1. What will Avery Walls' impact be at ELCA?
The Chargers were picked to have a good season even before Avery Walls decided to transfer during the summer from Union Grove. The four-star college prospect has blended in well at his new school and given the Chargers another offensive weapon. He is one of the team's leading tacklers on defense. He is being recruited to play safety on the next level and solidified a defensive unit that has rarely been scored on this season. ELCA will play for the Region 5-A championship next week against Wesleyan, and it is expected to make a deep playoff run.
2. Are Dutchtown and Woodland for real?
Both young programs were coming off record-breaking seasons. Woodland was coming off a playoff appearance. Both returned a bevy of experience on one side of the ball -- Dutchtown returned nine starters on defense, Woodland eight on offense. So both had optimism for continued success.
It's been two different stories, though. Dutchtown (7-1, 4-1 Region 3A-AAAA) started a school-best 7-0 and looks poised to make its first playoff appearance in school history behind a dominant defense. Woodland (2-6, 1-4) struggled through a grueling early schedule and can only build toward next season.
3. How can North Clayton replace Clarence Jackson?
The Eagles found a capable replacement in sophomore LaDarrius Mathis, who has rushed for 842 yards and seven touchdowns on 115 carries. However, Mathis sustained an injury against Jonesboro last weekend that might sideline him for the remainder of the season. North Clayton has not seemed to miss a beat with Mathis running the ball, and senior Michael Ross has also stepped up to provide to the potent running game. In the last two weeks, Ross has accounted for 407 all-purpose yardage. With Mathis sidelined, Ross will be counted on even more to shoulder the running load.
4. Is an almost all-Clayton region good for football in the county? From a financial standpoint, Region 4-AAAA has been good because of the renewed rivals. The rivals have sparked fan interest which means good ticket sells. Lovejoy has only had to travel away from Twelve Oaks Stadium twice this season. The teams play a 10-game region schedule which did not allow any non-region games. In some regards, it will be hard to gauge the quality of the football in the region until the playoffs begin.
Until last week, Mount Zion was in the playoff picture, but had to forfeit five games after self-reporting that it had used an ineligible player. Lovejoy and North Clayton will make the postseason from that region along with Creekside and probably Tri-Cities.
Lovejoy, Creekside and North Clayton are still in a battle for the top spot. Currently, Lovejoy and Creekside are tied for first with North Clayton a game behind with an overtime loss to Lovejoy.
5. What coach will have the biggest impact at his new school?
It has been a difficult season for all four of the new head coaches in the area. Heading into today's games, coach Paul Burgdorf's Union Grove squad only has two victories, and will miss the postseason for the first time in two years. After starting the season with three straight shutout losses, Forest Park scored in their next four games before last week's 44-0 loss to No. 9 Lovejoy. Coach Jujuan Wright's first head coaching stint hasn't gone as planned with a 2-6 record, one of the wins coming via forfeit. The Panthers will now finished with its 10th straight losing season. Luella Nic Vasilchek moved to the head coaching position after Burgdorf left for the Union Grove job. Playing in perhaps the strongest Class AAAAA region in the state hasn't been too kind for the Lions as they are only 2-6 with both wins be out of region against Jones County and Eagle's Landing. Morrow will have its 12th straight losing season as Mustangs have produced only a 1-7 record in Niketa Battle's first season.
6. Can Drew and Locus Grove become winners?
The two second-year schools have had a tough season in their first season of a full varsity schedule. With no senior class, Drew has won two games this season. The Titans put together their first-ever winning streak by defeating playoff-contender Eastside and Eagle's Landing in consecutive weeks. Locust Grove's lone win has come against Eagle's Landing. Drew and Eagle's Landing meet in the regular season finale for both on Nov. 6 at Southern Crescent Stadium.
7. Can Southern Crescent teams crack in the playoffs in Region 4-AAA?
There turned out to be more room in Region 4-AAA than originally thought. Eastside and Jackson, both region champions last season, have endured struggles. Meanwhile, Henry County (5-3, 5-1) rebounded from a 1-3 start to transform into a solid playoff contender. The Warhawks appear headed toward a second-place finish and first round playoff game at home. Stockbridge (5-3, 4-2) skipped another rebuilding year and could wrap up its first playoff spot since 1983 with a win tonight.
8. Is Lovejoy ready for a resurgence? It definitely seems like it. The Wildcats are 8-0 and ranked for the first time since the 2005 season. Lovejoy has clinched a playoff spot and can secure Region 4-AAAA No. 1 seed with a win at Creekside tonight. Several of this year's seniors have endured some of the lean times at the times at the school. With several senior prospects, the Wildcats seem equipped to make a deep playoff run. The team is looking secure its first undefeated regular season since going 10-0 during the 2003 season.
9. What is Kevin Whitley's impact at Stockbridge in year two?
Whitley came to Stockbridge a proven winner after six seasons at Creekside. But the Stockbridge job seemed mired in mediocrity; the Tigers had just one winning season in the past 16 years. Now the Tigers are coming off their third shutout victory of the season and averaging 21.7 points per game after scoring just 9.9 point per game last season. A victory tonight against Jackson would all but secure a playoff spot, capping a remarkable two-year building process by Whitley.
10. When will the title drought end? The answer will come in two weeks when the state playoffs begin. There are six teams from the Southern Crescent that will likely make the playoffs. ELCA has been ranked all season while Lovejoy joined the rankings about two weeks ago. Both appear to be the area's greatest shots at breaking the 23-year title drought. Lovejoy has about seven seniors that have already been offered college scholarships while ELCA is loaded at the skill positions.