The Stephenson-M.L. King game wasn’t one that figured to attract a lot of attention when the season began.
After all, Stephenson is the defending Region 4-AAAAAA champion, was ranked as high as No. 7 in the preseason polls, and had won six consecutive games against the Lions, including 29-6 last year.
M.L. King, on the other hand, was coming off a school-worst 1-9 season, finishing in last place in the nine-team region, and was projected to finish sixth this year (and win just three games) by the computer Maxwell Ratings.
Seven weeks later, things look a lot different as they prepare to meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston.
M.L. King, led by senior quarterback Jacobi Haynes, is 4-0 this season for the first time since 2012 and in the hunt for its first winning season or playoff berth since 2013. The Lions are 2-0 in Region 4, a half-game behind leaders Lovejoy and Tucker.
Haynes has passed for 715 yards and rushed for 472, accounting for 77 percent of the Lions’ offense.
“He has an uncanny feel for the tempo of the game,” Lions coach Deante’ Lamar told Georgia High School Football Daily this week. “He runs like a back, has the ability to make himself small in the hole and is a physical runner. He also throws the ball really well, which surprises our opponents. So far this season he is making the correct choice in the run and pass game.”
Stephenson will try to meet that challenge with a defense that is allowing 10.8 points per game, the best in DeKalb County.
The Jaguars are 3-1 overall but currently sit sixth in the region at 1-1 after a surprising 14-9 loss to Mount Zion-Jonesboro, which finished seventh in the region last year but, like M.L. King, is much improved. The Bulldogs are 2-3 overall, with the three losses coming by a total of 10 points, but 2-1 in the region. Their only region loss was a 14-13 game against M.L. King on Sept. 20.
Here are five other games involving Class AAAAAA teams to keep an eye on this weekend:
*Gainesville at Dacula: Dacula (5-0) will play as a No. 1-ranked team for the first time in its history when it hosts Gainesville in the teams’ Region 8 opener. The Falcons have won three consecutive region titles and 15 straight region games, including 37-7 against Gainesville last year. The Red Elephants (2-3), a playoff team last year despite a 2-8 regular season, appear significantly improved.
*Hughes at Creekside: Defending Region 5 champion Creekside can move into sole possession of first place with a victory over its south Fulton County rival. The Seminoles are tied with South Paulding at 3-0 in the region, but the Spartans have the week off. Mays also is undefeated but has played one fewer game. Creekside beat Hughes 17-14 last year and has won nine consecutive region games.
*Northview at North Atlanta (Grady Stadium): Northview and North Atlanta are two of the three one-loss teams in Region 7 play (Pope is the other) that are trying to keep pace with Johns Creek and Alpharetta in the playoff race. Northview has been to the playoffs just twice since starting football in 2002. North Atlanta hasn’t been since 1996. Odds are good that at least one will make it this year.
*Tucker at Lovejoy: Lost in the hype surrounding the Stephenson-M.L. King game is the fact that either Tucker or Lovejoy will be in sole possession of first place in Region 4 after this weekend. Both are 3-0 in region play. Tucker has won its three region games by a combined score of 118-20 after starting the year 0-2. Lovejoy’s only loss came against AAAAA Southwest DeKalb two weeks ago.
*Warner Robins at Houston County: Houston County faces its county rival in a final tune-up before heading to Valdosta next week for the Region 1 opener. Warner Robins, ranked No. 6 in Class AAAAA, is coming a 39-0 victory last week against Northside-Warner Robins, another Region 1 team. Houston County lost its most recent game, 7-2 to Veterans, but is 4-1 for the first time since 2016.
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