Class AAAAAA football blog: Region 7 preview

Friday Night football: The Northview defense prepares to battle the Johns Creek offense in the trenches during Friday's matchup in Johns Creek. (John Amis/Special)
Friday Night football: The Northview defense prepares to battle the Johns Creek offense in the trenches during Friday's matchup in Johns Creek. (John Amis/Special)

The football playoff race in Region 7 should be one of the most wide-open battles in Class AAAAAA this fall.

Johns Creek, the 2019 champion, will be back following the GHSA’s recent reclassification, but the other three playoff teams (Alpharetta, North Atlanta and Northview) as well as fifth-place Pope and eighth-place Dunwoody have moved out.

Of the region’s four newest members – Creekview, River Ridge, Riverwood and Sequoyah – only Riverwood made the playoffs last season. That leaves the eight-team region with just two 2019 playoff teams, the fewest of any region in Class AAAAAA.

Johns Creek has grown into a consistent winner and will enter the 2020 season as the region favorite. The Gladiators claimed region titles in three of the past four seasons and last year picked up their first playoff victory in the program’s 11-year history, beating Alexander 59-34. The Gladiators will have to replace four all-state players – athlete Dalton Pearson, linebacker Jon Ross Maye, quarterback Ben Whitlock and defensive back Patrick Taylor. Whitlock, who passed for 3,255 yards and 35 touchdowns, was the GACA’s Class AAAAAA North offensive player of the year, and Maye was the Region 7 defensive player of they year. The leading returning player is defensive back John Stegenga, who finished fourth on the team in total tackles (71) and had a team-high four interceptions.

Riverwood, moving up from Region 6-AAAAA, will try to build off the best season in the program’s 50-year history. The Raiders won a school-record 11 games, captured their first region title and won a state playoff game for just the second time (first since 2001). Head coach Robert Edwards has gone 19-4 in two seasons at a school that was 2-8 in 2017 and had won just 40 percent of its games before his arrival. Riverwood loses five first-team all-region players but brings back the region’s most valuable player, defensive end/tight end Jonathan Brown, and first-team defensive backs Khalil Anderson and Zach Cigelske. The Raiders also return second-team all-region running back Quinterio Lawson, who ran for a team-high 608 yards last season as a freshman.

Cherokee County schools Creekview, River Ridge and Sequoyah failed to make the playoffs last season in difficult Region 6-AAAAAA, which produced state champion Harrison and runner-up Allatoona, but expect at least a couple of them to be factors in the playoff race this year.

Creekview, in its first season under head coach Trevor Williams, finished in fifth place and was denied a playoff berth by a 27-21 loss to Sprayberry in the next-to-last game of the regular season. The Grizzlies were region champions in 2018 and finished with a school-best 12-1 record.

Sequoyah went 5-5 in 2019 and missed the playoffs for just the second time in eight years. The Chiefs went 10-3 and reached the state quarterfinals in 2018.

River Ridge, which opened in 2009, is still seeking its first playoff berth since 2012. The Knights struggled in their four seasons in Region 6, winning just five of 30 region games and posting a combined overall record of 11-29.

The other three returning members of the region – north Fulton County schools Cambridge, Chattahoochee and Centennial – finished among the bottom four teams in the final standings. The fall was biggest for Centennial, which was 0-10 in its only season under coach Shane Sams. The Knights had been region runners-up the previous three seasons, going 21-3 in region play and 23-11 overall. New coach Sean O’Sullivan turned the North Atlanta program around, posting a 12-9 record in two seasons and leading the Warriors to the playoffs last year for the first time since 1996. North Atlanta was the third-place team in Region 7 last year but has moved to Region 4.

Cambridge made the playoffs as a No. 4 seed in 2016 but finished in fifth, seventh and sixth place the past three years. The Bears were in the playoff hunt until the final week of the regular season in 2019, when three of their five region losses came by three points or less. Head coach Craig Bennett started the Cambridge program in 2012.

Chattahoochee won a state championship in 2010 and went 10-2 in 2011 but has not been able to recapture the magic. The Cougars have had just two playoff seasons since, most recently in 2017, but bottomed out at 0-10 the following year. Coach Mike Malone improved the team to 3-7 last season. Returning wide receiver Jordan Palmer was a first-team all-region pick in 2019 after finishing with a team-high 1,057 yards and 14 touchdowns.

2019 Region 7-AAAAAA standings

Team / Overall record / Region record / Playoff result

Johns Creek / 10-2 / 8-0 / Lost to Valdosta 28-24 in second round

Alpharetta (moving to 5-AAAAAAA) / 7-4 / 7-1 / Lost to Creekside 28-0 in first round

North Atlanta (moving to 4-AAAAAA) / 7-4 / 5-3 / Lost to South Paulding 41-27 in first round

Northview (moving to 5-AAAAA) / 6-5 / 5-3 / Lost to Mays 39-7 in first round

Pope (moving to 6-AAAAAA) / 5-5 / 4-4 / Did not make playoffs

Cambridge / 4-6 / 3-5 / Did not make playoffs

Chattahoochee / 3-7 / 2-6 / Did not make playoffs

Dunwoody (moving to 7-AAAAAAA) / 3-7 / 2-6 / Did not make playoffs

Centennial / 0-10 / 0-8 / Did not make playoffs

(Teams moving in)

Creekview (from 6-AAAAAA) / 6-4 / 4-4 / Did not make playoffs

River Ridge (from 6-AAAAAA) / 3-7 / 2-6 / Did not make playoffs

Riverwood (from 6-AAAAA) / 11-1 / 7-0 / Lost to Dutchtown 31-7 in second round

Sequoyah (from 6-AAAAAA) / 5-5 / 4-4 / Did not make playoffs

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