By John McClellan
For Hometown Headlines
The 2016 season was a banner year for high school football in Northwest Georgia. The Rome Wolves put together a tremendous defensive effort to defeat longtime power Buford 16-7 to win the Class AAAAA state title before one of the largest crowds of the Georgia Dome championship weekend. The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes were dominant all year long on their way to another undefeated season that ended with a 58-7 win over previously unbeaten Thomson in the Class AAAA state championship game. Calhoun, Chattooga and Pepperell all reached the state quarterfinals with Calhoun losing to eventual state champion Cedar Grove in Class AAA, Chattooga staying with Hapeville all night before going down to defeat in Class AA, and Pepperell having to make the long trip to Savannah only to lose to Class AA state champion Benedictine.
As good as 2016 was, the 2017 season may prove even better. Rome and Cartersville will enter the year ranked at the top of their respective classes. Pepperell and Rockmart both have excellent shots to reach the top in Class 2A (as it now is called in Georgia). Darlington will be improved and should figure into the mix among Class A private schools. Calhoun’s tradition means the Yellow Jackets never can be counted out in Class 3A.
The Rome Wolves, who enter their third year under Head Coach John Reid, are the preseason favorite to repeat as region champions. The Wolves are a talent-laden team filled with Division I prospects but who face by far the toughest schedule of any team in northwest Georgia. Rome will combine a more diverse offense with a tough defense heading into the 2017 campaign.
The Carrollton Trojans, who return a lot of experience from a year ago, will battle Rome for the region crown. The Sept. 29 showdown between the Trojans and the Wolves at Barron Stadium will be one of the most watched games in the state in 2017.
Third place in Region 7-5A likely will go to the Kell Longhorns even in a season marked by a coaching change and significant losses to graduation. Kell will come into Barron Stadium on Sept. 8 to face Rome.
The fourth seed from the region will be as wide open as it was a year ago. The Villa Rica Wildcats, who reached the state playoffs in 2016, hope to be even better under new head coach Rico Zachary. There is renewed enthusiasm at Cass as the Colonels seek their first state playoff berth since 2006. The Paulding County Patriots, East Paulding Patriots, and Hiram Hornets also figure to be in the mix for the postseason with the Woodland Wildcats hoping to break their winless streak.
The Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, under fourth year head coach Joey King, enter 2017 on a 30-game winning streak and with two straight state championships. The Purple Hurricanes open with a tough four-game non-region slate highlighted by a nationally televised ESPN2 game against Florida power Bartram Trail. Cartersville returns its high-powered offensive attack and stingy defense and is the odds-on favorite to win its sixth straight region crown and third straight state championship.
The Sandy Creek Fighting Patriots are the solid favorite to take second place in the region. The Fighting Patriots enter the season with a streak of 16 straight winning seasons but are coached for the first time since 1998 by someone without the last name of Walker. Longtime assistant Brett Garvin takes the helm from Chip Walker, who followed his dad, Rodney, in the post.
The Troup Tigers are the pick to finish third in the region in 2017. The Cedartown Bulldogs, who lost their final three games of the season and missed the playoffs after a 6-1 start, will battle the Chapel Hill Panthers and LaGrange Grangers for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Central of Carrollton Lions are coming off a season of 0-10 and are hoping to move up in the standings.
Oct.19, 2001. On that night almost 16 years ago, the Calhoun Yellow Jackets lost at home 14-7 to the Darlington Tigers. The Yellow Jackets haven’t loss a region game since that time on their way to 16 region championships and three state titles. For this reason alone—not to mention the coaching success of Hal Lamb and the continued talent pipeline—Calhoun is the prohibitive favorite to repeat as Region 6-3A champion.
If anyone has a chance to challenge the Yellow Jackets in 2017, that opportunity will fall to either of two other South subregion teams—the Sonoraville Phoenix or Bremen Blue Devils—both of whom reached the second round of the state playoffs a year ago. The Adairsville Tigers, who finished only 3-7 in 2016 after reaching the state quarterfinals in 2015, hope to return to the postseason. The Haralson County Rebels will struggle again in subregion play.
The North subregion will be much improved in 2017 but the order of finish is anyone’s guess. The North Murray Mountaineers and Ringgold Tigers are the favorites to finish first in the subregion and meet Calhoun in the region championship game. The Murray County Indians are hoping to turn the corner after struggling in recent years. The Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe Warriors should have enough to edge out the Coahulla Creek Colts for fourth place.
Local football fans should go ahead and mark Oct. 13 on their calendars. That is the night the Pepperell Dragons, who are projected to finish first in Region 7-2A after a strong run a year ago, will travel to Rockmart to battle the Yellow Jackets, who most observers expect to be their biggest challenger. Both teams will be coming off their bye week with Pepperell’s Rick Hurst and Rockmart’s Biff Parson looking to have their respective teams in top mode.
If Northwest Georgia football fans have learned anything over the years, they know the Model Blue Devils aren’t to be overlooked. Coach Gordon Powers is looking to combine a strong returning defense with new faces in skill positions and try to improve on a team that began the season 5-0 before finishing 7-3 in the regular season with a loss in the first round of the playoffs.
The Coosa Eagles, under veteran coach Todd Wheeler, appear to have the edge over a Chattooga team beset with graduation losses to finish fourth in the region. The Armuchee Indians look to be improved offensively as Muhammed Abdellatif”s team hopes to edge out a very experienced Dade County Wolverine team for fifth place. The Gordon Central Warriors have a new attitude and new coach as they try to look past their struggles of recent years.
The Darlington Tigers went 7-3 in the regular season a year ago and defeated fellow Region 6-A member Walker in the first round of the Class A Private School playoffs before losing by one point to Landmark Christian in the postseason’s second round. Head Coach Tommy Atha and the Tigers are poised to take their game to another level as they are the preseason favorites to finish first in the A, or northern, subregion of Region 6-A.
The Bowdon Red Devils and Mt. Zion Eagles both suffered significant losses to graduation, leaving the Trion Bulldogs as the primary challenger to Darlington. The remaining subregion teams—the Christian Heritage Lions, Gordon Lee Trojans and North Cobb Christian Eagles—will face challenges to reach the state playoffs in 2017.
The Fellowship Christian Paladins, who lost to Eagles Landing Christian in the 2016 Class A Private School state championship game, are a slight favorite over traditional power Mt. Paran Christian in the Region 6-A B, or southern, subregion. Pinecrest Academy and Mt. Pisgah Christian are contenders for playoff berths followed by Walker, Whitefield Academy, St. Francis and Kings Ridge Christian.
The Unity Christian School Lions are looking to put 2016 behind them after finishing winless in the GICAA 8-Man Division. UCS has put together a full 10-game schedule for 2017 mixed with region opponents and schools with new football programs. The Lions will compete in the North Region of Division II with Arlington Christian School, Cherokee Christian School, Harvester Christian Academy, New Creation Christian Academy, and Peachtree Academy. UCS has only three games scheduled at home.
Georgia School for the Deaf
The GSD Tigers enter 2017 with one of their toughest schedules in recent years. Tradition rich Mississippi School for the Deaf has replaced South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind on the 2017 slate. Combine that with Carolina Schools for the Deaf and always strong Tennessee School for the Deaf and Louisiana School for the Deaf and the Tigers must be at their best every week.