Stephenson running back Ryan Ingram scores a touchdown during last year’s game against Tucker. Stephenson defeated its DeKalb rival Tucker 30-24. (Branden Camp/Special)

Class AAAAAA blog: As always, Stephenson, Tucker, Lovejoy teams to beat in Region 4

Lovejoy and Morrow got a jump on the rest of Class AAAAAA two weekends ago when they became the first teams in the classification to play, and win, a region contest. 

The rest of 4-AAAAAA will join in this weekend as the region has a full slate of games that include defending champion Stephenson at Mount-Zion Jonesboro (Thursday), Lovejoy at Drew, Mundy’s Mill at Morrow and Forest Park at Tucker. M.L. King, which is off this weekend, will be the only Region 4 team without a league game under its belt after Friday night. 

On Tuesdays over the next few weeks, we’ll examine the playoff outlooks for every team as region play kicks off (or shortly after it begins). We continue today with Region 4. 

Regions 5 and 7 also begin region play this weekend, and they will be discussed in future weeks. 

Here’s a closer look at each of the Region 4 teams, broken down by playoff likelihood, in alphabetical order within each group: 

*Defending champion: Stephenson 

*Safest playoff bets: Lovejoy, Stephenson, Tucker 

These teams have been the top three playoff seeds from Region 5 every year since it took its current form in 2016, and there is no reason to think it won’t happen again. Seventh-ranked Stephenson (2-0, 0-0) claimed the championship last season, and Tucker (0-2, 0-0) won the previous two titles. Last year, Tucker went 0-2 in non-region play but came back to earn second place in the region. The Tigers must do it again after dropping their first two games to Class AAAAAAA powers Archer (41-7) and Grayson (37-14). Lovejoy (2-0, 1-0) survived Banneker 21-20 to open the season and began region play with an impressive 26-0 victory over Mundy’s Mill. 

*In the hunt: Drew, M.L. King, Morrow, Mundy’s Mill 

Despite losing its region opener to Lovejoy, Mundy’s Mill (2-1, 0-1) remains the team to beat from this group for a playoff berth. The Tigers were the No. 4 seed in 2018 and won both non-region games this year. M.L. King (2-0, 0-0) is the wild card of the region. The Lions went 1-9 and finished in last place last year but have rolled to a 2-0 start, including an impressive 40-6 victory over Arabia Mountain last week. Morrow (1-2, 1-0) will find out its fate quickly, as its next four games are against Mundy’s Mill, Stephenson, Lovejoy and Tucker. The Mustangs will need to win at least one of those four to have a shot. Drew (0-2, 0-0) was the fifth-place team in 2018 but has gotten off to a rough start with losses to Lowndes (69-6) and Riverdale (53-7). The Titans face Lovejoy this week. 

*Long shots: Mount Zion-Jonesboro 

The jury is still out on Mount Zion (0-2, 0-0). The Bulldogs finished in seventh place in the region last year and have started the season 0-2, but those losses have been close and came against two good Class AAAAA teams, Jonesboro (15-12) and Starr’s Mill (14-8). Mount Zion plays Stephenson in the region opener Thursday, then plays what is likely a must-win game against M.L. King. 

*Not this year: Forest Park 

Forest Park (0-2, 0-1) returned to region play last season after two years of playing a non-region schedule. To their credit, the Panthers finished 3-7 overall, matching their best record since 2002, and 2-6 in region games. However, the start of the new season has not been kind, as Forest Park has yet to score a point in lopsided losses to Lithonia (51-0) and region opponent Morrow (35-0). 

*Games to watch: 

The Region 4 title hasn’t been decided each of the past three years until Stephenson and Tucker met on the final weekend of the regular season, and it’s likely to be the case again in 2019. Lovejoy’s games against Tucker (Oct. 4) and Stephenson (Nov. 1), both of which will be played at Lovejoy’s Twelve Oaks Stadium, are likely to be significant, as well. And we’ll find out how much of a factor M.L. King will be when it hits a three-game stretch against Mundy’s Mill, Stephenson and Lovejoy, beginning on Sept. 27. 

*** 

Next week: Region 5-AAAAAA

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