GHSA schedule shakeup produces some high-profile matchups

Brookwood won its second state championship in football, its first since 1996, by defeating Colquitt County 52-38 in the 2010 Class 5A final at the Georgia Dome.

Credit: Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com

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Brookwood won its second state championship in football, its first since 1996, by defeating Colquitt County 52-38 in the 2010 Class 5A final at the Georgia Dome.

Credit: Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz, jgetz@ajc.com

The pandemic has disrupted football schedules in unprecedented ways this season, canceling many marquee matchups, including five games between Georgia teams and out-of-state champions. Scores of teams won’t play a full 10-game season.

Yet, there’s a silver lining. Many games that would not have been played have risen from the ashes of those that crashed and burned as coaches have scrambled to find replacements.

Here are 10 outstanding games not on the original schedules, presented by COVID-19.

*Bainbridge at Valdosta (Sept. 18): Bainbridge won a state title in 2018, Valdosta in 2016. These two South Georgia teams haven’t played each other since 2001. In fact, Bainbridge hasn’t beaten Valdosta since 1993, when Kirby Smart patrolled the Bearcats’ secondary. Bainbridge originally had two opponents from Florida and one from Alabama, and the Bearcats found coach Rush Propst and Valdosta willing to take them on as the Wildcats had lost a Florida opponent. Bainbridge, expected to be a top-10 team this year after dropping into Class 4A, also picked up interesting games with Mitchell County and Coffee.

*Brookwood at Colquitt County (Sept. 11): Brookwood had planned to play South Carolina’s best team, Dutch Fork, and also lost a game with Alpharetta after Fulton County delayed its seasons. Colquitt County had home dates set with Cedar Grove, Westlake and Heritage of Conyers, whose counties delayed or canceled seasons. These two played in the 2017 semifinals (Colquitt County won) and in the 2010 final (Brookwood won).

*Carrollton at Collins Hill (Sept. 5): Carrollton was scheduled to play Cedartown as part of the Corky Kell Classic’s Rome doubleheader, but the Corky Kell pulled out of Rome, and Cedartown decided to delay its season a week. So Corky Kell organizers matched Carrollton with Collins Hill. AJC Super 11 linebacker Chaz Chambliss leads a Carrollton team with a half-dozen Division I recruits on defense. They’ll need them to stop quarterback Sam Horn and five-star receiver/defensive back Travis Hunter, who recently rejoined the team.

*Dublin at Swainsboro (Oct. 2): This rivalry, played each season since 2008, started in 1919. Dublin won Class 2A last year but dropped to A-Public. Swainsboro believes it has its best team in 10 years, with Georgia Power 100 players and twins Fredrick and Cedric Seabrough. Swainsboro had a Savannah school on its non-region schedule, and Dublin wasn’t sure if Northeast in Macon was going to be ready, so they made a deal.

*Greater Atlanta Christian at Denmark (Sept. 5): Like most smaller schools, GAC typically doesn’t court Class 7A opponents, but the Spartans lost scheduled games with two Tennessee teams and Salem of Rockdale County. Denmark was opening against Tucker in the Corky Kell until DeKalb County delayed. So that lured GAC into the Corky Kell. GAC, averaging 11.5 wins over the past eight seasons, won’t be unarmed for the challenge.

*Hapeville Charter at Milton (Sept. 25): Both were to play in the Freedom Bowl at Milton on Sept. 3-5. That was canceled, and Milton also lost games with St. John’s of Washington, D.C., and Life Christian of Virginia. These are Fulton County schools with recent state titles, Hapeville in 2017 in Class 2A and Milton in 2018 in 7A.

*Lowndes at Archer (Sept. 4): Lowndes lost its Corky Kell game with Hoover when Georgia and Alabama had different ideas on starting. Lowndes ended up with Archer. That’s just as well. Lowndes, the 2019 runner-up, has garnered preseason Top 25 national rankings. Archer, which had been slated to play Dacula, has averaged 10 wins and won three region titles since 2013.

*Prince Avenue Christian at Holy Innocents’ (Sept. 25): Prince Avenue Christian was going to travel to Parish Episcopal of Dallas in October, and Holy Innocents’ was playing a Florida team in the canceled Freedom Bowl. Instead, these two Class A Private powers will meet for the first time at Riverwood, Holy Innocents’ home field. Holy Innocents’ had its best team in history last season, beating eventual champion Eagle’s Landing Christian in the regular season and reaching the semifinals. Prince Avenue Christian, a perennial contender, might have its best team yet, led by five-star quarterback Brock Vandagriff.

*Rabun County at Jefferson (Sept. 18): Rabun County had scheduled four games with South Carolina teams. Jefferson had scheduled two. All were scratched. Rabun County and Jefferson have the most wins of any Northeast Georgia public schools over the past five seasons. Both have five-star junior recruits at quarterback – Rabun County’s Gunner Stockton and Jefferson’s Malaki Starks. Jefferson, the bigger school, has won 17 straight in the series, last losing to Rabun County in 1955.

*Richmond Hill at Camden County (Sept. 4): For season openers, Richmond Hill was playing Jenkins of Savannah while Camden County was playing Columbia of DeKalb County. Savannah and DeKalb are in delay. So instead, fans will be treated to the unofficial Coastal Georgia championship to kick off the season. Richmond Academy broke through in 2019, winning its first region title since 1996, beating Valdosta in the playoffs and reaching the Class 6A semifinals. Waiting in Kingsland will be Camden’s best team in coach Bob Sphire’s four seasons.

Other intriguing games not originally scheduled: Sandy Creek at Mary Persons, McEachern at Milton, Lee County at Tift County, Buford at North Cobb, Jones County at Grayson, Bainbridge at Coffee, Brookwood at Dacula, Marietta at Brookwood, Johns Creek at Milton, Hart County at Jefferson, Fellowship Christian at Trinity Christian, and Callaway at Thomas County Central.

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