Not long after the GHSA reclassification committee set the regions for the next two school years, high school football coaches tied up phone lines across the state seeking non-region opponents for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Some games were in the works before the reclassification meetings in December, but coaches couldn’t fully go forward without knowing exactly how many free spaces they’d have in their schedules depending on the size of region. The volatility in the reclassification process can produce unpredictable results, like Houston County, Jones County, Northside and Warner Robins going from three non-region openings in 2012 and 2013 to just one during the next cycle.
As soon as regions were drawn up -- even before they were official in January -- many of the regions met and decided how the region schedule would work out. For regions with 10 or more schools, the coaches had to decide whether or not to sub-divide their regions. Those region meetings took place in December and early January, and football schedules started filling up shortly thereafter.
The Telegraph asked football coaches across Middle Georgia to send in their tentative 2014 football schedule, and a majority of schools responded with schedules. The schedules don’t have to be turned in to the GHSA until March 1, so it’s possible some changes could take place. Some schools are still searching for games -- Westside and West Laurens were seeking games in the past week.
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But the schedules returned to The Telegraph do provide a window into the 2014 season and some interesting story lines.
Ready for the challenge
Some of the most prominent Middle Georgia programs won’t shy away from competition the next two seasons.
Northside is scheduled to play North Cobb on Aug. 22 in a matchup of two teams that will likely begin the season ranked. North Cobb is 20-6 the past two seasons and will be led by senior quarterback Tyler Queen, who is committed to Auburn. Queen accounted for 2,600 yards of offense and 31 touchdowns as a junior. He was a first-team all-state pick as a sophomore.
Warner Robins will play Peach County in its one non-region game. This will mark the fifth consecutive season the programs have played, with the Trojans winning three of the first four.
Class AAA runner-up Washington County will play Thomson, Mary Persons, Veterans and Burke County in consecutive weeks to open the season.
Veterans certainly hasn’t scheduled easy. The Warhawks will play Houston County in the Bears’ only non-region game and follow that with games against Valdosta and Washington County. The Warhawks also play Macon County, which could open the season ranked in Class AA.
In addition to the Washington County road contest, Mary Persons will play traditional power LaGrange and Class AA runner-up Lamar County.
GISA to GHSA
The three Macon private school programs joining the GHSA from the GISA have managed to schedule fairly private-school heavy.
They had two open games for non-region opponents and had to draw two opponents from the other side of their sub-divided Region 7-A for a crossover game. The programs also will play an undetermined opponent in the final week of the season against teams from the other side of the region. Because the sub-divisions are unequal, Mount de Sales will only play one crossover game.
Mount de Sales will open at Pacelli on Aug. 29 and play Strong Rock Christian in week four. The Cavaliers also will play GMC -- both teams are in Region 7-A but this will count as a non-region game -- and drew defending state champion Aquinas in a crossover game.
Stratford will play Savannah Country Day and Wesleyan in non-region contests and GMC and Aquinas in crossover games.
Tattnall Square will play Strong Rock and GMC -- this is neither a region nor a crossover game -- and drew Warren County and Hancock Central in the region crossovers in what was the best crossover outcome possible.
The fourth Macon private school team in the GHSA, FPD, will enter its fifth football season in the association.
The Vikings will open with Howard at home -- rekindling a connection with current Huskies head coach and former Tattnall head coach Barney Hester. The Vikings will play Monticello in the other non-region game, continuing a trend of scheduling non-region games with schools from larger classifications. The Vikings, who will scrimmage Central at Henderson Stadium, will play GMC and Lincoln County in region crossovers.
GMC will play all four Macon private schools.
FPD will play its Macon rivals Stratford (Oct. 3), Mount de Sales (Oct. 10) and Tattnall (Oct. 17) for the first time since 2009.
Not giving up those rivalries
Many programs use non-region games as a chance to schedule rivals to guarantee large attendance and strong financial benefits.
Peach County will play Warner Robins and Perry, and Mary Persons will play Jackson. The Bulldogs have renewed their rivalry with Lamar County. The programs have played 33 times -- Mary Persons has won 29 times -- but they haven’t met since 2009.
Bleckley County scheduled four regional rivals: Dodge County, Dublin, Hawkinsville and West Laurens. The Royals have played 98 games total against those four programs all-time. Hawkinsville has played border rivals Wilcox County 36 times overall, but the teams will play in 2014 for the first time in five years.
Howard will play county rivals Central and Rutland in non-region games. In addition to Howard, Rutland will play Northeast.
Monticello will play Morgan County for the 32nd time, although the Hurricanes haven’t beaten the Bulldogs since 1984 -- a span of 11 games -- and are 3-27-1 all-time against their border rivals. Putnam County will play border rivals Greene County and Morgan County.
Johnson County scheduled border rivals Dublin (first time playing since 2005) and Wilkinson County (the schools have played 24 times).
Wilcox County will play Dooly County for the 16th time in the past 17 seasons.
The Mercer equation
Several area programs have talked about play games at Mercer this upcoming season.
Some of the ties are very local.
Westside has tried to find a game to play at Mercer and had a game scheduled with Mary Persons before the Bulldogs dropped the game to play Washington County.
Northside and North Cobb have had some discussions with Mercer about playing their game there.
Fitzgerald and Heard County have scheduled a game at Mercer.
Zero week is popular
The week before the official start of the prep football season -- the full schedule begins Aug. 29 -- has become a popular landing spot for games.
Even more games are scheduled for that week this year.
In addition to the Northside-North Cobb contest, Aug. 22 features an impressive slate of games.
Bleckley County will host Dodge County in a rivalry contest. Howard will travel to Lamar County, and Putnam County will host Warren County. Vidalia will travel to Swainsboro, and Fitzgerald will play Heard County.
West Laurens has discussed playing Thomasville in the zero week, as well.