Playoff scramble begins in Regions 1 and 8

(Daniel Varnado/Special to AJC)

(Daniel Varnado/Special to AJC)

The week we’ve all looked forward to is finally here – the week when the powerhouse teams of 1-AAAAAA begin region play.

Without question, all five teams are good enough to be in the playoffs. Unfortunately, because only four teams from a region reach the postseason, somebody’s going to be left out.

Region play also begins in earnest this week in 8-AAAAAA, where everybody has been respectable but no team has truly established itself as the favorite.

On Tuesdays, we’ve been taking a look at the playoff outlooks for every Class AAAAAA team as region play kicks off (or shortly after it starts). We continue today with Regions 1 and 8.

Here’s a closer look at each team in those regions, broken down by playoff likelihood, in alphabetical order within each group:

Region 1-AAAAAA

Safest bets

*Houston County (6-0): The top-ranked Bears average 45.7 points per game (most in AAAAAA) and have the state’s leader in passing yardage (Jake Fromm) and receiving yards (Eli Watson). They went 11-2 last season and lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Allatoona. Houston County might not win them all in region play, but it will win enough to make it to the postseason.

*Lee County (5-0): The third-ranked Trojans got a bit of a scare in the opener, beating Jones County 20-13 in the Corky Kell Classic, but have had little trouble since then. They have given up just 8.4 points per game (second in AAAAAA only to Northside), which should make for an interesting matchup when they host Houston County this week. Lee County went 6-4 in the highest class in 2015.

*Northside-Warner Robins (6-0): The second-ranked Eagles have the No. 2 offense (43.8 points per game) and No. 1 defense (6.2 ppg) in AAAAAA and have demolished just about everything in their path. Several polls even have them ranked No. 1. Northside hasn’t missed the playoffs since 1991, so don’t even think about it happening this year. Northside faces Houston County on Oct. 28.

*Valdosta (5-1): The No. 4 Wildcats have played in the highest classification for decades but dropped down with Lee County this season, a year after reaching the second round of the playoffs. First-year coach Alan Rodemaker has them playing at their usual playoff-caliber level, with their only loss coming against surging Colquitt County last week. First up for Valdosta is Northside Friday.

In the hunt

*Coffee (4-2): The Trojans were left out of the “safest bets” group because, well, somebody’s not going to make the playoffs from this region and they’re the only ones that aren’t in the top 10. This is a team that went 10-2 last season and reached the second round of the playoffs. Coffee probably needs to win just one region game to make the playoffs, and the Trojans are capable of that.

Not this year

*None

Region 8-AAAAAA

Safest bets

*Lanier (3-2, 0-0): The Longhorns reached the midpoint of the season with a winning record, despite a difficult schedule and some off-the-field distractions, and come into region play off big victories over Lambert and St. Pius. Lanier went 11-1 last season, won its first region title and reached the second round of the playoffs. The Longhorns are probably the front-runner for another region title.

In the hunt

*Dacula (1-4, 0-0): The Falcons’ record is misleading, because it is the result of a schedule that included four games against Class AAAAAAA teams (including No. 2 Mill Creek) and another against a ranked AAAAA team (Arabia Mountain). Dacula regularly made the playoffs in the highest class before moving down this season, and expect the Falcons to be near the top of the final standings.

*Gainesville (2-3, 0-0): The Red Elephants have been difficult to figure out in the first half of the season. They had good wins against lower-classification teams West Hall and Clarke Central, competitive losses to ranked teams Jefferson and Marist, and a surprisingly lopsided loss to Alpharetta. Still, this is the most tradition-rich program in the region, and a playoff berth is almost always a given.

*Habersham Central (4-1, 0-0): The Raiders have the best record of any team in the region, but they have yet to be tested against AAAAAA competition. The four victories came against teams with a combined record of 7-17, and the Raiders lost 27-7 to Class AAAA Stephens County. However, Habersham appears to have its best team since 2011, when it made its last playoff appearance.

*Winder-Barrow (4-2, 1-0): The Bulldoggs are the early leaders in the region after beating Apalachee 28-21 last week in the first region game of the season. Their schedule hasn’t been particular strong, either – their four victories have come against teams with a combined record of 5-16-1. Still, Winder-Barrow already has a region game in hand and probably needs just one more.

Not this year

*Apalachee (2-3-1, 0-1): The Wildcats, in their second season under coach Steve Sims, already are guaranteed of finishing with their best record since 2012, but it’s hard to find many more winnable games on the schedule. Apalachee hung close with Winder-Barrow last week, but the Wildcats aren’t likely to win two of their final four games, which is what they would need to reach the postseason.

***

Next week: Regions 2-AAAAAA and 3-AAAAAA


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