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Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Week’s best games: Voldemort vs. Darth Vader

There’s something about this Grayson-Marietta matchup that makes it intriguing beyond the game itself. 

These are not merely two outstanding teams, both ranked in the top 25 of preseason national polls, and each possessing several four- and five-star prospects. 

It’s a game between – how do we say this – teams that people love to hate. It could be called Voldemort vs. Darth Vader, if you will. 

Not everyone loves a winner. Grayson and Marietta may take that as a compliment. 

Both are full of major college prospects. Grayson LB Owen Pappoe (committed to Auburn) and OL Wanya Morris (Tennessee) are five-star recruits who are among 10 Rams who are rated among the 100 best prospect in Georgia. No other team in history has had such a strong senior class. 

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Marietta is similarly loaded in its junior class. Marietta TE Arik Gilbert is a five-star recruit. The Blue Devils have four-star prospects Ramel Keyton (a wide receiver), Harrison Bailey (quarterback), Jake Wray (tackle) and B.J. Ojulari (two-way lineman). 

Both teams are playing brutal national schedules that are rated the two toughest in Georgia. Both have five opponents that have been ranked in the top 100 nationally of one poll or another. 

Grayson lost last week to Bergen Catholic of New Jersey 34-22, and Marietta has lost shootouts to Rome (51-41) and Good Counsel of Maryland (40-28), two programs that have top-25 national rankings. 

Despite their early losses, both teams are still good enough to win state titles this season. Grayson won in 2016 after losing early to IMG Academy. This team has more talent than that one. Norcross won in 2013 after losing 55-0 to Booker T. Washington of Miami. Talent has a way of bubbling to the top. 

So what’s not to like? 

Fans and rival schools don’t like the fact that each has benefited from high-profile transfers, though most of their players, even the really good ones, are home-grown. In fact, one reason that Grayson and Marietta are taking on more inter-state opponents is because local teams don’t want to play them, some out of spite. Some have even tried not to play them at the sub-varsity level.

Both have been the subject of county and GHSA investigations into alleged recruiting – and no wrongdoing has been found. Marietta was forced to forfeit its eight 2017 victories because it was discovered that two starting players had not moved as required to give them immediate eligibility but played any way. Those players are ineligible this season. Yet, there has been no proof of recruiting, and in the eyes of the GHSA, these programs are in the clear.

Grayson and Marietta aren’t going away. Grayson has weathered this kind of attention before. Pappoe and other Grayson players on social media have called themselves the University of Grayson, embracing a phrase that others have used to deride them. 

And Marietta is only getting started. The school’s second-year coach, Rich Morgan, was brought in to put the previously underachieving Blue Devils on a national stage as he had done with Oscar Smith of Virginia. And he’s on pace to do just that. And this is a junior-heavy team. It figures to be even better next year. 

Here are this weekend’s games involving teams from the highest classification and the projected margins of victory by the computer Maxwell Ratings. 

Brookwood at Collins Hill -16 

Camden County at Richmond Hill -11 

Colquitt County vs Valdosta -29 

Duluth vs Lakeside (Atlanta) -5 

Etowah at Pebblebrook -10 

Forsyth Central vs Denmark -18 

Grayson at Marietta -23 

Heritage (Conyers) vs Rockdale County -7 

Kennesaw Mountain at Cherokee -8 

Lambert at Peachtree Ridge -3 

Lowndes vs East Coweta -25 

McEachern vs Cedar Grove -11 

Meadowcreek at Discovery -16 

Mill Creek at Archer -2 

Mountain View at Central Gwinnett -7 

Newnan vs Griffin -3 

Newton vs Arabia Mountain -11 

North Gwinnett vs Norcross -18 

Roswell at West Forsyth -10 

South Forsyth vs South Gwinnett -11 

Tift County vs Crisp County -28 

Washington vs Berkmar -36

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