It has been a tough stretch for Peach County. The program has spent the week dealing with the death of a teammate. Now, they have to try to recover enough to play one of the top teams in the state.
Jake Fromm and the Houston County Bears head to Fort Valley Friday to face Peach County. The Trojans, ranked fifth, hold a commanding 9-1 lead in a series that dates to 1994. The teams last met in 2005, when Houston County won, 33-20.
"They're a really big athletic football team, but if we play our game well, I think we will be all right," said Houston quarterback Fromm, an AJC Super 11 selection and UGA commitment who passed for more than 400 yards last week in a victory against Mary Persons in the Kell Classic.
Peach County had a solid showing in a scrimmage two weeks ago against second-ranked Northside-Warner Robins (AAAAAA) and lost by one after failing to convert at 2-point conversion.
"I didn't think we played as well as we could against Northside, from a technical standpoint," said Peach coach Chad Campbell. "We had a lot of mental mistakes, and I think we corrected a lot of that stuff, but Houston has a good team with one of the best quarterbacks in the country. They have some (receivers) who can go get it. But I think if we execute, we can compete."
Peach County has two preseason all-state picks -- linebacker Kyle Nixon and place-kicker Omar Cervantes. Nixon led the team in tackles last season, averaging 11 per game. Kearis Jackson, a four-star junior wide receiver, also returns.
It will be the first test for the Trojans since the loss of teammate Raekwon Smith, who died in a car accident that injured three other players.
"I think our team has been focused this week, with the tragedy and everything, but hopefully they can bring it Friday night," Campbell said.
Here are a few other big games in AAA.
Cedar Grove at Southwest DeKalb: Cedar Grove, ranked No. 4 in AAA, plays Southwest DeKalb (AAAAA) Friday and looks to continue its strong start to the season. Southwest DeKalb leads the series 6-2, but Cedar Grove dominated the last two games -- 36-0 in 2015 and 34-6 in 2014.
"Its always a good game for our guys," said Cedar Grove coach Jermaine Smith. "But (SWD) is playing with a chip on their shoulder right now. They're playing real tough because of the situation with their coach at the beginning of the year."
Southwest DeKalb coach Michael Tanks passed away unexpectedly in early August after suffering a stroke at his home.
The Panthers defeated Redan, 21-12, in the opener. Cedar Grove beat Stephenson of Class AAAAAA, 34-23.
Calhoun at Dalton: Top-ranked Calhoun heads to Dalton (AAAAAA) and hopes continue its winning ways against the Catamounts. Dalton leads the series 34-10 in a rivalry that dates back to 1925, but the Yellow Jackets have won every game since 2009.
"We've got out hands full, that's for sure," said Calhoun coach Hal Lamb. "They're a really good football team, the best team we've played from Dalton over the last 10 years. They have skills all over the field, but we're going to go up there and play well ... hopefully."
The Yellow Jackets opened their season with a 28-0 victory against Douglass and had two 100-yard rushers. Quarterback Baylon Spector rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Olico Dennis added 111 yards and two touchdowns, and linebacker Lester Bailey made 14 tackles.
Pace at West Forsyth: Pace heads to West Forsyth to open its season. It will be the first time in school history the two teams have met.
"I think we're OK; we're a solid group," Pace coach Chris Slade said. "We've got some guys up front who are pretty good, but we've got some inexperienced guys as well, so I don't know what to expect Friday night, to be honest with you."
Credit: Adam Krohn
Credit: Adam Krohn
Second-ranked Pace is the reigning Class AA champion but moved to AAA this season. Slade he wants his team to earn its keep in AAA, and not be anointed.
"I don't personally think were a top-5 or top-10 team, because I don't think we've done enough (in this classification)." Slade said. "We just hope that we have a good showing Friday night, and all the other stuff will take care of itself like it is supposed to."
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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC