Class A Football Blog:  5 big season openers; Gess, Nobles vent on new location for state finals

With Mercedes-Benz off the table, both would rather see finals return to high school stadiums

In the final spring football blog until the 2019 season starts in August, we take a look at five big-time season openers to look forward to.

Then Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy head coach Jonathan Gess and Irwin County head coach Buddy Nobles, two coaches with plenty of experience playing in the state finals, give their thoughts on the games moving from Mercedes-Benz Stadium to Georgia State Stadium.

Athens Academy at Savannah Christian (Friday, August 23). Both teams advanced to the semifinals last season with Athens Academy reaching the finals. Both lost to the eventual state champion, ELCA. Athens Academy won last year’s meeting, 20-7.

Prince Avenue Christian at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Academy (Friday, August 23). Both teams had their seasons ended by eventual runner-up, Athens Academy. PAC lost 28-21 in the semifinals, while Mt. Vernon fell two weeks before in the second round, 27-13. PAC won last season, 55-27.

Taylor County at Manchester (Friday, August 23). Manchester won last season, 34-20. Both teams will be looking to rebound after sub-par years. Taylor County finished 5-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs to Charlton County, 38-0. Manchester finished 6-5 and lost to Emanuel County Institute in the first round, 42-20. 

Schley County at Marion County (Friday, August 23). Schley County will be looking to continue the progress it has made under head coach Darren Alford, now heading into his fourth season. Marion County defeated Schley twice last season, 28-7 in the opener and 21-6 in the Region 4 title game. 

Hebron Christian at Clinch County (Friday, August 23). Clinch rallied from a 17-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to win last season’s opener, 24-17. Hebron Christian went on to have its best season in program history, which included winning its first state playoff game. Clinch went on to win its second consecutive public championship, its third in the last four seasons. 

ELCA head coach Jonathan Gess and Irwin County head coach Buddy Nobles have made the trek to downtown Atlanta more than most coaches in the state. Nobles has led Irwin to the state finals four of the last five seasons, while Gess and the Chargers have played for a state championship six times since 2012, winning five, including the last four in a row. 

Each time they advanced to the title game their teams played in either the Georgia Dome or Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But this season if they play for a championship it will still be in Atlanta, though it will be at Georgia State Stadium as the Georgia High School Association and Mercedes-Benz Stadium could not come to an agreement on the GHSA hosting the championships there. 

Recently, Gess and Nobles spoke passionately about their thoughts on the issue. Neither is completely happy with the move. 

Gess: “Of course, anybody would love to play in a state championship game anywhere, any time. But not being able to play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium does take a little bit of the luster. Now that the games will be outdoors weather becomes a factor. You’re talking about the Class A games being played at 10 a.m., in the middle of December. If you’re going to play outside again, we might as well go back to playing the games back in the home stadiums of the higher seeds. Playing at Georgia State is fine, but the game will lose a little of its luster moving away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The atmosphere at the high school stadiums would probably be more exciting. No one contacted the high school coaches to ask what we thought. No one took a poll to get our opinion or anything. 

“I do not pretend to understand the challenges of running a company like Arthur Blank. He is way more intelligent and wise than I could ever think to be. But I think from the high school coaches’ perspective we don’t understand how the professional teams wouldn’t want to support and invest in the greatest free farm system in the world for the NFL: high school football. You see what Jerry Jones does for high school football in Texas and we just wonder why, in what we believe is the greatest high school football playing state in the country, Georgia, they don’t want to make a major investment in the communities and players in this great state. 

“Also, I would like to know why Arthur Blank doesn’t see this as an opportunity to invest back in the community. I know he does a lot for the city and the state, but why not do something for the high school kids and their parents and communities that support his team? The kids dream about playing [in Mercedes-Benz Stadium]. I don’t understand why the NFL does not see this as a way to promote the game. Without high school football there is no NFL. At a time where you keep hearing about less kids playing football, it blows my mind why Arthur Blank and the NFL wouldn’t get together and keep the games in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”

Nobles: “The games should be played at the home stadium of the higher seed. The atmosphere is electric. When you put 7,000 or 8,000 people in a big stadium, you just don’t get the same atmosphere as you do in a high school stadium. 

“Playing outdoors now at Georgia State will definitely be different. Class A teams have to play at 10 a.m. in the morning, so the weather in December will be a factor. But one of our kids said something during our spring workout: When our kids were on a water break they were talking about having to play the championship game outside again, if we make it back to the finals. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter. We played the week before (in the semifinals) outside, so what’s the difference?’ 

“Nobody asked me or any other coaches that I know of for our opinion. I don’t think anybody is going to ask me. But I would rather have the finals in a high school stadium. If we’re not playing in Mercedes-Benz, I think Mercer should be considered. We did a walk through there before the finals and we’ve been there to scout teams that were playing there. It’s centrally located and the crowd for a state championship game would almost pack the place. It would be very loud and a great atmosphere, I think. But in our society now we want everything bigger and quicker. Mercedes-Benz is great, but I don’t think there could be anything more electric, more exciting than a state championship game in Ocilla (Irwin County), or Commerce, or Homerville (Clinch County).”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author