Season to kick off with meeting of champions

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

(Branden Camp/Special to AJC)

(Branden Camp/Special to AJC)

The Georgia High School Association’s move to seven classifications and smaller regions has left a lot of room on the schedule for some marquee non-region matchups, and there’s perhaps no better way to start the 2016 season than with two reigning state champions meeting on opening weekend.

Allatoona, the champion in Class AAAAA in 2015 and ranked No. 1 in AAAAAA this season, will travel to AAAA champion and top-ranked Cartersville at 7:30 p.m. Friday in one of two matchups this season between defending champs. Westminster (AAA champion) and Pace Academy (AA champ) will meet Oct. 7 in Region 5-AAA game.

Allatoona defeated Glynn Academy in the championship game last season to give the Cobb County School District its first state title in football. Cartersville won its third championship and first since 1999 with a victory against Buford, ending the Wolves’ bid for an eighth title in nine seasons.

Look for the contest to come down to a showdown between Allatoona’s running game and the Cartersville passing attack. Allatoona ran for 4,078 yards last season (71 percent of its offense). Cartersville quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit among juniors, passed for 3,655 yards and 43 touchdowns in 2015 and has 6,697 yards and 69 touchdowns in two seasons.

Here are some of the other top games involving Class AAAAAA teams this weekend:

*Cedar Grove at Stephenson (7:30 p.m. Friday, Hallford Stadium): No. 10 Stephenson looks to bounce back from an uncharacteristic first-round playoff loss, and it will be tested from the start by the fifth-ranked team in AAA. Stephenson leads the series 5-1, but the teams haven’t met since 2011, and the Saints have made great strides since then under coach Jimmy Smith.

*Lowndes at Valdosta (8 p.m. Friday): Ninth-ranked Valdosta and Class AAAAAAA No. 7 Lowndes are in separate regions this season for the first time since 1967 and are playing in the opening game of the season for the first time in series history. Valdosta leads the series 36-18 and won the past two meetings, snapping a Lowndes run of nine victories in 10 seasons.

*Tucker vs. Kell (9 a.m. Saturday, Georgia Dome): Fifth-ranked Tucker is hoping its third appearance in the Corky Kell Classic goes better than the first two. The Tigers lost to Norcross 32-29 in overtime in 2014 and was blown out by McEachern 50-14 last season in a game that was 48-7 at halftime. Class AAAAA No. 5 Kell was 5-1 in its previous Corky Kell appearances.

*Warner Robins at Northside-Warner Robins (7:30 p.m. Friday, McConnell-Talbert Stadium): This is another premier region rivalry that was split apart by reclassification, although the teams were in separate regions as recently as 2007. Class AAAAA No. 10 Warner Robins still holds the advantage in the series, but fourth-ranked Northside has won 15 of the past 20 meetings.

*Worth noting: The Corky Kell Classic, which expanded to three days this year, kicks off on Thursday night in Macon with a couple of good games involving Class AAAAAA teams. Third-ranked Houston County opens the event at 5:30 p.m. against Class AAAA No. 8 Mary Persons, and seventh-ranked Lee County meets Class AAA No. 6 Jones County at 8:30 p.m.

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