Class AA blog: Save the date — key games for each region

On Tuesday, the GHSA released the 2020 football schedule. Here are potential key games in Class AA for each region that could influence the final standings.

Region 1

Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane at Thomasville Bulldogs

When, where: Friday, Oct. 23, Veterans Memorial Stadium, Thomasville

2019 finish: Fitzgerald went 8-4, 2-2 (third place in region); Thomasville went 9-5, 4-0 (first place).

Last meeting: Thomasville won 20-14 in 2019.

Notes: This is the next-to-last game of the regular season for both teams and, with Brooks County moving to Class A-Public, it will likely determine the region champion. However, it's possible the region's new addition from AAA, Worth County — led by first-year coach Philip Ironside — could make some noise. In the recent series, Thomasville leads Fitzgerald 4-3 dating back to 2013.

Region 2

Swainsboro Tigers at Vidalia Indians

When, where: Friday, Nov. 6, Buck Cravey Field, Vidalia

2019 finish: Swainsboro went 8-4, 4-2 (third place); Vidalia went 7-4, 4-2 (fourth place).

Last meeting: Swainsboro won 21-9 in 2019.

Notes: This is the regular season finale for both teams. Last year, Jeff Davis came within four points of beating Metter in the final week of the regular season, which would have forced an unprecedented five-way tie for first place between Jeff Davis, Metter, Swainsboro, Toombs County and Vidalia. Metter is now in A-Public, and the path to a region championship could be as simple as this game. The Indians are led by Jason Cameron, in his first season after long-time coach Lee Chomskis left for Lincoln County.

(See also: Checking in with Toombs County)

Region 3

Dodge County Indians at Bleckley County Royals

When, where: Friday, Sept. 25, Shelley Hayes Field at Royal Stadium, Cochran

2019 finish: Dodge County went 4-7, 3-3 (fourth place); Bleckley County went 7-4, 4-2 (second place).

Last meeting: Bleckley County won 41-34 in 2019.

Notes: Make no mistake — perennial contenders Washington County remain in the mix, but both the Indians and Royals play the Golden Hawks in late October. That makes the Indians-Royals matchup an earlier gage. The Royals won last year's matchup, ending a Dodge County five-game win streak in the series. The Indians are expected to rebound from a down year in 2019, while the Royals are a program on the rise.

(See also: Checking in with Monticello...or is it Jasper County?)

Region 4

Laney Wildcats at Glenn Hills Spartans

When, where: Friday, Sept. 18, The Pit, Richmond

2019 finish: Both teams went 4-6, 3-5, with Glenn Hills finishing in fifth place and Laney sixth.

Last meeting: Laney won 12-0 in 2019.

Notes: I'm just going to come out and say it: No team in Region 4 is ready to compete with the Jefferson County Warriors, who should run away with the region title undefeated in league play. However, the Wildcats and Spartans could decide the No. 2 seed. Last year, the two finished fifth and sixth in the then-nine team region — it's now eight teams — and are, strictly according to their 2019 records, the best remaining teams after last season's playoff qualifiers Harlem, Hephzibah and Screven County were reclassified. New addition Putnam County was 5-6 last season in Region 8.

Region 5

Heard County Braves at Callaway Cavaliers

When, where: Friday, Nov. 6, Callaway Stadium, Hogansville

2019 finish: Heard County went 4-7, 4-2 (third place); Callaway went 12-2, 6-0 (first place).

Last meeting: Callaway won 34-0 in 2019.

Notes: Last year, the Braves struggled in defending their 2018 state title and suffered their first losing season since 2003. This year, Callaway will need to replace 5-star running back and AJC Super 11 selection Tank Bigsby and his top blocker Tate Johnson, both of whom signed with Auburn. Either the Braves or Cavs have won the region every year since 2015.

Region 6

Pace Academy Knights at Lovett Lions

When, where: Friday, Oct. 2, Conley-Oakley Field at Memorial Stadium, Atlanta

2019 finish: Lovett went 7-4, 4-2 in 5-AAA (third place); Pace went 5-5, 3-3 in 5-AAA (fourth place).

Last meeting: Lovett won 21-14 in 2019.

Notes: The Lions and Knights are in a class of their own in Region 6, where the drop-off after those two is significant. That would presumably make their matchup a game that decides the region champion. As such, I would have expected the game to be the regular season finale for both teams, but they'll meet earlier. The all-time series, which began in 2014, is tied at 3-3.

(See also: Checking in with Pace Academy)

Region 7

Chattooga Indians at Pepperell Dragons

When, where: Friday, Oct. 30, Dragon Stadium, Lindale

2019 finish: Chattooga went 5-6, 4-3 (fourth place); Pepperell went 9-3, 6-1 (second place).

Last meeting: Pepperell won 29-12 in 2019.

Notes: With Rockmart back in AAA, these are the top two teams remaining, at least traditionally. Model (5-2 in region play — including a win over Chattooga) had a surprisingly good 2019 season in which it came within one game of winning the region. This will be last regular season game for Chattooga, and next-to-last for Pepperell. The Dragons are 20-3 against Chattooga dating back to 1990, with the Indians last winning in 2018.

(See also: Checking in with Pepperrell)

Region 8

Union County Panthers at Rabun County Wildcats

When, where: Friday, Oct. 30, Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger

2019 finish: Union County went 10-2, 6-1 (second place); Rabun County went 12-1, 7-0 (first place).

Last meeting: Rabun County won 49-7 in 2019.

Notes: Region 8 has, for the most part, recently been a two-team region topped by the Wildcats and Panthers, with a significant gap between the two. In each of the last two seasons, the Panthers started 9-0 only to get crushed by the Wildcats in the regular season finale, with the Wildcats winning those games a by a combined score of 105-35. The Wildcats are eyeing their seventh consecutive region title.

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