Bainbridge: In fall of 2020, the Bainbridge Bearcats will be just two seasons removed from their run to the Class AAAAA state title. The program is being joined by its former Region 1-AAAAA opponent Thomas County Central and will also have a ton of familiarity with Cairo. The Bearcats and Cairo have met 75 times in their history and head coach Jeff Littleton has led Bainbridge past the Syrupmakers five out of the last six meetings, including a 14-10 victory this past season. The familiarity, however, runs even deeper than that. Coach Littleton was Cairo's defensive coordinator before Bainbridge brought him on board 2013. When Bainbridge won its state title in 2018, the team overcame a 2-4 start to the season and also avenged a 38-0 regular season loss to Warner Robins with a championship-clinching 47-41 triple-overtime victory over the Demons. That impressive playoff run also included wins over Jones County, Wayne County, Buford and Stockbridge prior to the win over Warner Robins. Bainbridge has competed in the same region as Thomas County Central the past several seasons and has outclassed the Yellow Jackets by a whopping 39 points per game in their last three meetings. This past season, Bainbridge topped Thomas County Central 42-7 to close out the regular season, but then suffered a disappointing 21-20 loss to Griffin in the opening round of the state playoffs. It was a game that Bainbridge led 20-7 with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter before Griffin stormed back to steal the one-point victory. "We put ourselves in position and made some plays early," Littleton told The Post Searchlight following the loss. "We played really, really good for three quarters and we just couldn't finish them off. I give them a lot of credit. They made three big plays on us. That's the difference in the game." Turning the page from a disappointing playoff loss will be the goal for Littleton and the Bearcats this upcoming Fall as they take on an entire new classification and region slate. Defensively, Bainbridge will be anchored by 6-foot-1, 220-pound outside linebacker Tahari Tate, who was recently offered a scholarship by Western Carolina. Tate produced a staggering 31 tackles for loss over the course of the 2019 season and also posted five fumble recoveries, five blocked punts and two blocked field goals.
Cairo: Similarly, to Bainbridge, Cairo suffered a disappointing first-round loss that ended its 2019 season. The Syrupmakers earned the No. 2 seed out of Region 1 behind Carver-Columbus and hosted a talented 4-6 Baldwin team that had athleticism and experience to concern Cairo head coach Steve Devoursney leading up to the game. "Everybody tells me they're the best team in that region, so it wasn't a good draw for us,'' head coach Steve Devoursney told the Valdosta Daily Times about playing Baldwin in the first round. "They're very athletic, very fast on offense and defense.'' Baldwin's speed did in fact overwhelm Cairo in a penalty-filled first half and the Syrupmakers quickly found themselves trailing 38-14. All 14 of those points came via special teams and the Cairo offense that had lit up the scoreboard all season long was non-existent until the second half. Ultimately, Cairo fell short 38-30 and closed out the season 8-3. This upcoming year, Cairo will be returning Tay Solomon to its backfield. Solomon was the leading back in 2019 and is also an explosive kick returner.