At the beginning of the 2016 football season, Class AAA coaches throughout the state figured that Region 5 in metro Atlanta would be toughest in the state.
The Westminster, Cedar Grove, Lovett and Pace Academy programs were filled with top recruits, and there was a championship pedigree spread among the schools. The praise for the strength of the region came from all corners.
During the first week of the season, Peach County coach Chad Campbell was asked his thoughts on the strength of Region 5.
“Hopefully they will beat each other up, but we know they’ll be battle-tested for the playoffs,” Campbell said. “They’re the toughest region, without a doubt, with two state champions, but we are working on us.”
Pace Academy, which entered the state playoffs as the No. 4 seed, was the only casualty in the first round after losing to the state’s top-ranked team, Greater Atlanta Christian. The top three seeds remain, each putting the region’s reputation on the line Friday in Round 2.
“We played every team in our region and, top to bottom, I think it was the strongest region in the state,” said Pace coach Chris Slade. “I think it is going to show, throughout the course of these playoffs, with Lovett, Westminster and Cedar Grove still alive.”
Friday night will prove to be yet another test for the remaining Region 5 teams, when Westminster faces Savannah; Lovett plays unbeaten No. 1 seed Crisp County, and Cedar Grove faces Jenkins of Savannah, another No. 1 seed.
Slade, in his own words, agreed to break down the matchups from a Region 5 perspective:
What Savannah will face against Westminster: Well, I don’t know much about Savannah. I have not watched them on film. But I do know that to beat Westminster you have to stop Zay Malcome, and if you don’t you are going to have a long game. He is a workhorse. He makes plays on all three phases of the game and is a dynamic high school football player. You have to stop him. You can’t beat yourself against Westminster because they are not going to beat themselves. You have to play mistake-free, and you have to capitalize on it. You also have to run the football right at them. You can’t play finesse football against them because they’re going to be smart enough and disciplined enough to be in the right place at the right time. So you just have to run the ball right at them.
What Crisp County will face against Lovett? I have looked at Crisp County a little bit. They are very athletic and have a big-time defensive end over there (Markaviest Bryant) who can really be a game-changer and be disruptive. I think that Lovett and Westminster are basically the same teams. You could close your eyes, and they’re the same guys. I think Lovett … the quarterback (Brady Tindall) does a great job in running the football. They don’t have any “running attack” and they don’t really have a running back. Their quarterback is pretty much the running back. So if you can stop the quarterback power and figure out a way to stop the jet sweeps, you will have a pretty good chance at stopping them offensively. I don’t think playing finesse football against Lovett will be successful. Like Westminster, I think you should just run the ball right at them.
What Jenkins will face against Cedar Grove? I don’t know much about Jenkins. I have never seen them play. But right now I think Cedar Grove is playing the best in the state in AAA. They’re big. They’re physical. They’re athletic. They’re aggressive. That was the one team we played that I felt we were overmatched in a lot of different positions. That was the one team where I could clearly watch the game and say that they’re just better than us in most positions. I think that if they play like they are capable of playing, and if they are the Cedar Grove team that showed up the last five weeks of the season, I don’t think anybody will beat them. They are good at all phases. Their special teams aren’t great, but they are really good on defense. They’re physical; they’re big up front. I think Jenkins — like I said I don’t know anything about them — but I think they’re going to have their hands full. If I had to pick a state champ early on, I would pick Cedar Grove. When I look at Cedar Grove, I see a little bit of Crisp County, but Cedar Grove is a bit bigger and more physical. Cedar Grove is a really good football team.