High School Sports

Football race in GHSA Region 2-AAAA is wide open

There were surprises throughout last season in GHSA Region 2-AAAA.

There look to be plenty of questions for this season.

High expectations for Veterans died pretty early amid a brutal early season schedule, and the Warhawks ended up making the playoffs despite only three wins.

Can they get more momentum after starting off with Houston County, Macon County, Washington County and Valdosta this time around?

Baldwin was in transition with a new coaching staff after a losing season, as was Upson-Lee. The Braves went from 2-3 to the playoffs, and the Knights barely missed the postseason, both teams finishing with seven wins.

Can both build on that and make a stronger push toward a region title?

Perry was expected to contend but never got into a groove, and head coach Erik Soliday resigned after the 1-9 season.

Can the Panthers overcome the transfer of starting quarterback Trey Coryell, the graduation of KJ Smith and the coaching carousel that has them with their sixth head coach since the turn of the century?

Howard won only three games but lost games by one (in overtime), eight, one and seven points.

Have the Huskies grown enough as a program to turn those close losses into wins for the first winning season in program history?

And there sat Mary Persons and West Laurens atop the region at the end of the regular season with 5-1 records.

Who will step up for Mary Persons, which has less than a half dozen returning starters?

And who steps up for West Laurens, which is breaking in a new quarterback and wideout, losing two players who were part of a stellar passing game?

TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

Based on tradition, the favorite would be Mary Persons, but the Bulldogs are in a legitimate rebuilding mode.

Based on momentum, it’s a tough call, because Mary Persons is the only program entering 2015 with two straight winning seasons under its belt.

Everybody lost some key players, and nobody returns more regulars than Veterans.

West Laurens lost an 1,800-yard passer in Garrel Quainton and a 6-foot-7 receiver in Justin Smith. But the Raiders return standout tailback Darius Bradford, most of the offensive line and a slew of defenders.

West Laurens wasn’t completely healthy until late in the regular season and ended the year having won seven of nine games. The offseason has been productive, and the Raiders developed depth during last season.

PRIMARY CHALLENGER

Pretty much everybody qualifies for this spot.

Most teams’ scouting report offers evidence that a region title is within reach, and almost every team has enough to make the playoffs.

A year ago, Upson-Lee and Veterans went 3-3 in the region, with the three-win Warhawks beating the seven-win Knights in the regular-season finale to make the playoffs.

Veterans has plenty of returnees, although the Warhawks lost center Nate Lee, who transferred at the end of the school year to Lowndes, where he’ll play for former Upson-Lee head coach Tommy Watson, who is now the Vikings’ offensive line coach after a year in that spot at Valdosta.

Upson-Lee returns huge pieces in quarterback Kalen Puckett, healthy defensive lineman and SEC prospect David Marshall and needs only for some early stability up front on offense to make another run.

Baldwin lost some key players, including running back Kentavious Thomas and linebacker Quondarius Holsey, and is in something of a rebuilding mode, but quarterback Felix Jones keys a group of returnees who have that postseason taste.

Howard opened the 2014 season by tying Lamar County on the road and lost by one at FPD in overtime, then kept battling -- losing by a total of 16 points to Upson-Lee, Veterans and Baldwin -- in the final three games despite being out of the playoff hunt.

Mary Persons has a large senior class, but not a very experienced senior class.

Perry has a new quarterback, new running back, new head coach and a variety of other holes to fill, so Perry is pretty much the primary dark horse.

FIVE BIG GAMES

Veterans at Houston County, Aug. 27: The Warhawks will be the clear underdogs but have to come out with a good performance to get some confidence and momentum, and they need some non-region wins.

Vidalia at West Laurens, Aug. 28: The Class AA Vikings won 30-17 last year and have a five-star prospect in linebacker/running back Nate McBride, so the Raiders get a huge early challenge. The battle between McBride and West Laurens junior running back Darius Bradford is worth the ticket price.

Baldwin at Upson-Lee, Sept. 25: Both teams could easily have only one loss or be undefeated by the time they hook up at Matthews Field in the region opener.

Upson-Lee at West Laurens: The Knights could be in a near must-win mode, depending on what happened a week earlier. The Raiders won’t have had an easy time with Howard. West Laurens won 28-24 on the road a year ago.

Veterans at Baldwin, Oct. 2: The Braves got rolling with a 22-19 win on the road a year ago, scoring the game-winner with 22 second left. It will be Veterans’ region opener, and the fifth straight playoff team the Warhawks will have played.

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