Plenty of treats on this year’s high school football schedule
by Chris Goltermann and Doug Gorman
Here’s 10 games to circle for the 2014 season heading into this month’s openers
When you look at the local high school football calendar for 2014, one night brings the hairs up on the back of one’s neck with anticipation more than others.
So much, it’s downright spooky.
For the first time in thirteen seasons — East Coweta and Newnan will kickoff prior to the final week of the regular season, be it on All Hallows Eve.
So you might want to think about a costume that corresponds with blue and gold or purple and gold when thinking about a Halloween costume.
Teams could be bobbing for apples in the Brantley-Knott Water Cooler after claiming the trophy that will stay at the school of this year’s winner.
East Coweta hopes to keep it in its possession after getting first dibs following a 24-7 win at Drake Stadium, while Newnan would like nothing better than to have the same feeling of celebrating in front of the Indians home crowd at Garland Shoemake.
Either way, when it comes to trick or treating, it’s all the latter when it comes to the big game in 2014. The series, while lopsided among winning streaks among the stretch, remains close in wins and losses, with East Coweta holding a 12-10 advantage following last year’s win.
But this year’s game won’t be the only one rivalry in town on Halloween. Expect another to equally brewing down the road from Highway 154.
While the Indians and Cougars are getting ready to meet for the 23rd time since starting their annual rivalry in 1992, a smaller one — be it just as intense — will be renewed just nine miles away off Highway 54 when Trinity Christian hosts The Heritage School in the final week of the GISA schedule.
The Lions are coming off their first win over the Hawks in each’s short football history. Heritage still holds a 2-1 advantage in the series, with all three meetings so far being decided by at least two scores.
While those games are more than 10 weeks away, here’s nine more games that have some significance for county teams heading into the 2014 season.
Flint River at The Heritage School: It wasn’t too long ago that Flint River dominated an annual series between schools since 2008, winning the first three meetings by at least 24 points and by as many as 31. After back-to-back wins by the Hawks, including a 48-13 blowout during Heritage’s run to the 2012 Class AAA state finals in the GISA, the Wildcats held on for a 25-13 win in last year’s meeting in Woodbury. Flint River, which has won three GISA titles, including two between 2005 and 2007, is going through its third coaching change in four years. Former assistant Josh Daher takes over for the Wildcats.
Meanwhile, Heritage looks for a quick turnaround after returning nearly its entire lineup from last year’s 3-7 season, including 16 freshmen and sophomores who contributed in their first year on the varsity.
Newnan at Carrollton: The first meeting between two traditionally strong football programs in neighboring counties could be one of the best openers in the state, as Cougars make the short trek to Grisham Stadium to take on the Trojans.
It’s the 23 meeting between the two teams and the series couldn’t be closer with the Trojans holding a 11-10-1 record.
Carrollton’s program couldn’t be more hungry for another state title after losing in a state finals for the second time in four years. The latest came against in a Georgia Dome shootout last December with Griffin.
The Trojans will also be making their home debut under new head coach Ed Dudley, who returns to the school after serving as an assistant under the late Ben Scott. Carrollton opens the season Saturday against Kell in the Corky Kell Classic at McEachern High.
Newnan, which is coming off a 6-5 season, looks to start its 2014 schedule with a victory. The Cougars staff has two immediate ties to Carrollton’s program. Chad Blevins was an offensive lineman for Scott during the Trojans’ glory days in the late 1990s, which included a Class AA title in 1998.
New co-defensive coordinator Marvell McKelphin, meanwhile, was a longtime Carrollton assistant while working under three head coaches — Scott, Ross New and Rayvan Teague, who retired after last year’s 13-2 season.
Carrollton won the last meeting between schools 27-7 in 2007 in a game played at Grisham Stadium.
Arabia Mountain at East Coweta: This game might not create too much elsewhere around the state, but for the Indian nation, it’s big.
The Indians, who open the year at home, would like nothing better than to post a victory in the head coach Steve Pardue’s debut at the school.
Pardue, who is just East Coweta’s third head coach since 1990, was touted as one of the state’s best high school hires in the offseason after posting a 161-45 record at LaGrange that included state championships in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
Getting things started with a victory will be no easy task for the Indians.
Arabia Mountain comes to town fresh off of last year’s 7-3 record. Although the Rams missed the playoffs, they finished last year with five consecutive victories.
“This is a really good team to open with,” Pardue said.
Troup at Northgate: Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn and Vikings’ defensive coordinator Bubba Jeter have to feel a bit sentimental this week when the Vikings take on visiting Troup County. Walburn got his head coaching start at Troup back in 2001. Jeter became Troup’s head coach when Walburn left for Crisp in 2006, but before that was a long-time assistant.
Troup made the playoffs all five season under Walburn’s direction, including producing two 11-win campaigns in 2001 and 2003.
“There are a lot of fond memories there,” Walburn said. “It will be emotional because there are some coaches on that staff who played for me or I hired when I was there.”
East Coweta at Whitewater: While the two successful football progams aren’t exactly strangers, having been regular scrimmage opponents of late, this will be the first official meeting between the Indians and Wildcats, both of whom enter the season with impressive state-playoff streaks.
While the Indians are looking to reach the postseason for the 18th straight year, Whitewater has made the playoffs in seven of its eight seasons under head coach Amos McCreary. The Wildcats, who dropped to Class AAAA this year, won’t face Northgate or McIntosh after being region rivals since 2006.
Instead, Whitewater has been grouped in an alignment with powerhouse programs Sandy Creek and Carrollton.
Either way, it’s an opportunity for both programs to test themselves against a quality opponent during the non-region schedule.
McIntosh at Northgate: If the Vikings have a natural rival, this is it. This year’s game is the 11th between the two schools. Despite holding a 6-4 advantage over the Chiefs, Northgate enters this year’s home meeting looking for revenge following a 37-14 loss in Peachtree City.
“This has been one of our rivalries for a long time,” Walburn said. “I am glad we are still getting a chance to play them.”
McIntosh looks to continue what has been a turnaround over the past two seasons under head coach Lee Belknap, going 5-5 in 2012 and finishing with a program-best 8-3 record last fall.
Trinity Christian at Dominion Christian: With GISA Region 1-AAA a mix and match of new faces, these two have a bit more history after becoming region opponents. The programs met in 2012 and 2013 as non-region foes. The Crusaders, which run a wide-open spread have twice been tamed by J.P. Weaver’s defenses with the Lions. This time around could be even more challenging, with Trinity having to overhaul its roster with new faces. The game could ultimately decide key positioning among eight teams battling for four state playoff berths this year.
Central vs. Ballard, Ala.: It doesn’t matter what league the two 8-man teams belong to, when it comes to Crusaders and Eagles, there’s no love lost, even at two Christian schools. A long-dated rivalry that previously had the teams battling within the same division in the Independent Christian Schools of Georgia and Alabama included eventually battling each other for a second time in 2012 for the ISCGA Championship. The Crusaders won the regular-season meeting but fell in the title game.
Last year’s contest was just as fierce. In a rebuilding year, the Crusaders nearly knocked off Ballard in a 40-39 loss.
This year’s game has been entitled the Black & Blue Bowl and will be played at Sluder Field in Auburn.
Newnan at Langston Hughes: If any Region 3-AAAAAA program has hopes of winning a division championship this fall, one thing is certain.
They’ll have to go through Langston Hughes.
Over a short history, the Panthers have gone from being pounded by foes to being the ones doing the pounding.
After dominating defensively in 2013 while posting five shutouts and holding two other opponents to single digits, Hughes returns the majority of its starting lineup.
The Panthers were again picked to finish first in this year’s preseason coaches/media poll, while Newnan — which has revamped its offense — came in second among balloting.
The two teams have met four times, with the Cougars winning the first two games and Langston Hughes the last two, including a 30-3 victory last season.