When the season began, Southwest DeKalb coach Damien Wimes wasn’t sure about his offensive line. There were no starters returning from last year’s unbeaten team and that was an issue if the Panthers were going to defend their Region 5 title.
Turns out those worries were unfounded. Southwest DeKalb line coach Julius Gant has pushed the young line to accomplish some great things. The Panthers are averaging 333.9 yards per game, third-best in DeKalb County, and have scored a region-best 310 points.
“That’s been the biggest surprise, the progress of the offensive line,” Wimes said. “And this group will all be coming back next year.”
The Panthers (8-1) will need all the offense it can this week when they play Columbia (4-5) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Godfrey Stadium. The winner will be the Region 5 champion and play Hiram in the first round of the state playoffs. The loser will host No. 10 Kell in the first round.
The Southwest DeKalb defense faces a huge challenge this week against an offensive-minded Columbia team that ranks No. 2 in DeKalb County in total offense (394.1 yards per game) and has scored 251 points. The Eagles have survived a difficult schedule that included non-region games against Stockbridge and Valdosta. One of their losses was via forfeit to Towers, a team the Eagles beat 40-14.
Columbia quarterback Octavious Griffin is a two-way threat. He ranks second in DeKalb in passing with 2,036 yards and 21 touchdowns, and has run for 414 yards and five touchdowns.
Southwest DeKalb quarterback Rion White has thrown for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“Columbia is a good team,” Wimes said. “They’re well-coach, they’re athletic and they’ve got some big kids. It will be a very good challenge.”
In other big games this weekend:
Warner Robins at Veterans, Friday, 7:30 p.m. Two ranked teams will meet to determine the Region 1 championship. No. 4 Warner Robins (8-1) has lost only to Class AAAAAAA power Colquitt County. Veterans (8-1) suffered its only loss at Statesboro. Warner Robins is 5-0 against their Houston County neighbor and won last year’s game 28-0.
Wayne County at Ware County, Friday, 7:30 p.m. No. 7 Wayne County (7-1) will travel to No. 10 Ware County (6-3) to decide the Region 2 champion. It is the fourth straight season the game will determine the No. 1 seed – Ware County won in 2016, and Wayne County won in 2017 and 2018. Wayne County leads the series 17-16.
Griffin at Riverdale, (Southern Crescent), Friday, 7:30 p.m. Both teams still have a shot at the Region 3 championship if Starr’s Mill stumbles in its game against Fayette County. Otherwise the winner of the Griffin (8-1) vs. Riverdale (7-2) will finish in second place and earn the No. 2 seed, since Starr’s Mill defeated both head-to-head, and loser will place third and hit the road in the first round of the playoffs.
Jones County at Stockbridge, Friday, 7:30 p.m. No. 3 Jones County (9-0) has already clinched the Region 4 championship, but Stockbridge (7-2) has plenty at stake. If Stockbridge wins, the Tigers will finish in third place. If Stockbridge loses, the Tigers could fall into a tie for fourth place. Jones County has secured its first region title since 2001 and victory would give the school its first unbeaten season.
Clarke Central at Buford, Friday, 7:30 p.m. No. 1 Buford (9-0) has had no difficulty against Region 8 opposition, but must beat Clarke Central (6-3) to earn its seven straight region title. The Wolves are 4-0 against the league and outscored those opponents 166-27. Clarke Central has battled through some injury problems this season. Buford and Clarke have met only three times, with the Wolves winning all three of them by no fewer than 31 points.
Carver vs. Decatur (Lakewood Stadium), Saturday, 2 p.m. The winner of this game earns the No. 2 spot in Region 6. Decatur (7-2) will return to the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Carver (6-3) will earn a playoff spot for the eighth straight season. Carver running back Jo’Quavious Marks, a Mississippi State signee, is back in form after missing the Riverwood game with an injury, Marks has rushed for 1,544 yards and 20 touchdowns.
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