Class 5A blog: Fayette-Coweta Classic highlights big opening week

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

The long-awaited Fayette-Coweta Kickoff Classic will be held on Saturday with a tripleheader at Starr’s Mill High School. It’s a chance for the two football-crazed counties to start the season by grabbing some bragging rights.

The event was on the schedule a year ago, but was cancelled because of COVID. The games were played, but in home stadiums and not at one gathering spot. This year Starr’s Mill will be hosting all three games. The three Fayette County participants are Sandy Creek, Whitewater and Starr’s Mill. The three teams from Coweta County are Northgate, East Coweta and Newnan.

Here’s a look at each game:

Whitewater vs. East Coweta, 2 p.m.: Whitewater came alive last year in coach Chad Frazier’s first season, went 5-6 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2017. The Wildcats were a good rushing team last season and return Dalton Bonner (555 yards) and Adeoluwa Ernie (423 yards) to an attack that averaged 177 yards on the ground in 2020. Last year East Coweta went 9-2 – the program’s most wins since 2007 -- and won the Region 2-7A title. Quarterback Daniel Shoch (1,543 yards, 16 TDs) returns to run the offense, with junior Trey Bowles (719 yards, 10 TDs) ready to fill the shoes left by Jayden Bolton’s 1,385 yards. East Coweta leads the series 2-0; the teams haven’t played since 2015.

Sandy Creek vs. Northgate, 5 p.m.: Sandy Creek is trying to rebound after last year’s COVID-infested 2-4 season that saw Patriots miss the playoffs. Northgate (4-6) is very young and the Vikings had their starting quarterback James Paige transfer in the off-season. Sandy Creek has most of its offensive line returning to support running back Dorian Graham. The Patriots should be strong on defense, with three linemen and three defensive backs returning. Sandy Creek is 7-0 against Northgate, but last year’s game was close, with the Patriots winning 28-24.

Starr’s Mill vs. Newnan, 8 p.m.: Starr’s Mill (9-2) returns quarterback William Yarbrough, A-back Brandon Mathis (565 yards rushing) and B-back Greigh Joseph. But the Panthers’ strength may be on defense with strong safety Mark Stampley (offers from Arkansas State and Georgia Southern), tackle Micaiah Shaber (6-7, 265 with offers from numerous Ivy League Schools) and defensive end/tight end Barrett Schmidlkofer (offer from Presbyterian). Newnan has great size on the offensive and defensive lines, but the Cougars are searching for a quarterback. Northgate transfer James Paige and Sawyer Barnett were competing for the job in summer camp. Starr’s Mill leads the series 6-2, but the teams haven’t played since 2017.

Other top games this week (all games Friday, unless noted):

Southwest DeKalb at Stockbridge: Both these proud programs have something to prove. Southwest DeKalb went 4-4 last year after winning back-to-back region titles. Stockbridge dropped to 3-7 and did not make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. This is the first meeting between the two programs.

Southwest DeKalb split time at quarterback last year between Sadir Ryan (550 yards, three TDs) and Sabian Campbell (539 yards, six TDs). Billy Johnson and James Carswell lead a deep running back corps. Receiver Armond Davis was named to the preseason All-Class 5A team by Recruit Georgia. Davis had a DeKalb County-best 21 catches for 440 yards and five TDs in 2020.

Stockbridge changed coaches, with athletics director Thomas Clark taking the helm. He had previously served as the offensive and defensive coordinator at the school. The Tigers will try to rebuild around running back Jayden Scott, a first-team all-region selection last year as a freshman.

Monroe at Loganville: This is the Battle of Walton County. Loganville (5-6) begins its second season under coach Brad Smith. The Red Devils won their final two games and made the playoffs. All-region running back Avery Hamilton returns for Loganville. Monroe went 8-3, but one of its losses was a 21-20 to Loganville to open the season. The Hurricanes lead the all-time series 21-18

Eagle’s Landing Christian at Woodward Academy: Woodward Academy lost its first three games last season – including a 14-0 decision to ELCA in the season opener. The War Eagles will rely on Auburn commit Damari Alston, who ran for 1,507 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2020.

Lithia Springs at Douglas County: Bragging rights for Douglas County will be at stake in this one. Lithia Springs has been to the playoffs for the last two years but hasn’t beaten their rivals since 2008. Douglas County rolled 47-7 last year. Jai’que Hart threw for 1,456 yards and 14 touchdowns for Lithia as a sophomore and Devon Green is a big-play maker as a receiver or a running back.