The 2018 Class AA football season had a lot of twists and turns, and highlights, and ended with the Heard County Braves — a team that started the season 1-2 and was outscored 66-3 during a two-game losing streak — defeating the Rockmart Yellow Jackets 27-6 in the state title game, which served as a rematch from when the Jackets beat them 33-0 earlier in the season.
As surprising as the Braves’ turnaround may seem, the season’s ending had one last surprise in the form of some breaking news. On Friday, Rabun County coach Lee Shaw retired, handing the reigns over to his son, Wildcats offensive coordinator Jaybo Shaw.
So with the Braves’ first title in program history, and with Shaw’s retirement, 2018 leaves behind the following recap:
- The Braves turn their season around. As documented numerous times here, Heard County hit an early season wall with a two-game skid at the beginning of the season in which it was outscored 66-3 by Hapeville Charter and Rockmart. At that point, the Braves were 1-2, They wouldn’t lose again. Surprisingly, they were able to do it without Emory Jones, one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks according to recruiting services, who graduated after last season and signed with Florida. Once again, they’ll reload with this year’s quarterback, Alijah Huzzie, and Tennessee commit Aaron Beasley, graduating. Having reached at least the semifinals in each of the last two seasons, and with coach Tim Barron entering his 18th season with the program, it would be unwise to rule them out despite the turnover.
- Rockmart turns a corner. The Yellow Jackets have been trending sharply upward since Biff Parson arrived in 2016. The season before he arrived, they went 2-8. But in Parson’s first two seasons, they went 9-3 before turning the corner this season to win their first 14 games and set the program record for wins in a season. Look for them to be a force coming out of 7-AA for years to come.
- Bigsby takes his game to another level. Callaway’s Tank Bigsby, who came into the season already highly-regarded in the recruiting world, erupted in the postseason with over 700 yards in three games, finishing with more than 2,000 rushing yards on the season. He will return in 2019 for his senior season, though he’ll be losing his top blocker, Keiondre Jones, a four-star who is committed to Auburn. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Bigsby — a four-star himself — be elevated to five-star status between now and this time next year. He already holds offers from major programs including Alabama and Georgia. He’s an AJC Super 11 candidate for next season.
- Fitzgerald is the same force it has always been. Though the Purple Hurricane weren’t recognized much by the pollsters, falling out of the top 10 after their second game never to return, but they still put up a typical, highly successful season. For the fourth time in the last five seasons they reached at least the semifinals, finishing 10-4 and upsetting No. 8 Rabun County before falling 38-30 to eventual champions Heard County in the semis. Since 2005, they’ve reached at least the quarterfinals 10 times, and that’s with three different coaches. There’s no reason not to assume they’ll be ready for another deep run next year.
- Rabun County turns to a new leader. As mentioned at the top, the Lee Shaw era at Rabun County is over. His son, Jaybo, will take over and has quarterback in Gunner Stockton who is coming off a monster season (2,917 passing yards, 709 rushing yards, 51 total touchdowns) under Jaybo, who served as the offensive coordinator. Jaybo has some big shoes to fill, but he is the son of Lee, after all, so one would have to assume he’s ready to do it. The Wildcats have reached the quarterfinals in three of the past four seasons — including 2018 — and the other season they reached the championship (2017).
- Don’t forget about Hapeville Charter. The Hornets didn’t have all the star power from their 2017 state title season, but they were ranked No. 1 all season and had a solid season. Unfortunately for them, they faced a very tough second round challenge in Callaway, and they didn’t have an answer for Tank Bigsby. But with Winston Gordon leading the charge, expect them to again come out of 6-AA as the region champions and be poised for a deep playoff run. They should open next season ranked in the top five, if not the top three.
Check back next week when Class AA basketball coverage begins. And with that, so long to the 2018 football season.
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