Due to reclassification, the 2016 Georgia high school football season will feature both old region rivalries and new opponents that are sure to grab the attention of football fans across the Peach State. There are now seven classifications in the GHSA, each with eight regions, increasing the number of regions to 56 regions, as opposed to last season’s 48. Below are site contributor Markus Golden’s picks for the top 50 region games to watch in Georgia this fall. (This is Part 4, Nos. 20-11) – Read Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3
20. Blessed Trinity @ Marist 10/21
– 1st meeting between the two schools
It is hard to believe that this will be the first meeting between these two Catholic powerhouses. These two schools have similar philosophies, both using a ground-and-pound offense and disciplined defense. Each school is led by coaching legends in the Georgia high school ranks. Blessed Trinity is led by Tim McFarlin, who has a 133-48 record and won a state title at Roswell. Marist has coach Alan Chadwick, who has been its coach for 32 years posting a 343-63 record along with two state titles. Some standout players from Blessed Trinity are ATH Steele Chambers, TE/LB JD Bertrand and CB Sam Paul. An offensive lineman trio OT Jacob Bolton, OG Matt Maloof and OT Griffin Gilder look to control the line of scrimmage. Marist will feature Tulane OT commit Charlie Clark, who looks to pave the way for B-back Michael Addicks and QB Jack Dinges. Richmond DE commit Ben Page, DE John Fitzpatrick and LB Paul Stanley are all playmakers on defense and hope to stymie Blessed Trinity’s rushing attack.
19. Lanier @ Dacula 10/28
– 1st meeting between the two schools
It is rare that you find two Gwinnett County public schools that are in the state’s second highest class instead of being in Class AAAAAAA. Lanier vs. Dacula could easily become one of the most intense games within Gwinnett County’s border in the coming years. Dacula was 5-5 playing in the state’s highest classification last year. Head coach Tommy Jones has built a scrappy program at Dacula, and playing down a classification should elevate the Falcons to state title contenders. Lanier has only lost two games in two years. Although Lanier has been good, the Longhorns have yet to go deep in the playoffs. Lanier will feature a championship defense starring LB Juwuan Jones, DE Michael Allen Jr, LB Tyler Taylor, SS CJ Burress and FS Ethan Wilson. Dacula should make its return to the playoffs and will also be led by defensive dynamos CB Trey Pratt, CB Jaylon Jones, DT Allen Daniels, DE Brandon Jones and LB Ty Harris. Dacula also will feature running back William Stovall powering the offense after losing Jakob Brashear to graduation.
18. West Forsyth @ South Forsyth 11/04
– West Forsyth leads the series 4-0
– West Forsyth won last year’s meeting 38-34
Forsyth County’s population is on a steady incline. Everyone was surprised last year when South Forsyth made it to the quarterfinals and hung tough with Colquitt County until hafltime. South Forsyth, led by Western Kentucky QB commit Davis Shanley. West Forsyth hears all the chatter about South Forsyth and is not fazed by it. After all, West Forsyth did win last year’s matchup. You can see the hate brewing up and this young rivalry growing. West Forsyth looks to keep the upper hand in this series and has a good quarterback named Kiernen Hamilton. West Forsyth also features Kansas State commit DE Eli Huggins and 6’4″, 220-pound WR Ben Bresnahan.
17. Newnan @ East Coweta 11/04
– East Coweta leads the series 13-11
– Newnan won last year’s meeting 21-17
This is south Metro Atlanta’s biggest rivalry. Newnan finished 9-3 last year after winning just three games the year before. This year, Newnan will lean on skill players like Kadarius Satterwhite, who had five interceptions last season and is also a big hitter. Newnan also has a pair of nice receivers with PJ Harris and Marquan Hill. East Coweta has had back-to-back 8-3 seasons under coaching legend Steve Pardue, who won three state titles at LaGrange. East Coweta and Newnan both appear to be trending upward and should challenge Westlake for the Region 2-AAAAAAA title. East Coweta is not short on talent and will feature RB Davonta Ford, QB Christian Reid, LB Matthew Bush, CB Reggie Jones, FB Carlos Ford and LB Jeremiah Gemmel. Reid is a player to watch specifically, as he showed a ton of promise and has game-breaking speed at the QB position.
16. Hillgrove @ McEachern 11/4
– The series is tied 3-3
– McEachern won last year’s meeting 37-17
These two Cobb County teams are both located in Power Springs. The annual meeting between these schools separated by three miles is called “The Battle Down in Powder Town.” This has become one of Cobb County’s most important rivalries. Phillip Ironside started Hillgrove’s program in 2006 and has grown the program into one of Cobb County’s best. This season, Hillgrove will feature on offense QB Hunter Arters, WR Tavion Walker, WR Jalen Jackson and RB Jaylen McCollough. On defense, Jimarco Witherow has made major strides and will be a tough player to stop up the middle. McEachern has become a national brand name under coach Kyle Hockman. Since Hockman’s arrival, McEachern has posted double-digit-win seasons six out of his eight seasons, but the Indians are still waiting on their first state championship. Winning this game will go a long way toward winning their region, thus making the path to a state title much easier for the Indians. Senior quarterback Bailey Hockman has a cannon for an arm and looks to spread the ball around to talented receivers Tyler Smith, Genuine Potts, Brandon Smith and Jaron Hull. On defense, they are loaded with plenty of thumpers including Courtney Mills, Xavier Reddick, CJ Miller and Myles James. Montayo Hood is a big nose tackle who just transferred from North Carolina and looks to be taking over Julian Rochester’s spot from a year ago.
15. Creekside @ Langston Hughes 9/30
– The series is tied 2-2
– Creekside won last year’s meeting 30-7
For the first time ever, “The Battle of Fairburn” is now a regional matchup. Both Creekside and Langston Hughes will participate in Region 5-AAAAAA, which is one of the state’s toughest. The teams that make up Region 5-AAAAAA are located in southwest Metro Atlanta in the Fairburn/Atlanta/Douglasville triangle within Douglas and Fulton counties. Region 5-AAAAAA will feature prolific teams with many college prospects. While these schools are close geographically, they are all still spread out enough to make for some brutal road trips. Every school in this region has tremendous hype surrounding this football season. Eight of the nine teams in the region all won five games or better last year. Creekside, which lost school record-breaking QB Felix Harper, will lean on one of the state’s best running backs, Rico Frye. Evan Mann, Kelvin Freeman and Gino Appleberry Jr. will also be threats in their rushing attack, in addition to playmaking WR Khalil McClain. Langston Hughes will have close to double-digit college prospects. QB Isaiah Green has a rocket attached to his arm, and Hughes’ spread offense is loaded with playmakers including WR Sean Nelson, WR Karam Puckett and RB Demetrius Whitmore. Hughes linebackers will be looking to stop Creekside’s rushing attack, and maybe no other high school has more talent there. Malik Horton, Charles Thomas and Joshua Swilling are all head-hunters with FBS offers. SS Joshua Brown and CB Jay Ajayi will look to shore up the defensive backfield.
14. Archer @ Grayson 1/14
– Grayson leads the series 5-1
– Grayson won last year’s meeting 26-24
Grayson has the media in a frenzy after a much publicized offseason. Grayson was already loaded with high-level blue chip prospects, and during the spring, five more blue chips moved into their district, including top-rated RB/CB Jamyest Williams from Archer. Also, Grayson hired Jeff Herron from Prince Avenue Christian to replace Mickey Conn, who led the rams to a 13-1 semifinals appearance last year. Archer, which was last year’s preseason media darling, has to be brewing on the inside. They enter the season as one of the most under-the-radar 11-2 teams in recent history. Archer still has some talent left in the locker room, like QB Dillon Waye, MLB Quinton Miller, CB Taiyon Palmer, WR Andrew Booth, RB Keegan Strickland, DE Colby Wooden and OT Chandler Evans. Grayson touts an elite bunch of players, and Archer’s best chance of winning is running the clock and keeping the score low. If Grayson gets up early, expect RB Kurt Taylor to grind away the game.
13. Creekside @ Mays 10/15
– The series is tied 2-2
– Mays won last year’s meeting 41-21
These two southwest Fulton County schools are very familiar with one another. These kids have been playing one another since park ball. The Mays kids mostly played for the Atlanta Vikings and the Ben Hill Tigers, while Creekside kids mostly feed in from the Fairburn Flames. Creekside won a state title in 2013, and Mays was state runner-up in 2014, so both these teams have a championship pedigree. Creekside is loaded with CB DJ Brown, WR Khalil McClain, CB Malik Fleming, DT Dennis Jackson, FS Shannon Carter, DE Demetrice Lofton and DT Tahj Perry. Mays is led by QB BJ Phillips, CB AJ Cayetano, WR Ferlando Jordan, CB Zion Frasier, LB Antonio Grier and WR Norman Price. This game could go either way, and it really depends on which team makes the fewest mistakes.
12. Lovejoy @ Tucker 10/14
– Tucker leads series 3-0
– Tucker won last year’s meeting 31-21
Tucker and Lovejoy are both coming off down years compared to their program standards. Tucker was 8-4 last year and dealt with a lot of injuries, causing young guys to get varsity experience against a tough schedule. This year, most of those players are older and more experienced. Tucker will feature a loaded roster this year and should contend for both a region and a state title. Tucker will be led by a ferocious defense that features DE Aaron Sterling, FS Eugene Brown, MLB Brian Strozier, OLB CamRon Carter, DE Antonio Showers, OLB Gerry Vaughn and SS Cameron Peterson. On offense, Tucker will feature T Dylan Wonnum, QB Xavier Shephard Jr., RB Taurean Taylor, RB Chris Broadwater and speedy RB Sam Bryant. Lovejoy has it in for Tucker. These two squads first met in the 2011 AAAA state championship, which Tucker won 22-7. Lovejoy also represents Clayton County—a county that feels like they it is in DeKalb County’s shadow. Region 4-AAAAAA is split between Clayton and DeKalb. This region should be very exciting, and these two teams are certainly ones to watch. There is no clear-cut favorite, and six of the teams could probably win this region. Whoever makes the playoff from this region will probably make some noise in the state playoffs after a battle-tested regular-season schedule. This region is a college recruiter’s dream. Lovejoy is loaded with RB Zion Custis, CB Meshael Custis, WR Marquese Taylor, WR Jayden Thomas, WR Dayton Wade, WR Jerrod Means, WR Vince Seay, LB Brandon Blake and LB Michael Harris.
11. Central Gwinnett @ Norcross 9/23
– Central Gwinnett leads the series 21-14-2
– Norcross won the last meeting in 2003 27-7
Gwinnett County now has three regions in the highest class instead of the usual two. This has diluted the level of competition a little, but expect plenty of riveting showdowns. With reclassification, Gwinnett can now have 12 playoff schools instead of four. Also, there will be three No. 1 seeds given out to Gwinnett in the highest class instead of two, so the road to and through the playoffs just became easier for schools in Gwinnett. This Region 7-AAAAAAA is located near the “Spaghetti Junction area” on Atlanta’s northeast corridor. Most schools in Region 7-AAAAAAA are Gwinnett County schools with the exception of Lakeside, which is located in north DeKalb County. This region represents schools from the original northeast Atlanta suburbs. Most of these schools have tremendous community and alumni support while experiencing plenty of success. Norcross is led by veteran coach Keith Maloof, who won two straight state titles in 2012 and 2013 but has had two 7-4 seasons since. This year, Norcross will feature QB Baron Radcliff, RB Omar Sinclair, WR Jared Simpkins, WR Robert Sims III, MLB Jordan Ferguson, CB Deon Williams, DE Jalen Pinkney and DT Nazir Sy. Head coach Todd Wofford has led Central Gwinnett to back-to-back 7-5 seasons, and with the help of stud transfers DT Emanuel McNeil, QB Jarren Williams, CB Donte Burton, FS Hunter Sims and RB Josh Samuel (led South Carolina in rushing last year), they look to be a contender. With this talent, it is very possible that Wofford’s team can claim the Region 7-AAAAAAA title at season’s end. This matchup will be one to watch and should be a defensive battle that goes down to the end.
Preseason All State Teams