Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.
I saw third-ranked Griffin play Dutchtown during the first week of the season.
Impressive, to say the least. Not in the fact that the Bears won, but how they won.
Going into raucous Bulldogs Stadium. Playing against a team hungry to be the one whom others would point to and say: “That’s the squad that stopped Griffin’s 26-game winning streak against Henry County schools.”
Falling behind 16-7 at halftime.
As the teams left the field for the break, one fan cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled to the Griffin sideline, “We’re going to make history out here today!”
What followed was a 35-0 second half where Griffin methodically — almost nonchalantly — regained control of the game and disposed of the Bulldogs.
Not sure if anything happened that made Georgia high school football history, but Griffin’s domination definitely raised this sports writer’s eyebrows.
And as I looked through the Southern Crescent’s master schedule and saw five more games slated for the Bears to play against area teams, it made me wonder.
Can Griffin be beat — by anyone in the Southern Crescent anyway? And if so, who is the best candidate to get the job done?
Will it be Woodland?
The Wolfpack is off to a 1-1 start and running back Malcolm Miller’s strong play is pacing them. But Woodland is looking for their first winning season since it went 7-4 in 2009. They will likely take a “W” wherever they can get it. Not sure they are ready to get it from Griffin.
Could Stockbridge be the one?
Kevin Whitley’s Tigers are trying to build off the momentum of the school’s first-ever playoff appearance and win in 2011.
They’ve shown a penchant for stingy defense in a week-one loss to M.L. King and a 13-3 win against Upson-Lee. But offense has been a problem.
And for a Griffin team averaging 38.5 points a game early on, the Tigers will have to do better than its 13 points per game average in order to keep up with the high-octane Bears.
What about Riverdale?
Olten Downs’ bunch turned heads in 2011 when the Raiders went 4-6 in his first year as head coach, and came within a total of six points of beating Jonesboro and Lovejoy — arguably the two best teams in the Southern Crescent last year.
Riverdale, at 2-0, has gotten off to its best start since its 2005 playoff team, blanking North Clayton 21-0 and beating a 2011 playoff team in Drew 21-14.
With a steady defense, led by 2011 All-Southern Crescent linebacker Troy Wyche and jitterbug tailback in Ti’Keem Cooper, the Raiders are dangerous and a definite darkhorse for the Region 4B-AAAA title. But road tests at undefeated and 10th-ranked Grady and Dutchtown will show how ready Downs and company are for prime time.
On to North Clayton.
The Eagles have weapons, and by the time the two teams meet in Week Seven, coach Max Wiltz will be hoping that grueling schedule will have worn Griffin down and that after an 0-2 start, his team will be hitting their stride.
So that leaves Jonesboro. Save the best for last? I think so.
Each team previously mentioned has excelled on one side of the ball while still trying to find themselves in other facets of the game. Stockbridge and Riverdale’s defense. North Clayton’s physicality. Woodland’s running game. If only these elements could be combined and placed on one team.
That team would be the one who would have the best shot at pushing pause on Griffin’s Southern Crescent dominance.
And it says here that Jonesboro is the team that best represents completeness.
In wins against cross-town rival Mount Zion and on the road against Westover, the Cardinals have scored multiple times on offense, defense and special teams.
Early in the season, they are already battle tested, having toured hostile environments at Thomas County Central as well as last week in Albany — places that running back/safety Patrick Petty says are tough to play in because “all they have down there is football.”
Griffin’s fan base has that passion for its Bears. But the Cardinals have confidence in the fact that they’ve already proven to themselves — and perhaps Griffin as well — that they can go toe to toe with the juggernaut from Spalding County.
“We feel like we can match up with Griffin athlete for athlete,” offensive coordinator Nathan Wardlaw said during a recent practice. “But if our guys are not technically sound, it will cause problems for us.”
The fun matchup of the night will feature Jonesboro’s secondary with Petty at safety and speedy corners, Cameron Sutton and Taurean Ferguson against Griffin’s twin tower sophomore receivers Darquavious Mangham and Christian Owens.
The question mark of the night will be if Jonesboro’s offensive and defensive lines can hold up against Griffin in the trenches.
But with so many weapons in all three facets of the game, Jonesboro brings something to Griffin that few Southern Crescent teams have been able to show them in a while.
However, Jonesboro is 2-37 against the Bears all-time. It will take a monumental effort from Jonesboro to walk out of Griffin with a win.
Call it a hunch, but I believe the Cardinals are up for the challenge.
Gabriel Stovall is a sports writer for the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @gabrielstovall1