Top 10 games of Week 1

Buford vs. Thompson (Ala.)

When, where: 5 p.m. Friday, Milton High School, Milton

Records, rankings: Buford (14-1 in 2021) is No. 1 in Class 7A; Thompson (13-1 in 2021) is No. 1 in Alabama’s Class 7A.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: This is the first of four Freedom Bowl games Friday and Saturday. The others are Lipscomb Academy (Tenn.) vs. Milton, Life Christian (Va.) vs. Collins Hill and Spartanburg (S.C.) vs. Hughes. Thompson is the three-time defending champion of Alabama’s highest classification. Buford has won three straight Georgia titles in 6A and 5A. Thompson has two of the nation’s 34 consensus five-star prospects in the senior class, according to 247Sports. They are CB Tony Mitchell, who is committed to Alabama, and DL Peter Woods, who is committed to Clemson. Buford has two of the nation’s 30 consensus five-star prospects in the junior class. They are DB/WR K.J. Bolden and DL Eddrick Houston. Both teams have other outstanding players, such as Thompson OL Stanton Ramil (Michigan State) and Buford RB Justice Haynes (Alabama). Thompson has played one Georgia team and beat Hapeville Charter 21-20 in 2017. Buford’s only loss in 2021 came against Chaminade-Madonna of Florida. The Wolves are 11-3 all-time against out-of-state opponents.

Creekside at Rome

When, where: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Barron Stadium, Rome

Records, rankings: Creekside (11-3 in 2021) is No. 2 in Class 5A; Rome (8-3 in 2021) is No. 3 in 6A.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: This is the nightcap of the Corky Kell Classic’s tripleheader at Barron Stadium. Mount Pisgah Christian will play Fellowship Christian at 2 p.m. followed by Kennesaw Mountain vs. Cass. Rome enters this game with its highest preseason ranking since coming off its 2016-17 state titles. After an 8-3 season in 2021, the Wolves return third-year starting QB Reece Fountain, a junior who passed for 2,312 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. He’s joined by WR/DB Martel Hight (committed to Vanderbilt), TE Martavious Collins (Alabama) and DL Stephaylin Green (Clemson), all Georgia Power 100 players. Creekside is equally ambitious this season with a huge chunk returning from its 11-3 Class 5A semifinal team. Creekside has four preseason all-state players. They are OL Caleb Holmes, LB Javeon Miller, SS/RB Roderick McCrary and CB Daiquan White. This is one of two opening games between teams ranked in the top three. The other is Oconee County vs. North Oconee.

Gainesville at Marist

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Hughes Spalding Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Gainesville (5-5 in 2021) is unranked in Class 6A; Marist (10-2 in 2021) is No. 6 in 6A.

Last meeting: Marist won 39-14 in 2017.

Things to know: This game marks the Gainesville debut of head coach Josh Niblett, who won six state titles at Hoover High in Alabama. The Red Elephants won a state title in 2012 but haven’t advanced in the playoffs in seven years and finished 5-5 last season in Class 7A. The school is investing heavily into facilities and staff to turn the tide. Niblett has a good nucleus with 1,000-yard rusher Naim Cheeks; preseason all-state LB Jeremiah Telander, a North Hall transfer; DB/RB Tre Reece, who made all-region at three positions last season at Jefferson; and TE Sky Niblett, the coach’s son. At Marist, Alan Chadwick begins his 38th season as head coach and predicts it’s “going to be a struggle for us.” The 2020 Class 4A champion moved up two classifications this season. The War Eagle’s had 10 first-team all-region players in 2021. Only one, OL O’Keefe McKinney, is back. But tradition matters, and Marist has advanced a round or more in the playoffs nine of the past 10 seasons. Marist and Gainesville first played each other in 1921, with Marist winning 6-4, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

Hughes vs. Spartanburg (S.C.)

When, where: 7 p.m. Saturday, Milton High School, Milton

Records, rankings: Hughes (13-2 in 2021) is No. 1 in Class 6A; Spartanburg (9-4 in 2021) is No. 4 in South Carolina’s 5A.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Expectations have never been so high for Hughes, which is No. 1 for the first time in a state poll and carries three top-40 national rankings (MaxPreps, CalPreps, High School Football America). The Panthers were the 2021 Class 6A runners-up to Buford, which now plays in 7A. Hughes has five of Georgia’s top-100 senior prospects, more than any other team. They are AJC Super 11 OL Bo Hughley (committed to Georgia), TE Jelani Thurman (Ohio State), WR Robert Lockhart III (Jackson State), DL Joshua Horton (expected to pick North Carolina on Friday) and DB Terrance Love (Auburn). Spartanburg is ranked No. 4 in South Carolina’s highest class in the state’s media poll after a semifinal season in 2021. The program had declined since its 2014 state title but returned to glory under coach Mark Hodge, who came on board in 2020. He had won a state title at Chapman in nearby Inman, S.C. QB Raheim Jeter and DL Cameron Jackson are top-20 senior prospects in South Carolina.

Irwin County at Fitzgerald

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

Records, rankings: Irwin County (12-3 in 2021) is No. 4 in Class A Division I; Fitzgerald (13-2 in 2021) is No. 2 in 2A.

Last meeting: Fitzgerald won 18-15 in overtime in 2021.

Things to know: These South Georgia programs have played each other each season since 1954. One or the other has reached the state finals each season since 2014, with Irwin making seven appearances in Class A and Fitzgerald making three in 2A. Fitzgerald beat Irwin in 2021 in overtime after tying the game on a 91-yard TD drive and trick-play two-point conversion with about four minutes left in regulation. (Jakorrian Paulk threw a pass over his head with his back to the receiver.) Fitzgerald returns eight offensive starters and four on defense. FB Sylon Davis and QB Sultan Cooper are outstanding. LB Daniel James is a preseason all-state player that coach Tucker Pruitt believes can have similar production as 2021 star E.J. Lightsey, who is now at Georgia. Irwin County QB Casey Soliday has thrown for 3,638 yards and 49 touchdowns the past two seasons, each time leading the Indians to the state finals. Irwin won Class A Public in 2019 and 2020. Damarkus Lundy, brother of Florida State LB D.J. Lundy, rushed for 1,668 yards as a junior. DB Bo Payne and DB/WR Malachi Hadden are other all-state candidates.

Lee County at Warner Robins

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, McConnell-Talbert Stadium, Warner Robins

Records, rankings: Lee County (11-2 in 2021) is No. 2 in Class 6A; Warner Robins (14-1 in 2021) is No. 1 in 5A.

Last meeting: Warner Robins won 56-30 in 2021.

Things to know: Lee County and Warner Robins each have five-season streaks of winning 11 or more games, each with two state titles. They’ve split their games the past two seasons, with the home team winning comfortably. Warner Robins went on to win Class 5A titles each time. Lee County’s top players are RB Ousmane Kroman, who rushed for 1,709 yards as a freshman, and WR Jevell Fugerson, a three-year starter who had 58 receptions for 940 yards and nine touchdowns last season. QB Chris Martin also made first-team all-region as a sophomore. The Trojans must replace the other nine players who got first-team all-region or superlative awards in 2021. Warner Robins returns three full-time starters on both sides and a couple of others each way who played significantly. The Demons’ most notable players are AJC Super 11 DL Vic Burley, who is committed to Clemson, and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Malcolm Brown. The new starting quarterback is Isaiah Canion, who passed for 192 yards and rushed for 190 in limited action last season.

Mill Creek vs. Walton

When, where: 4 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Mill Creek (11-2 in 2021) is No. 5 in Class 7A; Walton (9-4 in 2021) is No. 9 in 7A.

Last meeting: Walton won 48-27 in 2018.

Things to know: Using GHSF Daily rankings, these are the only top-10 teams squaring off in the Mercedes-Benz portion of the Corky Kelly Classic. Mill Creek reached the quarterfinals last season and lost only to state finalists Collins Hill and Milton. This year’s team has three big stars. DB Caleb Downs is the state’s consensus No. 1 recruit. He’s committed to Alabama. LB Jamal Anderson made the Georgia Power 100. He’s headed to Clemson. QB Hayden Clark passed for 2,065 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Like Mill Creek, Walton was eliminated by Milton in the 2021 playoffs, when the Raiders made it to the semifinals for the first time in 10 years despite a 7-3 regular season. Walton’s top players are QB Jeremy Hecklinski and LB Ashton Woods. Hecklinski passed for 1,471 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rotating quarterback in 2021. Woods led the team in tackles as a sophomore. Two other sophomores, DE Lota Ugokwe and OLB Wendell Gregory, were 1-2 in tackles for losses last season.

North Cobb at Westlake

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Westlake Stadium, College Park

Records, rankings: North Cobb (10-2 in 2021) is No. 4 in Class 7A; Westlake (10-3 in 2021) is unranked in 7A.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: This game features two of the 10 Georgia Power 100 quarterbacks. Westlake’s R.J. Johnson has thrown for 7,788 yards in his career and led Westlake to two Class 6A quarterfinals. He’s committed to Toledo. North Cobb’s Malachi Singleton passed for 25 touchdowns and scored 24 in 2021. He has led the Warriors to consecutive Class 7A region titles. He’s committed to Arkansas. North Cobb has three other players committed to Power 5 Conference teams. They are OL Robert Grigsby (North Carolina), RB Ben Hall (Michigan) and CB Quentin Ajiero (Duke). Westlake has a new coach, former Kennesaw State assistant Rico Zackery, to replace Bobby May, who left for Kell. He’ll be challenged by a move back to 7A, where the Lions averaged 8.3 victories from 2016 to 2010. Westlake went 11-2 and 10-3 in Class 6A. Westlake’s other top players include RB Jai’den “Jet” Thomas (1,151 yards rushing) and DB Avieon Terrell (committed to Clemson).

North Oconee at Oconee County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Warrior Stadium, Watkinsville

Records, rankings: North Oconee (10-4 in 2021) is No. 2 in Class 4A; Oconee County (10-2 in 2021) is No. 5 in 3A.

Last meeting: Oconee County won 35-28 in 2021.

Things to know: Oconee County leads the series 5-3 in a county rivalry between schools 4.5 miles apart. This will be the first meeting when both teams are ranked in the top five. In the 2021 game, Darius Johnson, now at Gardner-Webb, had TD receptions of 76 and 70 yards and threw a 24-yard TD that put Oconee County up 35-21, and North Oconee never had the ball again with a chance to tie or lead. Oconee County LB Whit Weeks, now a senior and committed to LSU, had 112 returns yards and 13 tackles. C.J. Jones, a 1,000-yard rusher, and five other first- or second-team all-region players are back. Oconee County has a new coach, Ben Hall from Flowery Branch, to replace Travis Noland, now at Jefferson. North Oconee reached the Class 4A semifinals last season after a 1-3 start, winning nine consecutive games. The Titans have three preseason all-state players. They are RB Dominic Elder (1,337 yards rushing in 2021), DB Jack Fabris (59 solo tackles, two blocked punts) and DB/WR Khalil Barnes (975 yards from scrimmage, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions).

Woodward Acad. at Trinity Christian

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Trinity Stadium, Sharpsburg

Records, rankings: Woodward Academy (11-1 in 2021) is No. 5 in Class 6A; Trinity Christian (14-0 in 2021) is No. 5 in 4A.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: The GHSA’s 3.0 enrollment multiplier sent Woodward and Trinity into higher 2022 classifications, yet both are pegged as top-five teams in preseason. Woodward was 11-1 in Class 5A last year, while Trinity won Class A Private with a 14-0 slate. Woodward is fraught with major Division I talent, especially on defense. Those include QB Jalen Woods, DE A.J. Hoffler (committed to Clemson), LB Myles Graham (four-star recruit), DB C.J. Heard (Florida State), LB Andrew Hines and DB River Hanson (Duke). This won’t be Woodward’s first venture against a small private-school power. The War Eagles split two games with Eagle’s Landing Christian the past two seasons. Trinity’s 2021 team would’ve been the best even if it had played in Class 4A last season, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings, so the jump might not be as tough as expected except for the graduation losses of four first-team all-state players that include offensive player of the year David Dallas, the quarterback. This year’s top player is DB/WR Aaron Gates, a Florida commit. Three other defenders are committed – DE Ethan McDowell (Miami of Ohio), LB Ryan Earl (Furman) and DB Shawn Braxton (Davidson).

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