The Hillgrove Harks take the field during their home game against the McEachern Indians Friday, October 5, 2018 at Hillgrove High School. 
Photo: Daniel Varnado/For the AJC
Photo: Daniel Varnado/For the AJC

2019 football schedules are out: Here are 10 standout games

The Georgia High School Association released the 2019 football schedules on Monday for a season that’s just three months away. The first games are Thursday, Aug. 22.

Here are 10 of the more intriguing games at first glance:

North Gwinnett vs. Colquitt County (Aug. 24): These two have played in the playoffs the past two seasons, with North Gwinnett winning in the 2017 Class AAAAAAA championship game on Cameron Clark’s field goal, and Colquitt County humbling the Bulldogs 45-0 in the 2018 quarterfinals. The big thing about this game, though, is the Colquitt County sideline, which won’t have Rush Propst pacing it for the first time in 12 years. The coach who led the Packers to state titles in 2014 and 2015 was fired in the off-season. The new coach is Justin Rogers, a spread-offense whiz who led Jones County to 45 wins and a pair of quarterfinal finishes the past five years in his first head-coaching opportunity. Jones County had won 28 games the previous five seasons and hadn’t made the quarters in decades. He might have the classification’s best running back, Daijun Edwards, while North Gwinnett might have the best wide receiver in class, Josh Downs. This game is part of the Corky Kell Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

St. Joseph’s Prep (Pa.) at Marietta (Aug. 30): Marietta’s season nose-dived to a 5-6 finish last year amid some devastating injuries, but may believe Blue Devils are the team to beat in Class AAAAAAA this season. They have nine rising seniors ranked among the top 100 prospects in Georgia, according to the 247Sports Composite. No other Georgia school in the highest classification has more than four. Tight end Arik Gilbert, who had 88 catches for 1,210 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, is a five-star recruit. Quarterback Harrison Bailey, defensive end/tackle B.J. Ojulari, tackle Jake Wray and defensive back Rashad Torrence are consensus four-star prospects. Marietta opens at Rome in the Corky Kell Classic, then faces St. Joseph’s Prep — the Pennsylvania Class 6A champion and the alma mater of Georgia running back D’Andre Swift. St. Joseph’s was ranked No. 11 in MaxPreps’ final Xcellent 25 last season.

Milton vs. JSerra Catholic (Sept. 13): Milton, the defending AAAAAAA champion, has two especially interesting games in September. The other is against Parkview on Sept. 27. Parkview, led by four-star running back Cody Brown, has been knocking on the door to greatness for the past few seasons under coach Eric Godfree, so that might be the biggest pre-region game in the classification. But Milton’s game against JSerra Catholic is historic. Milton will be the first Georgia team to play a game in California. JSerra was 9-3 in last season and ranked No. 17 nationally in the MaxPreps’ final computer national rankings. Milton lost plenty of talent but should be pretty solid again in its title defense.

Clinch County at Irwin County (Sept. 20): It’s become the best rivalry in Class A. They’ve 4-4 against each other since Buddy Nobles came to Irwin in 2014, but Clinch has beaten Irwin in the 2015, 2017 and 2018 finals while Irwin has been left holding four region titles as consolation. The two schools are an hour apart and not natural geographic rivals despite sharing the same region. They’ll probably part ways next year when the GHSA remakes Class A and creates eight regions of public schools and eight of private schools. By the way, Clinch County will have a new head coach, Don Tison Jr. Talk about tough shoes to fill. His father, Don Sr., put Homerville football on the map from 1974 to 1993, when he won seven region and two state titles. And Tison Jr. is replacing Jim Dickerson, who retired after winning five state titles.

Athens Academy at Prince Avenue Christian (Oct. 4): Or is this the best Class A rivalry yet? Certainly in the private sector. It’s one of the best cross-town rivalries in any class. Athens Academy has been the Class A private-school runner-up the past two seasons. Prince Avenue Christian has made the semifinals the past four seasons. Each will have one of the state’s best players this fall. Len’Neth Whitehead of Athens Academy is a four-star recruit at linebacker but more prominent as a running back in high school. He ran for 1,481 yards last season. Prince Avenue quarterback Brock Vandagriff is a five-star recruit in the class of 2021 who passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 as a sophomore.

Grayson at Archer (Oct. 18): These two Region 8-AAAAAAA programs rank 2-3 in winning percentage since 2013 with Grayson at 61-15 and Archer at 60-18. (Colquitt County leads at 74-13.) Archer was blown out by Grayson 41-14 last season but made the semifinals, losing to Colquitt 22-21, while Grayson was upset in the quarterfinals and wound up parting ways with coach Christian Hunnicutt, who landed at Villa Rica. Grayson has hired Adam Carter, who led Creekview of Cherokee County to a historic 12-1 finish last season in his first as a head coach.

Lee County vs. Northside-Robins (Oct. 18): One of the season’s best games will come from Region 1-AAAAAA. No one can be sure this early of which one. The region has five teams that play 10 games among themselves. Four have played for state titles since the region was configured in 2016. Lee County has won the past two and beat Northside for the crown in 2018. Northside last won in 2014. As for the others, Coffee lost to Lee in the 2017 finals, and Valdosta won the title in 2016.

Hillgrove at Marietta (Oct. 25): Marietta, with nine major-college prospects, might be the team to beat in Region 3-AAAAAAA, or even the state, but Hillgrove is the two-time defending champion and has beaten Marietta six straight times, albeit once by forfeit in 2017 when two Marietta starters were declared ineligible months after a 28-17 on-field win. The 2019 game features the state’s two most highly recruited players, per 247Sports – No. 1 Myles Murphy, a defensive end for Hillgrove, and No. 2 Arik Gilbert, a tight end for Marietta. The last time that happened was 2007, when Westlake’s Cam Newton faced Creekside’s Eric Berry. (Those two turned out pretty well.) Hillgrove ranks seventh in wins (79) and tied for fourth in region titles (four) this decade. Hillgrove is friendly enough with Marietta to play the Blue Devils in a scrimmage this spring, but its fans haven’t forgotten that Marietta star quarterback Harrison Bailey grew up in the Hillgrove district and chose to play for the Blue Devils.

Heard County at Callaway (Oct. 25): Heard County, the defending Class AA champion, also will play Rockmart on Sept. 13 in a state-finals rematch, but the Region 5-AA game counts in the standings and might be more telling for where AA is headed this season. Callaway has a wealth of riches in Tank Bigsby, a 2,000-yard rusher and four-star recruit, and lineman Tate Johnson and receiver Jacob Freeman, both three-star recruits. Heard County was unranked in mid-October last year when the Braves upset No. 2 Callaway, launching the Braves to their first-ever state championship. Now, Callaway is a possible preseason No. 1 team seeking its first state title.

Warner Robins at Bainbridge (Oct. 25): This game between Region 1-AAAAA teams will be a rematch of the 2018 championship won by Bainbridge 47-41 in triple overtime. It was probably the wildest or most exciting state final in history. Warner Robins had scored Bainbridge 38-0 in the regular season. Two of Bainbridge’s most exciting players, freshman Deyon Bouie and sophomore running back Caleb McDowell, will return. Warner Robins quarterback Dylan Fromm will be at Mercer this fall, but Marcayll Jones, who set a state record for receiving yards in a season (2,071), is back. Warner Robins also will have a new head coach, Marquis Westbrook, promoted from defensive coordinator. Head coach Mike Chastain left to take the Jones County job. 

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