Same playoff pecking order taking shape in 4-AAAAAA

(Branden Camp/Special to AJC)

Only two region games have been played in Class AAAAAA over the first two weeks of the season, and both came in 4-AAAAAA.

Jonesboro opened the year with a 24-10 victory over Mt. Zion-Jonesboro in Week 1, and Lovejoy beat Mundy’s Mill 33-14 on Friday.

That’ll all change soon, however, as the other seven regions begin league play, starting with Region 5 and Region 7 on Sept. 8.

On Tuesdays over the next few weeks, we’ll examine the playoff outlooks for every team as region play kicks off (or shortly after it begins). We begin today with Region 4, which doesn’t get into league play in earnest until Sept. 15 but already has a couple of games under its belt.

The biggest question in Region 4 always seems to be which team will join Tucker, Lovejoy and Stephenson in the playoffs (only four teams per region qualify for the postseason). That appears to be where the region is headed again this season.

Here’s a closer look at each of the teams, broken down by playoff likelihood, in alphabetical order within each group:

Safest bets

*Lovejoy (2-0, 1-0): Lovejoy finished as the runner-up in the region last season, its only loss a 29-26 game against Tucker, and reached the second round of the state playoffs. The Wildcats’ rematch with Tucker on Oct. 13 might settle the region title. On the other hand, it’s possible that the Lovejoy-Stephenson game on Sept. 15 might determine second and third place in the region.

*Tucker (2-0, 0-0): The Tigers have won 10 region titles since 2001, including last year. They are ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA after finishing as the state runner-up last season. Tucker escaped with an overtime victory against Kell in the opener, then beat Lakeside-DeKalb 54-0. The Tigers will face their biggest test of the regular season at AAAAAAA No. 2 Colquitt County on Friday.

*Stephenson (0-2, 0-0): Don’t be misled by the Jaguars’ 0-2 start – the losses came against AAA Cedar Grove and AAAAAAA Mill Creek, both of which are ranked in the top four in their classifications. Stephenson lost to both teams last year, as well, but won six of its final eight in the regular season (losing to Lovejoy and Tucker) and eventually reached the state quarterfinals as a No. 3 seed.

In the hunt

*Drew (1-1, 0-0): The Titans lost to Newton and beat Riverdale in their first two games, but this week presents a huge challenge when they travel to AAAAA No. 1 Rome. Last year, Drew went 3-7 overall and finished in fifth place in the region at 3-4, but its playoff fate ultimately was settled by a 38-26 loss to Jonesboro in the finale. Barring an upset, it’s likely to come down to that game again.

*Jonesboro (1-1, 1-0): The Cardinals started the season 0-6 last year, but they won three of their final four games (and benefitted from Mount Zion-Jonesboro having to forfeit a 9-7 region victory in the season opener) to earn the No. 4 playoff spot. The schedule is brutal the next four weeks, but Jonesboro will make the playoffs again if it wins those same three out of four down the stretch.

*Mundy’s Mill (0-2, 0-1): Although the Tigers are winless, the losses came against Hughes and Lovejoy, both of which are ranked in the top 10. That makes it a little early to write them off. Mundy’s Mill’s playoff fate will be determined in the final three games of the season against Mount Zion, Jonesboro and Drew. The Tigers will need to win at least two of the three to reach the playoffs.

Not this year

*M.L. King (0-2, 0-0): M.L. King opened in 2002 and made the playoffs 11 consecutive times from 2003 through 2013. The Lions haven’t been back since, compiling a 9-21 record over the past three seasons. They were 2-8 last year (0-7 in the region) and started this season with losses to Columbia and Arabia Mountain. Turning things around won’t be easy for first-year coach Deante Lamar.

*Mount Zion-Jonesboro (0-2, 0-1): The Bulldogs had hope early last season when they started 2-1, but both victories were later overturned by forfeit and Mount Zion officially finished the year 2-8 overall and 2-5 in the region (sixth place). After opening the 2017 season with losses to Jonesboro and McIntosh, the chances of Mount Zion earning its first playoff berth since 2009 aren’t good.

Note: Forest Park (0-2) is playing a non-region schedule this year and is not eligible for the postseason.

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Next week: Region 5-AAAAAA


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