Buford players and coach Bryant Appling hold their championship trophy after the GHSA AAAAA state championship game at Georgia State Stadium on Friday, December 13, 2019. Buford won 17-14 over Warner Robins in overtime. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Class AAAAAA football blog: Region 8 preview

Dacula and Lanier, the only Gwinnett County schools in Class AAAAAA during the recently concluded reclassification cycle, controlled 8-AAAAAA the past four seasons.

The county’s dominance of the region in the next two years should be even more pronounced with the addition of Buford, Central Gwinnett and Shiloh. Those schools will join Dacula and Lanier to give Gwinnett five of the seven teams in the region, which also includes returning schools Habersham Central and Winder-Barrow. 

Dacula was the best team in the region over the past four seasons by any measure. The Falcons won four consecutive region titles, went 20-0 in region games and posted an overall record of 38-14. They have made two straight trips to the semifinals, losing to Northside-Warner Robins 14-7 in 2018 and Harrison 38-7 last year. 

Dacula must find replacements for QB Jarrett Jenkins, who was named the region’s player of the year, first-team all-state offensive lineman Riley Adcock and eight other seniors who were named first-team all-region. However, the Falcons also have five all-region players returning, including first-team all-state defensive back Kaleb Edwards, who is the No. 42 senior in Georgia in the 247Sports Composite rankings. 

Lanier had three runner-up finishes in the region, including last year, and one third place over the past four seasons. The Longhorns lost just five region games in that stretch, four of which came against Dacula, and were 33-15 overall. They made their first trip to the state semifinals in 2018 and reached the second round last year. 

The Longhorns graduated the region’s offensive and defensive players of the year. Linebacker Phillip Webb was the highest-rated Class AAAAAA player in Georgia last year and was named the AJC’s defensive player of the year for the classification. Webb signed with LSU. Running back Taj Barnes, who rushed for 1,560 yards and 17 touchdowns, signed with Fordham. The Longhorns had nine players named first-team all-region, but only wide receiver Tyler Washington returns. 

The obvious challenger to Dacula and Lanier’s hold on the region will be Buford, which will enter the season as the only reigning state champion in Class AAAAAA. The Wolves are moving up from Class AAAAA, where they were crowned champions last season after defeating Warner Robins 17-14 in overtime in the state final. Reigning Class AAAAAA champion Harrison has moved up to the highest classification. 

The state title for Buford, which was in its first season under head coach Bryant Appling, was its first in five years but also its 11th in 19 seasons. The Wolves lost five first-team all-region players to graduation from that team but will bring back three – wide receiver Jake Pope, offensive lineman Jacob Smith and linebacker Tommy Beuglas. They also return Gabe Irvin, who was the team’s leading rusher last season with 1,212 yards and is the No. 47 senior in Georgia in the 247Sports Composite rankings. 

Region newcomers Central Gwinnett and Shiloh made the playoffs in the highest classification last season and should be in the hunt for a return to the postseason in 2020. 

Central Gwinnett reached the playoffs for the fifth time in six years but is seeking its first winning season since 2015. The Black Knights lost two all-state selections when quarterback Skylar Adams graduated and wide receiver Daejon Reynolds transferred to Grayson. 

At Shiloh, first-year head coach Tion Ierulli led the Generals to their first winning record (7-4) and playoff appearance since 2003. Jasheen Davis, a Wake Forest signee, was a first-team all-state selection last year. 

Winder-Barrow and Habersham Central have had mixed success in the past four seasons in 8-AAAAAA. 

Winder-Barrow went 9-3 and reached the second round of the playoffs in 2017 and made two other playoff appearances in that four-year stretch but has had losing records in three of the four years, with an overall record of 19-25. Returnee Jacob Merrifield, a tight end and defensive end, was the region’s defensive lineman of the year last season and reportedly has offers from Liberty and Navy. 

Habersham Central has had a similar overall record (17-25) to Winder-Barrow but made the playoffs just once in the past four seasons, posting a 7-5 mark and reaching the second round in 2018. Defensive back/wide receiver Joshua Pickett (the region’s two-way player of the year, committed to Duke) and all-region first-teamers Jackson Clouatre (1,105 yards rushing) and Grayson Taylor (495 yards receiving) return from last year’s 3-7 team. 

2019 Region 8-AAAAAA standings 

Team / Overall record / Region record / Playoff result 

Dacula / 13-1 / 5-0 / Lost to Harrison 38-7 in semifinals 

Lanier / 10-2 / 4-1 / Lost to Richmond Hill 48-34 in second round 

Gainesville (moving to 6-AAAAAAA) / 5-6 / 3-2 / Lost to Allatoona 49-7 in first round 

Winder-Barrow / 3-8 / 2-3 / Lost to Harrison 45-25 in first round 

Apalachee (moving to 8-AAAAA) / 3-7 / 1-4 / Did not make playoffs 

Habersham Central / 3-7 / 0-5 / Did not make playoffs 

(Teams moving in) 

Buford (from 8-AAAAA) / 14-1 / 4-1 / Beat Warner Robins 17-14 in Class AAAAA championship game 

Central Gwinnett (from 7-AAAAAAA) / 3-8 / 3-3 / Lost to Milton 42-7 in first round 

Shiloh (from 8-AAAAAAA) / 7-4 / 2-3 / Lost to North Gwinnett 51-14 in first round

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