What to watch: Week 7

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Through four games, the Hapeville Charter Hornets have been unstoppable. Never mind beating the top-ranked, defending Class AA champs, it’s been almost impossible to even score off them. They’ve played River Ridge, then-No. 2 Heard County and 6-AA rivals Therrell and McNair, and have only given up a 30-yard field goal to Heard County.

The Hornets (4-0, 2-0 6-AA) have outscored their competition 196-3 and appear driven to complete the first 10-0 regular season in program history. Even last season’s state title squad didn’t match those numbers.

“I’m not going to say we’ve improved,” Hornets coach Winston Gordon said when asked about this year’s start compared to last. “We do a good job of developing new guys and it’s a next-man-up mentality. Our kids are eager for the opportunity to play, and as those seniors graduate and go on to play at the next level, they want the opportunity to do that too.”

With the Hornets steamrolling past the competition, perhaps the only team on their schedule with a glimmer of hope is the Douglass Astros, whom the Hornets will play 8 p.m. Friday at Lakewood Stadium.

The Astros, led by coach Rodney Cofield, are off to their first 5-0 start since 2005, with three of those wins coming against 6-AA opponents. They’ve outscored their competition 219-76, including a 33-0 shutout of B.E.S.T. Academy.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Cofield, in his seventh season at Douglass. “Being that when we first got here, there was a four, five-year drought and it was like we forgot about the history of success this program was used to having. I feel we’re back on track now. We’ve started off fast and there’s a lot of excitement here in the Douglass community, with alumni and former players coming back to support the kids.”

With no other 6-AA teams playing at the level of Hapeville Charter and Douglass — all other teams have lost at least one region game — Friday’s matchup most likely serves as the region championship. The Hornets are two-time 6-AA champions and haven’t lost a region game since 2015, when  they were just a fifth-year program and GAC, Lovett, Wesleyan and Pace Academy ruled 6-AA. The Astros haven’t won a region title since 2004, when they finished 10-2 in 2-AAAAA.

Despite the Astros’ success thus far, there’s not much available data to suggest they’ll be able to pull off the upset. Maxwell’s projections have the Hornets as a 26-point favorite, and the teams have played in each of the two previous seasons since the Astros joined 6-AA, with the Hornets winning 35-0 last year, and 34-14 in 2016.

There’s hope for the Astros, however. Juan Powell, who lines up at quarterback in Douglass’ almost-exclusively run offense, last week broke Douglass’ all-time rushing record of 4,736 yards held by Jamal Lewis, the former Tennessee standout who played 10 seasons in the NFL. He leads the backfield along with fullback Oscar Wyatt. They run behind a strong line led by John Rogers. All three players are seniors.

Lining up in Wing-T and spread formations, they run a lot of motion and sweep plays and only pass two to three times a game, Cofield said. Going up against Hapeville Charter’s defense, which has yet to allow a touchdown — only once against Heard County has an opponent even reached the red zone — will be a challenge.

“They’re so skillful, talented and well-coached,” Cofield said. (Hornets defensive coordinator Kevin) Pope does a great job with those kids. They’re sound and fundamental. We just have to be patient, spread the ball around a bit and move the chains. It’s going to be tough to get big plays. We’re going to have to play fundamentally sound and mistake-free.”

The Hornets’ defense is led by senior defensive back Malik Fleming. He and Powell are on track to go from region rivals to college teammates, as both are East Carolina commits.

As for the Hornets, the way Gordon views the team, it’s a matter of the offense catching up with a stellar defensive unit. Though the Hornets are averaging 49 points a game and have outscored 6-AA competition 60.5-0, they’re still establishing a two-quarterback system with junior Jeremy Stephens and senior Jordan Slocum.

Gordon said the offense is coming along “great,” but the unit has received support with both the defensive and special teams units putting points on the board.

“A lot of our games have been decided in the first half and we’ve subbed out guys,” Gordon said. “With all the rotating it’s hard to get into rhythm, but this is the time in the season where we can do that.”


*Also this week:

Bremen Blue Devils at Callaway Cavaliers

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Callaway Stadium, LaGrange

Records, rankings: Bremen is 4-0 overall, 0-0 in Region 5-AA and No. 4; Callaway is 4-1, 1-0 and No. 2.

Last meeting: Callaway won 56-39 in 1999.

Maxwell's projections: Callaway by 3

Notes: These are the only ranked teams in Region 5, although 2017 state semifinalist Heard County remains a major contender. Callaway's lone defeat was against No. 5 Troup of Class AAAA. Callaway's style is what one would expect from a team whose leading rusher is called Tank and whose top recruit is 340 pounds. Cartavious "Tank" Bigsy is actually only 5-11, 175 pounds, but the four-star recruit leads a physical, run-oriented attack with 654 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 79 carries. OL Keiondre Jones is the massive one. He is committed to Auburn. Also outstanding on Callaway's front line are Tate Johnson (several D-I offers) and Keshawn Cameron. Junior QB Jacob Freeman is another D-I recruit (as a wide receiver). He has rushed for 286 yards on 36 carries. Bremen is more balanced. RB Tyran Dobbs has rushed for 443 yards. QB Wade Cartwright has thrown for 462 yards. Jason Houston has 226 yards receiving and four touchdowns. The defense, led by linebackers Kade Berry (nine tackles for losses), Stephen McLain (six tackles for losses) and Campbell Sweatt (four TFL), is allowing just 6.5 points per game.

Jefferson County Warriors at Hephzibah Rebels

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Rebels Stadium, Hephzibah

Records, rankings: Jefferson County is 3-2 overall, 3-0 in Region 4-AA and unranked; Hephzibah is 4-1, 3-0 and unranked.

Last meeting: Jefferson County won 35-6 in 2005.

Maxwell's projection: Jefferson County by 7

Notes: Jefferson County and Hephzibah are the only remaining unbeaten teams in 2-AA games, and the winner will have the clearest path to the region championship. Jefferson County has won five region titles (most recently in 2015) and made 16 consecutive playoff appearances. Hephzibah, which dropped down from Class AAAA this season, has never won a region title. The Rebels have made the playoffs just four times (most recently in 2014) in their 65-year history. Both teams like to run the ball. Jefferson County ran 53 times for 440 yards and was 0-for-1 passing in a 38-28 victory over Harlem last week. Quarterback Jaden Jenkins (committed to Georgia Southern) had 326 yards on 29 carries and scored on runs of 3, 60, 1 and 5 yards. He has 802 yards and 13 touchdowns on 85 carries (9.4 yards per carry) for the season. Hephzibah averages 219.4 yards rushing and 86.2 passing. Rayquan Riley has 691 yards and eight touchdowns on 105 carries. Sophomore QB Marshall Chambers is 26-of-65 passing for 421 yards and six TDs and has run for 191 yards and scored three times. DE Elijah Mayes (offer from Troy) has six sacks and 14 tackles for losses.

*Courtesy of GHSF Daily

Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.