Class AAAA Blog: Region 4 Breakdown

Last week, the Class AAAA blog took a look at each of the eight regions in the classification and listed the updated region assignments for each one. Following the general overview, began a region-by-region breakdown of Class AAAA's new landscape and highlighted the six teams that will be competing in Region 1-AAAA , the new Region 2-AAAA field of nine teams and then Region 3-AAAA. Today, we will look at Region 4. The former eight-team region is being replaced by five programs that all competed within the classification this past season and a pair of teams that arrive from Class AAA. Howard, Perry, Spalding and West Laurens come from Region 2 and Baldwin comes in from Region 3 in Class AAAA. Rutland and Westside-Macon come from Region 4 in Class AAA.

Baldwin: In recent seasons, Baldwin has overcome its early struggles in the season by succeeding where it really counts: region games and the playoff success. The team has now advanced past the first round of the state playoffs in three-straight seasons heading into 2020 and has a 10-3 region record compared to its 5-12 non-region record over the same span. The Braves have started each of the last two seasons 0-5 and then 1-5 before taking on the region schedule. Baldwin captured a region championship in 2018 and earned a No. 2 seed this past season as a result of a three-way tie. Baldwin's roster is known for its speed and athleticism and this strength was seen vividly in last year's impressive 38-30 victory over Cairo in the first round. Baldwin is 6-0 all-time against Howard and winners of six of its last eight games against Perry. Head coach Jesse Hicks coached at Baldwin from 2002-09 before making stops at Dougherty and Central-Macon. He returned to the Braves in 2017 and has led them to the playoffs in 10 of his 12 total seasons at the school. Baldwin is 7-3 all-time against West Laurens and 4-0 all-time against Rutland. The school has not faced Westside-Macon since 2013 and this will be the first-ever matchup between the Braves and Spalding.

Howard: The Huskies faced four of its 2020 region opponents in 2019 and compiled a 2-2 record. Howard defeated Westside-Macon 49-21 and Spalding 31-14, but fell short to Perry 40-14 and to West Laurens 43-7. This was part of a 5-5 campaign that saw Howard's two-year playoff streak snapped. Head coach Paul Carroll took over in 2018 and has led the program to a 11-10 record in his first two years. Last year's team opened the year 4-1, before its 1-4 region record closed out the 5-5 season.

Perry: The Panthers advanced past the first round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2007 this past season. Following a 2-3 start to the season, Perry posted four-straight region victories before a 36-2 loss to West Laurens in a de facto region championship showdown. This earned Perry a No. 2 seed and they defeated Hampton 38-0 before falling to eventual state finalist Oconee County 39-7 to close out a 7-5 season.

Spalding: The Jags posted their worst season (1-9) since 2013 this past season and moved on from Jeffrey Hammond after one year by welcoming in new head coach Carl Kearney this offseason. Spalding has struggled especially in region action over the last two seasons and carries a 10-game region losing streak into the 2020 season. Kearney is a Griffin High School alum and served as an assistant coach for the neighboring program on two occasions over the last eight years.

West Laurens: The Raiders made significant noise during the 2019 season and posted an 11-2 finish after three-time state champion Blessed Trinity topped the program 31-0 in the quarterfinals. West Laurens' only other loss during the 2019 season came in a 31-30 non-region contest with Class AAAAA South Effingham. The 22.15 average margin of victory posted by West Laurens in 2019 is the best in school history and the offense's 34.08 ppg were also a school-record. Now that Blessed Trinity and other former Class AAAA powerhouses like Cartersville have moved to other classifications, West Laurens is a program that represents what the top tier of Class AAAA now looks like. The challenge, however, will be replacing former starting quarterback and GCSU baseball-commit A.J. Mathis and the production of running back Daniel Dorsey.

Rutland: Rusty Easom had the task of taking over a Rutland program that hadn't posted a victory in three years when he stepped in as head coach this past year. The result was a 2-8 finish that. The Hurricanes allowed a whopping 42.8 ppg defensively in 2018 and only saw a slight improvement with last year's 38 ppg allowed—in large part to the program's 75-0 loss to Peach County in region play that boosted the team's average considerably.

Westside-Macon: The Seminoles carry an 8-season playoff-streak into 2020 that validates the program's potential considering the caliber of opponents that they had to face in the talented Region 4-AAA. As a result, Westside-Macon arrives in Class AAAA with a chance to find even more success. The key for head coach Sheddrick Risper this upcoming season will be replacing first-team all-state selection Jaylon Barden and honorable mention Victor Dixon Jr. Barden hauled in a team-high 68 catches for 1,234 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2019. As for Dixon, the 6-foot-3 passer completed 180-of-285 attempts (63.2 percent) for 2,483 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while also rushing for eight scores to cap his senior campaign.