Class 2A blog: Week 1 games to watch

New-look classification kicks off season Thursday

Welcome to the 2022 Class 2A football season!

Before we get started, be sure to check out the season preview episode of The Class 2A Blogcast.

Guests include GHSA executive director Dr. Robin Hines, GHSF Daily’s Todd Holcomb, The Fan’s Chris Moneyham, Valdosta radio’s Chris Beckham, Northeast coach Jeremy Wiggins, Pierce County coach Ryan Herring, Washington County coach Robert Edwards, ELCA coach Tanner Rogers, South Atlanta coach Michael Woolridge, Chatsworth Times editor Jimmy Espy and Fellowship Christian coach Tim McFarlin.

A lot has changed since the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane hoisted the 2A championship trophy at Georgia State last December, following their 21-7 win over Region 1 rival Thomasville.

For starters, this offseason featured the unprecedented exodus of 14 GHSA-member schools, all of which were unhappy with the new reclassification plan. All defecting schools were private and all left for GISA, save one. Riverside Military, which was in 2A during the previous reclassification cycle, is one of those departures.

In all, enough private schools left the GHSA that it forced the organization to end the Class 1A Public-Private split and redraw Classes 1A-4A, because there weren’t enough private schools to adequately fill a 32-team bracket.

The end result for 2A is that a number of private school powerhouses have joined, headlined by ELCA, which has won six 1A Private titles since 2012.

Here’s a look at the 2A region alignments for this season and next:

Credit: GHSA.net

Credit: GHSA.net

Here are the AJC’s preseason rankings for 2A:

1. Eagle’s Landing Christian (7-7)

2. Fitzgerald (13-2)

3. Appling County (12-2)

4. Pierce County (11-3)

5. Fellowship Christian (12-2)

6. Callaway (10-3)

7. Rockmart (9-2)

8. Putnam County (12-1)

9. South Atlanta (11-2)

10. Washington County (5-5)

The new-look Class 2A kicks off its season Thursday, Aug. 18, when Region 5′s Towers travels to Macon, where it will take on Rutland of Region 2. Below is a look at the top 2A games to watch in Week 1.

Irwin County Indians at Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jaycee Stadium, Fitzgerald

Rankings: Irwin County is No. 4 in Class 1A’s Division I, Fitzgerald is No. 1 in 2A.

Last season: Irwin County went 12-3 and reached the 1A Public championship, Fitzgerald went 13-2 and won the 2A title.

Last meeting: Fitzgerald won 18-15 in 2021.

Notes: The Purple Hurricane enter the season as defending champions for the first time since 1949 and if they can somehow repeat, they’ll be the first to win back-to-back 2A titles since 2010, when Buford’s run of four straight came to an end. Graduated are linebacker EJ Lightsey, who flipped from Florida to Georgia shortly after the Cane’s title game, and running backs DeNorris Goodwin and Jakorrian Paulk. However, Cane sixth-year coach Tucker Pruitt returns senior running quarterback Sultan Cooper to execute the Cane’s signature Wing-T offense, along with senior tight end/linebacker/running back Drew Moore among others, including four starting offensive lineman and most of their linebacker and defensive back corps. The two schools are 11 miles apart and the matchup has been labeled a rivalry but, outside of back-to-back Irwin County victories in 2018 and 2019, this series has been dominated by the Cane, who are 19-2-1 since 2000. The Indians, led by third-year coach Casey Soliday, fell just short of three consecutive 1A Public titles last season.

Opelika (Ala.) Bulldogs at Callaway Cavaliers

When, where: 8 p.m. Friday, Callaway Stadium, Hogansville

Rankings: Opelika is ranked No. 10 in Class 7A in the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s preseason poll, Callaway is No. 6 in 2A.

Last season: Opelika went 9-4 and reached the 6A quarterfinals; Callaway went 10-3 and reached the 2A semifinals.

Last meeting: Callaway won 30-21 in 2021.

Watch the game: NFHS Network

Notes: With their schools about 20 miles from the Alabama-Georgia border, these teams will meet for the third time in four years. Callaway holds a 2-1 series edge, with Opelika winning 10-7 in 2010. The Cavaliers also won 35-21 in 2018. The Cavs entered last year as defending champions and reached the semifinals. This year’s Cavs roster features a solid amount of experience — seven starters returning on each side of the ball — and young or untested talent. Quarterback DeShun Coleman returns as a junior after taking over for his brother, three-year starter Demetrius Coleman, last year. Junior defensive lineman Sam Williams is committed to Wake Forest and also sees action at tight end/H-back. He’s one of three Cavs D-I commits heading into the season, along with two seniors — defensive tackle Elijah Gunn, committed to Southern Illinois, and tight end Exavious Reed (Southern Miss). Gunn and Reed are the lone remaining contributors from the 2020 championship team. Expected to take on significant roles for the first time are junior defensive back/receiver Korey Jackson, junior defensive tackle Frederick Tigner and freshman Tyrone Fitten, a 6-foot-1, 270-pound offensive lineman who started in the Cavs’ preseason scrimmage.

Cedartown Bulldogs at Rockmart Yellow Jackets

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, The Rock, Rockmart

Rankings: Cedartown is No. 3 in Class 4A, Rockmart is No. 7 in 2A.

Last season: Cedartown went 11-2 and reached the 4A semifinals, Rockmart went 9-2 and lost in the first round of the 3A playoffs.

Last meeting: Rockmart won 21-10 in 2020.

Watch the game: NFHS Network

Notes: Last season marked the first time these teams didn’t meet since 2006. The Bulldogs hold a 51-25 lead in the series, which began in 1923. However, the Yellow Jackets have won the last three meetings. They’ve been a model of consistency under Biff Parson, who took over in 2016 and has guided the Jackets to region titles in each of the past five seasons between 2A and 3A, where they spent the past two seasons. Though their first-round playoff exit last year was a disappointment, they return plenty enough talent to make this season a redemption tour, led by quarterback JD Davis. As a sophomore last year, Davis was 59 of 91 passing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns to zero interceptions, and rushed 65 times for 507 yards and eight touchdowns. His injury in the regular season finale caused him to miss the playoffs, and his absence was a major reason the Jackets didn’t advance in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Senior JoJo Haynes is rated by Rivals as a 3-star athlete and reports Power 5 offers from Duke and Ole Miss. He rushed for a team-high 614 yards and added seven touchdowns on 56 carries, and on defense he had 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions and three pass deflections.

ELCA Chargers at Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy Eagles

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Brentwood Academy, Nashville, Tenn.

Rankings: ELCA is No. 1 in 2A; Brentwood is ranked No. 16 overall in Tennessee according to Maxpreps.

Last season: ELCA went 7-7 and reached the 1A Private semifinals, Brentwood went 7-4 and reached the DII-3A quarterfinals.

Last meeting: Brentwood won 17-14 in 2021.

Notes: Last year, Brentwood seized control with a 17-0 second quarter, with the Chargers scoring touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters. The lone standout performance on offense for ELCA came from junior RJ Johnson, who hauled in four catches for 135 yards. Johnson returns for his senior season and has committed to Arkansas as a 3-star defensive back. He’s one of four D-I recruits among the senior class, along with senior 4-star offensive lineman and Clemson commit Zechariah Owens (6-foot-7, 350 pounds), 3-star offensive lineman DJ Chester (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) — with a reported 28 offers including Auburn, Miami and USC — and 3-star defensive back Colton Hood, who has reported 25 offers including Clemson, Florida and Georgia Tech. The Chargers enter 2A after winning six 1A Private championships since 2012 and are considered a title contender again this season. They have a first-year coach in Tanner Rogers, and he has hand-picked by his predecessor, Jonathan Gess, who guided the Chargers during their dynasty. Rogers played for Gess at ELCA and had coached on his staff since 2020. Brentwood has a 2-star kicker and Navy commit in senior George Laster, and junior Hank Weber is a 3-star defensive end with six Power 5 offers, including Kentucky, Michigan State and Vanderbilt.

Ware County Gators at Appling County Pirates

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jimmy Swain Stadium, Baxley

Rankings: Ware County is No. 7 in Class 5A, Appling County is No. 3 in 2A.

Last season: Ware County went 9-2 and reached the second round of the 5A playoffs, Appling County went 12-2 and reached the 3A semifinals.

Last meeting: Ware County won 33-14 in 1993.

Notes: This matchup of schools located 50 miles apart resumes after three decades. Since then, the Pirates have won four region titles, and have reached the playoffs 23 times, including three semifinals appearances. The Gators have 10 region titles, two title game appearances, three semifinals trips and a quarterfinals finish, and they’ve reached the playoffs every year since 2002. Last year the Pirates improved by three wins from 2020 with first-year coach Jordan Mullis, who took over for Rick Tomberlin. The semifinals run was the furthest the Pirates have been since 2011, when they reached the 2A semis. The Pirates lost a lot of talent to graduation, led by 4-star defensive end and all-state selection Darris Smith, who signed with Georgia. However they return standout running back Jaylen Johnson, a junior who appeared in just three games last year due to injury. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Jamarion Williams, who came on late and finished with 446 yards and seven touchdowns on 69 carries. They’ll replace the graduated tandem of Jarvis Mims and Dennis Mims, who combined to rush 236 times for 1,739 and 21 touchdowns. Senior defensive end Darion Smith had 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss last season, and Dawson Griffis, a senior linebacker, had 11 tackles for loss. Both are expected to be cogs in this year’s defense.