Life was full of drama each week in GHSA Region 2-AAAAA a year ago.
That might have been only the appetizer.
Jones County turned in a stunning -- and totally unexpected -- season, getting attention early by shocking Northside.
Northside regrouped and went on to win the state championship.
Houston County dazzled with an offense that was powerful whether traveling by ground or by air.
The Greyhounds and Bears reached the Class AAAAA quarterfinals, Jones County coming about a foot away from advancing to the semifinals. And a trip to the second round barely slipped through the Demons’ fingers.
All four teams have some key holes to fill, but all four have plenty of talent, so one big question focuses on the other side of the region, the Augusta teams, stepping up.
The Middle Georgia four went an astounding 22-2 against the Augusta six, some of whom have had an offseason of coaching transition.
If the Augusta teams can be more competitive, life in 2-AAAAA only gets more interesting.
TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN
Gone are four first-team and three second-team All-Middle Georgia selections.
But underclassmen got plenty of experience a year ago during Northside’s trip to the state championship.
The Eagles will be in transition in the backfield and offensive line, as well as at some other positions. But quarterback Tobias Oliver is a leader, and Northside has a number of quality returnees on defense. And senior place-kicker Justin Alonso was a huge weapon in the run to the state title.
Since the race will only be tighter this year, it’s a coin flip.
But because of the intensity of the rivalry -- there was a lot chatter before and during last year’s game -- and the equal level of talent, Houston County again should be breathing down Northside’s neck.
The Eagles’ 34-33 win a year ago was a supreme high school football game, and both teams have to avoid thinking about it until shows up on the schedule again.
Houston County has a huge number of returnees, including elite quarterback Jake Fromm, Georgia-bound two-way athlete Darion Anderson, underrated receiver Jaylen Searcy and most of the defense, as well as place-kicker Jordan Strevig.
IN THE HUNT
Pick a team, almost any team.
Can Jones County recapture the magic since it is no longer a secret? The Greyhounds have a lot of talent back.
Can Warner Robins close the gap, the little gap? The Demons return quality in almost every area, and their only regular-season losses were to the three local opponents.
And what about the Augusta six? That 22-2 mark notwithstanding, a few of the teams had good talent, but a chunk has graduated.
FIVE BIG GAMES
Jones County at Northside, Sept. 17: Revenge is rarely an issue for the Eagles, and Northside coaches will have to battle that mentality during the week.
Warner Robins vs. Houston County, Sept. 18: The Demons lost by 32 -- almost three dozen points -- a year ago. This is something of a statement game for both teams, as are the season openers for both (Warner Robins at Peach County, Veterans vs. Houston County).
Houston County at Jones County, Oct. 16: The atmosphere might match Northside’s visit a year ago, since Houston County hammered Jones County 45-15 in Warner Robins in a highly anticipated game. Jones County’s two other losses came by a total of 22 points.
Northside vs. Warner Robins, Oct. 16: Yes, the same night as the Bears and Greyhounds. The Demons almost upended the Eagles’ state title run in a game a little tighter than expected. And then there’s the yearly talk of retirement possibilities for the two head coaches.
Houston County vs. Northside, Nov. 6: The woofing will begin late in the fourth quarter of their games a week earlier. If they enter this game on the same rolls as last year, school officials better have more EMS ambulances with defibrillators on hand.