We took an in-depth look at Georgia’s most competitive regions heading into 2013 and ranked a top five. The criteria was based on the amount of playoff contenders in the region, performance outside the region and overall depth.
The most competitive region in the state of Georgia is 1-AAAAAA. No matter how you look at it, this region has every category. Its tradition, state championships, talent, coaching and playoff prowess all hold their own with anywhere in the country. Before 2012, Camden County was unchallenged in its region play. While Lowndes, Valdosta and Colquitt County battled out grueling region slates during the regular season, the Wildcats cruised each season.
The only time Camden County was challenged before last season was in the playoffs or while facing their new region opponents in non-region games. Camden County’s 13-12 loss to Colquitt County last season ended a streak of 94 straight region victories for the Wildcats that dated back to 1999. When a region ends a streak like that in its first year, its strength is well supported.
2012 Region Standings
11-2 (5-1) Camden County
9-2 (5-1) Lowndes
10-4 (4-2) Colquitt County
7-4 (4-2) Valdosta
5-5 (2-4) Coffee
4-6 (1-5) Brunswick
2-8 (2-8) Tift County
GEORGIA’S MOST COMPETITIVE
5. 8-AAAAAA (click for story)
4. 7-AAAAAA (click for story)
3. 2-A (click for story)
2. 6-AAAAA (click for story)
A LOOK AT GEORGIA’S TOUGHEST REGION …
The 2012 GHSA reclassifications pinned Camden County with Lowndes, Valdosta, Colquitt County, Tift County, Coffee and Brunswick and the state’s most competitive region was born. The Valdosta vs. Lowndes game is Georgia’s most intense rivalry, and ‘The Winnersville Classic’ draws over 15,000 people every year. Team buses arrive to a college atmosphere. If a football fan from out of the state wanted to see one high school game that would show what Georgia high school football was all about, it would be this game. NFL greats like Randall Godfrey and Stan Rome have played in it, and its atmosphere is unrivaled.
This region’s conflicts extend beyond the regular season. In 2011, in one of the more wild games in recent memory, Colquitt County topped Camden County 32-31 in the state quarterfinals.
Camden County will begin a new era this season as Jeff Herron leaves and Welton Coffey takes over. Without Herron at the helm and quarterback Brice Ramsey and playmaker JJ Green leading the offense, the Wildcats enter a season under the radar. Alabama commits Kalvaraz Bessent and Chris Williams will both be able to play in the backfield and secondary. Antonio Wimbush, Trayvon Williams both return as well. On the defensive line is AJ Johnson and Chris Bahr.
Coffey was the offensive coordinator last season, and is well aware of the challenge he faces replacing Herron. The coaching legend posted a 154-18 record in his 18 seasons at Camden. In 2012, Camden County was knocked out of the playoffs by state champion Norcross, 34-20, who lost a coin flip, but one the war.
The North vs. South aspect of Georgia football is something that adds excitement to each season. Over the past five years, the south Georgia teams currently standing in Region 1-AAAAAA have gone 12-13 against Gwinnett County schools and 8-6 against Cobb County. Camden County opens up the season in the Corky Kell Classic against North Gwinnett and sets a mammoth matchup. Colquitt County will play Grayson in the Classic and then Hoover, Ala., Lovejoy and Carver-Columbus before region play.
Last season was one of those off years for some of Region 1, and Lowndes underachieved in the postseason. The Vikings’ 30-27 home loss to Marietta was a major upset. For 2013, Vikings head coach Randy McPherson returns a more mature team that will be motivated to finish stronger this time around. Lowndes has won five state titles and contending for a sixth this year will rely on its 13 returning starters. Linebacker Tre Jackson is the leader on defense and is committed to Georgia Tech. This offseason McPherson told the AJC that he likes to put a focus on defense and go from there. The best athletes will be on the defensive side of the football and the offense will flow off the energy of that unit.
The Vikings may not have to worry about their offense getting its footing early with experience returning in running backs Ahman Brown and Jordan Williams. Brown comes off a 10-touchdown sophomore campaign.
After Valdosta lost to Camden County 43-6 and Lowndes 17-14, the Wildcats topped Colquitt County 38-36. Valdosta eventually received an early exit in a 42-14 runaway loss to North Cobb in the first round. Head coach Rance Gillespie will have seven returning starters on defense, but needs to replace the entire offensive line.
Valdosta has claimed 23 state titles, and is well known as the winningnest high school program in the country. The excitement around Valdosta’s rivalry with Lowndes grew when the region got tougher this past season.
“As far as it [playing Lowndes] being more important than any other game on the schedule it’s not,” said Gillespie. “And we certainly talk about that, but as far as it being different from any game on the schedule it is, and you would have to be lying not to recognize that. It is a big, big football game.”
As a head coach the approach to each week is a routine. But for the community and players that are a part of this game, the Winnersville Classic means a lot more.
“It’s always a good football game in a football hungry community in a football hungry town,” said Gillespie. “It’s going to sell out and we are going to play in front of 15,000 people every year, and so far the ones that I have been in have been three very good football games.”
Gillespie has a 1-2 record in this matchup. In 2010, Lowndes won 24-17, but the following year Valdosta got a hold of the series with a 21-17 victory. The Vikings, however, in another one possession game, prevailed 17-14 last season.
“If it’s not the biggest rivalry in the state, it is one of the biggest,” said Gillespie. “It’s two very quality football programs that have had a lot of success, and both have a lot of tradition.”
Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst fell victim to region 7-AAAAAA last season. North Gwinnett pulled off a 16-14 win in the season opener, and Norcross topped the Packers 41-27 in the semifinals to end the season. Daniel Mobley is an excellent quarterback that returns after three starts last season and the defense returns nine starters. The Packers show up in big games and will be a force this season.
Tift County head coach John Reid will be challenged in the win column this season, but showed the depth of the region in its non-region games in 2012. The Blue Devils beat Houston County and Worth County by a combined score of 89-7.
Coffee finished the season with a 5-5 record and pulled off a 24-7 win over Tift County and 42-26 victory over Brunswick. The Trojans appear to be ready to challenge for a playoff spot and fell to Lowndes just 31-29 last season.
Brunswick head coach Victor Floyd returns an offense that averaged 26 points per game last season. The Pirates ended the regular season with a 50-27 win over Tift County. Last year Brunswick lost to Class AAAAA state runner up Ware County 21-16 and will play the Gators again this season.
Georgia high school football is so well respected because it is competitive and deep. Being able to stand apart as one of the more competitive regions is difficult, but top to bottom 1-AAAAAA does that.