve regarded ELCA as a pure Wing-T running team. But for the last few games, stretching back to the end of the 2014 season, much of Stockbridge’s big play offense has come from Brown’s arm.
By the end of the season, I think people tempted to poo-poo on Stockbridge’s narrow win against a Class A foe — even if it is ELCA — will want to change their tune once they realize the Chargers have more Division I talent on its roster than most of its higher class foes.
MUNDY’S MILL vs. LOVEJOY: When the Mundy’s Mill Tigers went up 20-9, I stopped checking the Twitter feed as intently because, No. 1., I figured the Tigers had wrapped up the game, and No. 2., because Jonesboro had suddenly positioned themselves into an upset against Class AAAA No. 5 Sandy Creek. Big mistake. Kudos to the Wildcats for mounting a strong come back in this one. Big shout out to Hajj-Malik Williams, the first-year starting sophomore at quarterback for engineering the come back for Lovejoy. But mark my words: Both of these teams are going to be problems for a lot of folks, not just this season, but over the next couple of years if coaching and talent can stay intact.
UNION GROVE at EAGLE’S LANDING: What a tremendous way to start the season for Eagle’s Landing. And I’m not just talking about the impressive 39-21 win over Union Grove, but the way both schools treated the first game without the beloved Eagle’s Landing coach Joe Teknipp on the sidelines. The Eagle’s Landing pre game tribute was heartwarming and tear-jerking, and the way Union Grove respectfully and classily helped pay homage to the fallen, but never forgotten coach was a thing of beauty. More and more now, football will become the focal point, but it was way cool to see that tribute happen for a pillar of the Southern Crescent — and particularly the Henry County — football community.
Here’s a purely football aside from the game, though: During the game an Eagle’s Landing onlooker direct messaged me on Twitter and called Eagle’s Landing’s Antonio Gibson the single best athlete in the region. Another tweet — this one coming from a Union Grove student and fan — called Gibson the best football player she’d ever seen. I’ll say this — if there are others, there aren’t many.
STARR’S MILL at WHITEWATER: Don’t look now, but the Panthers are 1-0 for the first time since 2010. What makes it sweeter is that it happened with a 21-7 victory over Fayette County rival Whitewater, and looked pretty impressive doing it. At the center of the Panthers’ promise is defensive back/wide receiver Satchel Goodrich. The senior recorded an interception, three tackles a catch and a pair of 50-plus punt returns. He’s an unquestioned spark plug for coach Chad Phillips’ team. And with games against an 0-2 Fayette County squad and a moribund Forest Park bunch with Dutchtown sandwiched in between, Starr’s Mill could be 4-0 by the time it meets Drew in October.
NORTH CLAYTON vs. RIVERDALE: Game ball goes to what Riverdale coach Terry Herrod is touting to be one of the best offensive lines in the area. The tandem of Brian Williams, Chiedoze Iyizoba, Robert Lipman, Tariq Walker and Prince Sims paved the way for Riverdale ball carriers to rush for 282 yards and four touchdowns at an 8.7 yards-per-carry clip. Senior Darian Dukes led them, running hard for 120 yards on 12 carries and a score. If Riverdale can continue to run the ball that effectively it’ll open things up for quarterback Joseph Cambridge and dangerous wideout Greg Taylor to make plays down the field.
Not bad for a first week. I was 4-2 in my “big six” predictions — the games I provided short analysis of. I ended up 12-4 overall. On Wednesday, my Week 2 prediction column will include Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and Georgia State picks!
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.