By Brian Paglia and Derrick Mahone
Hope you've been taking notes.
Tonight marks the midpoint of the high school football season, half a season that's already been compelling and surprising. There's been overtime games (three), upsets (Ola over Henry County) and big performances. There's been a lot of football action to retain.
Don't worry, we've been watching. Now it's time to reflect on what we've learned so far this season.
I. Region 4-AAAA is wide open
Lovejoy and Mount Zion sit atop the region standings with 4-0 records, but Creekside, Tri-Cities and North Clayton are right on their heels.
If Lovejoy can get by Tri-Cities and Mount Zion takes care of business against winless Mundy's Mill, then next Friday's showdown between the two teams would leave only one unbeaten team in the region.
With a 10-game region schedule, coaches agreed that there is little room for a slip up in the region race.
Although Jonesboro has a 1-3 record, they can still play themselves back into the playoff picture. The Cardinals have lost all three region games by a combination of seven points against Tri-Cities, Mount Zion and Creekside.
There will probably be a good team left out the playoffs in this region. A 7-3 record is probably the cut-off mark for a team to make the postseason. Some teams will have to rely on help from an opponent to make it in.
II. ELCA, Lovejoy look built for playoffs
Both are loaded with college prospects in key positions. The two teams have experience and leadership.
ELCA has played a tough early season schedule with confidence-boosting wins against a Florida Class A powerhouse and playoff contender Manchester.
The Chargers offense has been sparked by quarterback Aaron Spratlin and go-to receiver Christian Reeves, who has committed to play at Virginia Tech next season.
The running game is solid with John Tatum and Keyante Green. Defensively, transfer Avery Walls is a hard-hitting safety with linebackers Cole Carrera, Tanner Rogers and Cody Rush providing a lot of support.
Lovejoy has been aided by a big, physical offensive line led by all-state candidate Lamont Hardy. The mammoth lineman has helped clear the path for the running tandum of Rayshad Samuel and Travis Custis. Quarterback Vic Hardison, a three-year starter, has provided leadership in the huddle.
David Washington helps anchors a defense that is giving up only 10 points per game.
If both teams keep up their current pace, they can make long playoff runs.
III. Running backs rule
Consider what some teams had to replace this season. North Clayton graduated the state's leading rusher in Clarence Jackson. Dutchtown graduated its all-time leading rusher in Kelvin Tanner.
North Clayton plugged in sophomore Ladarrius Mathis and is off to a strong start at 3-1. Dutchtown (4-0, 1-0 Region 3A-AAAA) plugged in senior Mychael Brown, who leads the Southern Crescent with 590 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in four games.
If there's a dominant position so far this season, it's running back. The Southern Crescent appears to be teeming with talented backs, and teams are leaning on them. Or both of them.
Indeed, several teams have multiple running backs they trust to gain yards: Eagle's Landing Christian (sophomore Keyante Green and junior John Tatum), Lovejoy (senior Rayshad Samuels and sophomore Travis Custis), Mt. Zion (seniors Quartterrio Morgan and Josh King), Ola (Ryan Arnold, Victor Griffin, Trey McBride) and Woodland (John Leonard, Evan Jones, Ray Tookes) have all used multiple running backs with success.
Oh, and that doesn't include Union Grove junior T.J. Moon, who has interest from FBS (formerly Division I) schools.
IV. Tough times tough to change
High school football coaches often preach that success comes and goes in cycles. Not for some schools.
Eagle's Landing, Forest Park, Morrow, Mundy's Mill and Riverdale went 5-45 last season. Going into this season, some teams got new coaches (Forest Park, Morrow), some got new offenses (Mundy's Mill) and some hoped another year would yield stronger and smarter players (Eagle's Landing, Riverdale).
But the results haven't changed. This season, those same teams are 2-22 and haven't appeared competitive against opponents -- unless they're playing each other.
V. Realignment worked this time
The realignment process by the Georgia High School Association usually has its detractors and its proponents. With over 400 schools to place into classifications and regions, criticism is inevitable.
But it's worked out well for Southern Crescent teams this time. Teams are in more geographically-friendly regions. There's more head-to-head games, which has restored rivalries, added region standing implications and helped sales at the gate.
Overtime thrillers that we've seen this season between Lovejoy-North Clayton and Union Grove-Woodland wouldn't have happened with last year's regions. Sponsors stepped up to give natural rivalries like Mundy's Mill-Lovejoy, North Clayton-Riverdale and Union Grove-Woodland names like Southside Classic, Big Cat Classic and BBQ Bowl.