Class 5A blog: This week’s six-pack of games to watch

No. 4 Calhoun hosts Class 4A No. 3 Cedartown

Calhoun is another one of those perennial powerhouse programs that always fields an excellent team. A year ago, the Yellow Jackets were in the Class 5A championship game. Because of that success, it can be difficult to find games, which explains why coach Clay Stephenson’s team hasn’t been able to catch its breath.

After playing Class 6A power Blessed Trinity (a former region rival) in the opener, Alabama power Gardendale, Ala., and Class 6A Creekview, Calhoun (2-1) will host regional rival Cedartown, ranked No. 3 in Class 4A. The series between the two schools dates back to 1927 but was rekindled in 2020 after a 35-year interruption. Calhoun has both meetings since, including 31-7 a year ago.

The No. 4-ranked Yellow Jackets are led by running back Caden Williams, a junior with good speed and play-making skills who rushed for 75 yards in the state championship game, and features veterans Christian Bell and Brody Balliew on the offensive line. Nathan Fuller, who had four tackles in the state title game, is the lone returning starter on defense.

Junior Trey Townsend (6-3, 200) has stepped in at quarterback for the graduated Christian Lewis and has looked good throwing the ball. His strong arm can get the ball downfield and into the arms of talented receivers like tight end Emaree Winston (6-3, 230), speedy Jax Bishop and freshman Justin Beasley. The Yellow Jackets skew more toward throwing the ball this season and had 324 yards passing in last week’s win over Creekview.

Cedartown (3-0) has been impressive. Unlike Calhoun, the Bulldogs prefer to keep it on the ground behind Harlem Diamond, who has rushed for 284 yards and four touchdowns, and Patrick Gardner, who has run for 280 yards and five touchdowns.

Five other games to watch this week

Valdosta at Warner Robins: Three of the state’s top defensive linemen will be showcased in this game that spotlights two of the state’s iconic programs. Warner Robins is led by five-star Vic Burley, while Valdosta’s defense features four-star Oscar White and Eric Brantley.

No. 2 Warner Robins (1-1) has been breaking in new quarterback Chase Reese, who ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime, and completed 8 of 25 passes for 108 yards in last week’s win over Northside. Running back Malcolm Brown got 48 tough yards on 17 carries against Northside.

Valdosta (3-0) is led on offense by sophomore quarterback Todd Robinson. He has thrown for 148 yards and two touchdowns and run for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Charles Williams Jr. is the top rusher (210 yards, three touchdowns).

Benedictine at Ware County: No. 5 Ware County (2-0) gets a chance to avenge last year’s lone regular-season loss against Benedictine, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A. The Gators lost a 49-42 decision to the Cadets in Savannah in 2021.

Ware, the defending Region 1 champion, hasn’t lost much from last year. New quarterback Niko Smith has stepped in as starter and thrown for 449 yards and four touchdowns and Jarvis Hayes has 11 receptions for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Ware County also has one of the state’s best kickers in Henry Bates, who has committed to Georgia.

Benedictine (2-1) suffered its only loss to Christopher Columbus of Miami. The Cadets bounced back last week to shutout Westminster, with sophomore running back Na’seir Samuel running for 80 yards. But coach Danny Britt told the Savannah Morning news that the team “went backward a little” in the 28-0 win.

Clarke Central at Gainesville: Clarke Central (1-1) had the week off after its loss to Oconee County and will face another road test against Class 6A No. 7 Gainesville (3-0). The Gladiators are still smarting from a 33-9 defeat at Oconee County, where they didn’t play particularly well on either side of the ball and got behind 20-0 in the first half.

Clarke’s defense should have a chance to regroup behind seniors Dailen Howard, Teikaris Collins and Jaylon Stone, who each had sacks against Oconee. The offense operates behind veteran quarterback Lucien Anderson (123 yards passing, 122 yards rushing), with junior Kendrick Curry taking the lead in the running back-by-committee approach.

Gainesville quarterback Baxter Wright has thrown for 512 yard and four touchdowns and Niam Cheeks has rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns. The Red Elephants, under first-year coach Josh Niblett, are 3-0 for the first time since the 2009 that went 14-1 and lost in the state championship game.

The two schools haven’t played since 2017, which concluded a stretch of six seasons where they played, with Gainesville owning a 4-2 edge.

Columbia at Cartersville: No. 1-ranked Cartersville (3-0) scored a come-from-behind win over Allatoona a week ago. Freshman quarterback Nate Russell came off the bench when starter Paul Gamble sprained an ankle and had to leave the game and overcame a 20-0 deficit for a 28-20 win. Gamble’s status for this week is not known. Gamble has thrown for 392 yards and six touchdowns.

Columbia, No. 5 in Class 3A, has impressive wins over Class 7A Camden County (13-10), Woodland-Stockbridge (26-21) and Washington (20-0) with a balanced offense and an aggressive defense. The Eagles shutout a physical Washington team last week behind two big fumble recoveries by Kenyon Partridge, one for 19 yards and a touchdown. The defense held Washington scoreless and to fewer than 200 yards of total offense.

Jefferson at Oconee County: The contest is between two ranked teams – Jefferson is No. 9 in Class 5A and Oconee County is No. 7 in Class 3A. But the real intrigue involves the coaches. Travis Noland left after eight seasons at Oconee County to take over the program at Jefferson. Ben Hall was the Jefferson coach from 2013-16, went to Flowery Branch for five years, and took the job at Oconee County. Both teams are excellent. Jefferson features Sammy Brown, a junior running back and linebacker, who has totaled 486 yards running. His Oconee County counterpart, Whit Weeks, is an LSU commit who has run for 286 yards. The two teams are meeting for the first time since 2019