High School Sports

Top Middle Georgia matchups to watch as high school football kicks off this week

‘Now you just got to go out and prove it.’ Houston County coach on 2019 expectations

Houston County head coach Ryan Crawford discusses the teams outlook and expectations for the 2019 football season.
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Houston County head coach Ryan Crawford discusses the teams outlook and expectations for the 2019 football season.

It’s time for high school football in Middle Georgia.

The season kicks off Friday, and the Telegraph has selected three feature matchups to watch.

Unsure which game you want to attend? Here are the details and our staff picks.

Perry vs. Houston County

7:30 p.m. Friday at Perry

Story of the game: These two teams met in last season’s opener, with the Perry Panthers coming out on top (23-17). Each offense got off to a hot start before defense took over in the second half. Neither team scored a touchdown in the second half.

Keys to the game for Perry: Quarterback Lane Rucker passed for just 157 yards in the meeting last season, and Houston County’s stout defense was able to limit him for the most part.

Rucker built quite the rapport with his wide receivers last season, but key guys like Davion Ross have graduated. For Perry to be successful long term, Rucker will have to take the next step as a quarterback. He will also need to limit his mistakes, as he threw nearly as many interceptions as he did touchdowns last season.

One of the big reasons the Panthers won this game a year ago is because Rucker did not turn the football over.

Keys to the game for Houston County: The Bears defense will be the unit that makes or breaks the team this season.

In games where defense gave up 20 points or less, they went 2-0. They were 0-8 in the other games, with most games turning into blowouts.

It will be imperative to improve on both sides of the ball, but the defense can set the tone early by forcing Rucker and the Panthers into mistakes.

Wesley Steiner returns as the defense’s key catalyst. His leadership will go a long way in helping Houston County get back to a winning season.

Staff pick: Houston County

Jones County vs. Howard

7:30 p.m. Friday at Jones County

Story of the game: This is a game of two very different styles. Jones County likes to throw the ball all over the yard. Howard likes to run it down the field and grind out the game. In their meeting last season, the two teams each showcased their styles at its best. Jones County’s Hunter Costlow passed for five touchdowns and nearly 300 yards. Jeremiah Kelly paced the Howard Huskies on the ground with 163 yards and a touchdown. Jones County would take the win 34-28 after Costlow hit Maleek Wooten for a 53-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.

Keys to the game for Jones County: Mike Chastain, former Warner Robins head coach, will be making his debut with the team. Chastain’s style of airing it out should fit perfectly with the players on this team. For the Greyhounds to come away with the victory, Costlow will have to once again exploit the Howard defense. It wouldn’t be a stretch to expect another five-touchdown performance from the senior signal-caller.

Keys to the game for Howard: The Huskies lost a lot of senior talent on both sides of the ball. Jeremiah Kelly will have to be a force in this game if Howard wants to walk away with the victory. If Howard can control the pace of the game and keep the ball away from Costlow and the Jones County offense, then the Huskies have a shot. Howard also can’t afford to get down early. It could force the team to pass the ball more.

Staff pick: Jones County

Westside vs. Southwest

4 p.m. Saturday at Mercer

Story of the game: The pair of teams will be playing at Mercer for the annual Macon Touchdown Club Middle Georgia Kickoff Classic. The showcase game should add just a bit more excitement to an already heated rivalry.

Southwest was the first team in Bibb County to knock off Westside back in 2017. The two coaches are the best of friends, with Southwest’s Joe Dupree having worked under Westside’s Spoon Risper before Dupree took over as head coach of his alma mater.

On the field, this rivalry is as intense as ever. Each team wants to take home bragging rights. Last year, Westside got a taste of revenge with a 21-0 shutout victory.

Keys to the game for Westside: The Westside roster is filled full of D-1 talent at multiple positions. Quarterback Victor Dixon Jr. has an arsenal of weapons around him at wide receiver, like dynamic duo Jaylon Barden and Jehlen “Hollywood” Cannady. The pair combined for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. These three seniors should be able to exploit the Southwest defense.

Keys to the game for Southwest: It is a rivalry game and anything can happen. Southwest is the underdog, but don’t underestimate this team. If the offense finds a way to move the ball this time around, then there could be an upset on the horizon. The key will be limiting Dixon and his weapons.

Staff pick: Westside

Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.