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Class AAAA Blog: Region 1 Breakdown

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On Tuesday, 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 . Today's blog will begin a region-by-region breakdown of Class AAAA's new landscape and highlights the six teams that will be competing in Region 1-AAAA starting in the fall.

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.

Dougherty: The Trojans hired former Monroe and Albany State quarterback Johnny Gilbert to take over in 2019. As a Monroe High School alum, Gilbert took the reins of his former rival school and was tasked with building off Dougherty's winless 2018 campaign. The Trojans ultimately closed out a 2-8 finish in Gilbert's first season and a 2-6 finish in region play. For perspective, those two region victories are as many as Dougherty had amassed in its six previous seasons combined and the team nearly added more victories with narrow losses against Americus-Sumter, Shaw and Hardaway. Against his former school, Dougherty was defeated 26-22 by Monroe when they met in non-region action. Now, with the two rivals back in the same region, expect Doughtery's next matchup with the Tornadoes at Albany's Mills Stadium to have added excitement surrounding it now that it will have playoff implications.

Monroe: Head coach Charles Truitt is leading the Monroe football program for the 19th-straight season and is back in Class AAAA for the first time since 2016 when the Tornadoes competed in a split Region 1 that contained all five of its new region counterparts. Monroe has reached three straight postseasons heading into 2020, but those appearances came out of a four-team Region 1-AAA. The competition in 2020 will be challenging for the Tornadoes and preparing for the new region slate will be made even harder with the absence of spring practice and the possibility of further disruptions to the offseason training program, which Truitt sees as an invaluable tool for his evaluation process. "Summer determines our season," Truitt told the Albany Herald a year ago. "We have to get better every day or else we lose a day. Right now I think we are getting better every day." Monroe graduated senior quarterback Jordan Edwards and their most productive wide receiver Za'tarious Anderson. Defensively, Brandon Washington had a breakout sophomore season and proved to be a disruptive pass rusher with his seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

Thomas County Central: The Yellow Jackets have missed out on the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1989-90 heading into 2020. The program is led by head coach Ashley Henderson, who took over in 2018. Thomas County Central has gone 0-4 in region play in each of the last two seasons as it competed in Region 1-AAAAA with Warner Robins, Harris County, Veterans and Bainbridge. Last season, the team finished 5-5 with narrow region losses to Harris County and Veterans ultimately keeping the Yellow Jackets out of the playoffs. Turnovers were an issue in 2019 as Class of 2021 quarterback Kalique Guyton threw interceptions in 8-of-10 games and had six games with multiple interceptions. The offense put up 25.7 points per game in 2019, however, and will have plenty of returning talent in the backfield and at receiver.

Westover: The Patriots were 6-2 heading into the final two games of their 2019 season, but fell 58-45 to Americus-Sumter and 7-3 to Hardaway and missed out of the playoffs. Offensively, the team averaged 33 points per game, despite the 3-point output in its loss to Hardaway to close out the year. The six victories were the most produced by the program since 2014, the last time Westover reached the playoffs. In 2020, Westover will return receivers Jordyn Williams, Dailan Hall and Rodney Bullard to its passing game, but Class of 2022 passer Keshay Walton will have to earn the starting job after the graduation of Cameron Hopkins. Walton stepped in as a starter when Westover faced Northside-Columbus on Sept. 20 and completed 20-of-25 attempts for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead Westover to a 42-21 victory.

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