Class 5A blog: Five pleasant surprises from around state

With three weeks in the book, the better teams in Class 5A are beginning to surface. Most of those with high expectations have lived up to their billing. There are also a number of schools who have produced pleasant surprises. Here are five of them:

Forest Park: The Panthers are off to a 2-0 start – and might have been 3-0 had the opener against McNair not been cancelled. The wins haven’t come against state-ranked opponents, but when you’re trying to rebuild the program like coach Rex Robertson is doing, you’ll take every win you can get. Beating a rival like Morrow was legit and last week the Panthers shut out Osborne, their first time to hold an opponent scoreless since 2018 against Clarkston. Forest Park still faces an uphill climb in a difficult Region 3, but the program is making progress.

Northside Columbus: The Patriots, in coach Andrew Oropeza’s second season, are 2-0 for the first time since 2018 and have produced 117 points – more than half of what they scored last year in nine games. Quarterback Elihu McMoore has thrown for four touchdowns and has productive backs in Malachi Hosley and Devaughn Scott. Cornerbacks Ashlynd Barker and Clytavious Barnes are starting to get offers from smaller schools and junior Dajwon DeLoach is a prospect at outside linebacker. Ryan Van Dinter had two interceptions last week and returned one for a touchdown; he is also the team’s kicker. Northside is trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Union Grove: The Wolverines knocked off No. 7 Starr’s Mill last week to pick up some needed momentum for the beginning of a rough Region 4 schedule. Casey Smith is in his second season as the head coach and is seeking a second straight playoff appearance after ending a seven-year dry spell a year ago. Union Grove has discovered a talent in versatile back Dechavion Williams, who caught a touchdown pass in the loss to Spalding and had a productive running game in the win over Starr’s Mill.

Veterans: The Warhawks were the odd-team-out from Region 1 last year. After getting hammered in the opener by Northside, Veterans rebounded to post an impressive road win over Jones County in overtime. Quarterback Matthew Bruce connected with Nate Brooks on a wheel route to tie the game with 2:17 left and force overtime. Bruce scored on a 2-yard run in overtime and ran in the two-point conversion for the win. Linebacker Jeff Benjamin is best known for his tenacity and tackling skills, but he also runs a handful of plays each game as the Wildcat quarterback.

Whitewater: Even though the Wildcats dropped the season opener to East Coweta, you could tell this team had some solid bones around which to build a good season. Coach Chad Frazier is starting his second season and this club should be in the mix to make the playoffs out of Region 4 for the second straight year. Left-handed quarterback Austin Williams leads the run-heavy attack and backs Adeoluwe Erinle, Logan Griffin and Braxton Mueller help make things go.