Mays, Hughes look to become early front-runner in 5-AAAAAA

Mays is the top-ranked team in Region 5. (Branden Camp/Special to AJC)

Region 5-AAAAAA was one of the deepest and strongest in the state last season.

Six of its nine teams were in the playoff hunt, and all four of its teams that reached the postseason – Mays, Alexander, Northgate and Hughes – won at least one playoff game.

The region hasn’t gotten off to as great a start in 2017 (8-10 in non-league play compared to 11-7 last year), but it should be just as competitive as it was a year ago. Three of its teams are ranked in the top 10, and six or seven are likely to be factors in the playoff race.

Region play begins this week, and the front-runner for the region title is expected to be established right from the start when the two highest-ranked teams – No. 5 Mays and No. 6 Hughes – meet Friday in Fairburn.

We continue our Tuesday series examining the playoff outlooks for every Class AAAAAA team as region playoff kicks off with preview of Region 5. Here’s a closer look at each of the teams, broken down by playoff likelihood, in alphabetical order within each group:

Safest bets

*Hughes (2-0): The Panthers’ non-region schedule has included a 28-7 victory over Mundy’s Mill and an impressive 16-13 win over rival Westlake, a AAAAAAA team. Hughes lost two of its final three regular-season games last year and settled for fourth place but went to the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, winning a game before losing to Northside-Warner Robins in the second round.

*Mays (1-1): The Raiders lost to Stockbridge 35-34 in the 2016 opener but didn’t lose again until meeting Tucker in the quarterfinals. Mays lost to Stockbridge again to open this year, this time 9-0, but could be headed along a similar path. The Raiders averaged 42 points in region play last year and had just two games decided by fewer than 15 points. We’ll know a lot about their fate on Friday.

Close to the top

*Alexander (1-1): The Cougars were 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the region last season and settled for second place after a 31-28 loss to Mays that decided the region champion. Alexander opened this season with a 22-12 loss to Allatoona (which was playing its second game) but rebounded with an impressive 23-20 victory over Class AAAAA Carver-Atlanta. A fifth consecutive playoff berth is likely.

*Northgate (1-1): The Vikings dropped from No. 6 to No. 10 in the rankings after a loss on Friday, but that 16-13 defeat came at the hands of a Starr’s Mill team that’s ranked No. 8 in AAAAA. Northgate finished in third place last season and reached the second round of the playoffs, losing to Valdosta. Kelsey Dalrymple is the head coach this year, replacing the retired Tommy Walburn.

In the hunt

*Creekside (0-2): The Seminoles made the playoffs 16 times in a 20-year span that ended in 2015, but they have struggled since then. Creekside was 5-5 overall and 3-5 in the region last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and it has been outscored 66-0 in its first two games this season. Still, Creekside is a proud program and could grab enough wins for a playoff berth.

*Douglas County (2-0): The Tigers were one of the best teams that failed to make the playoffs in Class AAAAAA last season. Their 6-4 record was the school’s best since 2007, but they finished in fifth place in the region, essentially because of 41-21 loss to Hughes midway through the season. Douglas County will need to beat at least one of last year’s playoff teams to reach the postseason.

*New Manchester (1-1): The Jaguars have been a team that starts strong, hangs around the playoff race for a while, but ends up coming up short. They broke through for a playoff berth in 2014 but haven’t been back since. Last year’s 1-9 record and eighth-place finish was a major step back. Their 1-1 start is a bit hard to read, but it looks like they are facing an uphill climb to get in the top four.

Not this year

*South Paulding (0-2): The Spartans’ best years – a three-year stretch from 2013 to 2015 in which they went 27-8 and made three consecutive playoff berths – are becoming a distant memory. South Paulding slipped to 2-8 last season and finished in seventh place in the region. After being outscored by North Paulding and Hiram 81-9 in the first two games, it looks like the tough times will continue.

*Tri-Cities (0-2): The Bulldogs have this week off and open region play next week against Hughes. That’s not good news for a team that will begin league play with a 12-game losing streak that includes an 0-8 region mark last season that left Tri-Cities in last place. The Bulldogs last reached the playoffs in 2012 and have made just six postseason appearances since the program began in 1988.

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Next week: Region 7-AAAAAA


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