Playoff scramble is under way in rugged Region 1

Valdosta players wait to take the field before the start of their 2016 Class AAAAAA state title game against the Tucker Tigers at the Georgia Dome. SPECIAL/Daniel Varnado

It’s a well-known story by now.

Houston County was 6-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA last season when it began region play in 1-AAAAAA.

The Bears then dug themselves a hole with a 55-29 loss to Lee County in the region opener. The hole got deeper when they lost to Coffee 42-35 the following. Houston County was left in a position of having to beat No. 2 Northside-Warner Robins and No. 1 Valdosta in the final two games of the regular season or it would miss the playoffs.

The Bears got the first part, beating Northside 45-35, but lost to Valdosta 28-24 in the regular-season finale. The season was over. Houston County had gone from No. 1 in the state to missing the playoffs in less than a month.

That’s life in the state’s toughest region. And the task is made even tougher when a region has just five teams, because there is little margin for error.

This year, No. 2 Lee County, No. 5 Northside and No. 6 Coffee appear ahead of the pack in Region 1. But as Houston County knows all too well, a bad week or two can spoil anyone’s postseason party.

We continue our Tuesday series examining the playoff outlooks for every Class AAAAAA team near the beginning of region play with a preview of Region 1.

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

Safest bets

*Coffee (3-2, 0-0): The Trojans are the only Region 1 team that hasn’t played a region game, but that changes this week when they take on Houston County. Coffee’s two losses came on last-second field goals by undefeated teams Tift County 33-31 and Warner Robins 52-49. Coffee was the No. 4 seed last year, thanks to its victory over Houston County, but advanced to the quarterfinals.

*Lee County (7-0, 1-0): Lee County looks like one of the top state-title contenders. The Trojans have been rolling since escaping with a 21-17 victory over Mary Persons in the opener, winning their next six games by an average score of 46-7. They beat Houston County 34-0 in the region opener last week and meet Northside this week in a game that ultimately could decide the region title.

*Northside-Warner Robins (6-1, 1-0): The Eagles haven’t been scoring at the pace we’ve seen in recent years (averaging 23.1 points), but their defense is tough as usual, giving up just 9.3 points per game. They have allowed 37 points since a 28-17 loss to Warner Robins in the opener. Northside can take sole possession of first place in the region with a win this week at Lee County.

In the hunt

*Houston County (2-5, 0-1): The Bears are averaging 14.1 points per game, a big drop-off from the 40.7 they averaged last year under the direction of QB Jake Fromm. One region victory wasn’t enough to get Houston in the playoffs last season, but it might be this year. If the Bears and Valdosta can’t upset any of the top-10 teams, their matchup on Nov. 3 will decide the fourth playoff berth.

*Valdosta (2-5, 0-1): The defending state champion Wildcats have faced a difficult schedule (its first seven opponents have a combined record of 36-12) and had to do it most of the time without QB Hunter Holt, who has dealt with a collarbone injury. Valdosta lost its region opener to Northside last week. The Wildcats will need at least one win down the stretch against Lee, Coffee or Houston.

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Next week: Region 2-AAAAAA


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