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Class AAA: Cedar Grove takes 2019 title; reclassification could play big in 2020

Cedar Grove's Isaiah Ratcliff celebrates with the trophy after the AAA state title football game win over Crisp County on Saturday Dec.14, 2019. John Amis / Special
Cedar Grove's Isaiah Ratcliff celebrates with the trophy after the AAA state title football game win over Crisp County on Saturday Dec.14, 2019. John Amis / Special

Credit: John Amis / Special

Credit: John Amis / Special

The 2019 high school football season proved historic for Cedar Grove. The Saints' senior class leaves a legacy of excellence, winning three state championships in four seasons after losing in the semifinals in 2017.

As a new season lurks on the horizon, several questions can be asked as 2019 draws to a close. Will the Cedar Grove dynasty continue? And can the word dynasty be used, anyway? What's the deal with reclassification? How does that impact the teams that will remain in the class?

But first, Cedar Grove.

"The 2019-2020 class can use the word (dynasty)," said first-year coach Miguel Patrick, who replaced a departing Jimmy Smith, who became an assistant at Georgia State. "They won three titles in four years. This senior class can use that word, yes, that they are a dynasty."

The Saints missed the playoffs from 2000-2009, but in the past decade the Saints have been in the playoffs each season. They won their first title in 2016 after beating Greater Atlanta Christian 30-19. Cedar Grove won the state title last season with a 14-13 victory against Peach County, when Jadon Haselwood caught a touchdown pass with seconds left in the game. This season, it was Crisp County that lost to the Saints, and Cedar Grove will likely enter as a heavy favorite next season.

Here are some other observations from 2019:

The Good:

-- Miguel Patrick led Cedar Grove to a title defense in his first season as a head coach. He laid the groundwork for the Saints' success to continue for years to come. The Saints return quarterback Austin Smith for his senior season. Wide receiver Janiran Bonner will return for his junior season. Running back Rashod Dubinion returns for his junior year with a group that has experience and talent. But there will be some growing pains (keep reading).

-- There's also a lot to like about what's going on in Cordele after Crisp's historic run to the state championship game. The Cougars should be bigger force in 2020. Crisp only graduates 13 players and will return a majority of its play-makers from this year's runner-up team, including quarterback AJ Lofton, running back Marquise Palmer, quarterback Jack Carter, linebacker Chris Paul Jr., wide receiver and defensive back Sirad Bryant and countless others on the defensive and offensive lines and throughout the secondary. Crisp has the experience, and with new in-class talent to play against in its new region (see reclassification) the Cougars will be ready for another postseason run.

The Bad:

-- Cedar Grove will lose several key players to graduation, including defensive end Alvin Williams, running back Chavon Wright, linebacker and running back Isaiah Ratcliff, wide receiver Coreyon Cone, cornerback Tee Denson and several others. The Saints graduate around 21 seniors and will have to replace some contributors from the championship team.

-- Top-ranked Peach County was dominated by Cedar Grove in the quarterfinals, 36-3, and will enter 2-AAA next season with tougher region competition. But the Trojans graduate around 33 players from the quarterfinal team. The Trojans lost out in the championship game in 2017 (Calhoun, 10-6) and 2018 (Cedar Grove, 14-13) before losing in the quarterfinals this year. Peach County will have to replace numerous key players, including quarterback Jaydon Gibson, linebacker Sergio Allen (Clemson), Daelan Smith (West Point), Justin Harris (Georgia Southern), Noah Whittington (Western Kentucky), Talique Allen (Western Kentucky) and Colby Towns (Alcorn State).

-- Calhoun lost to North Murray in the regular season, resulting in the Jackets missing out on a region title for the first time since 2001. The Yellow Jackets will join 7-AAAAA next season with Blessed Trinity and Cartersville. That's a tough row.

-- Reclassification and what to expect for next year: There's no other way to say it. Reclassification will have a massive impact on the class and the storied rivalries and storylines that have floated around AAA for years (see new regions below). Here are some of the biggest shifts: Region 2 will be a tough test with Peach County, formerly Region 4, and Crisp County, formerly Region 1, joining former AAAA programs Americus-Sumter, Mary Persons and Upson-Lee. Next season Cedar Grove will be a part of the vastly different Region 5 after reclassification. The Saints will be tested by Sandy Creek, which is dropping down from AAAA, and Greater Atlanta Christian, which is moving over from Region 7. In Region 8, AAAA runner-up Oconee County will join the fray alongside Hart County, Franklin County, Monroe Area, Stephens County and East Jackson.

Final Rankings

1. Cedar Grove (13-2)
2. Crisp County (11-4)
3. Peach County (11-2)
4. Jefferson (10-2)
5. Jenkins (12-2)
6. Greater Atlanta Christian (12-2)
7. North Murray (11-2)
8. Hart County (10-3)
9. Pierce County (11-1)
10. Appling County (9-3)

2020-21 Region Alignments

1-AAA (5)

Appling County

Brantley County

Long County

Pierce County

Tattnall County

2-AAA (8)

Americus-Sumter

Central, Macon

Crisp County

Jackson

Mary Persons

Peach County

Pike County

Upson-Lee

3-AAA (8)

Beach

Groves

Johnson, Savannah

Liberty County

Savannah

Savannah Arts Academy*

Southeast Bulloch

Windsor Forest

4-AAA (7)

Burke County

Cross Creek

Harlem

Hephzibah

Morgan County

Richmond Academy

Thomson

5-AAA (8)

Carver, Atlanta

Cedar Grove

Douglass, Atlanta

Greater Atlanta Christian

Redan

Salem

Sandy Creek

Westminster

6-AAA (9)

Adairsville

Coahulla Creek

LaFayette

Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe

Murray County

North Murray

Ringgold

Rockmart

Sonoraville

7-AAA (8)

Cherokee Bluff

Dawson County

East Forsyth (2021-22)

Gilmer

Lumpkin County

North Hall

West Hall

White County

8-AAA (6)

East Jackson

Franklin County

Hart County

Monroe Area

Oconee County

Stephens County

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