MACON, Ga. — The high school football season is here, and we are through the first four weeks of Football Friday Night. The team at 13WMAZ gathered around the table to discuss the hot topics so far this season and look ahead to this week. Lehgo!!!
Northeast’s Nick Woodford and Houston County’s Ryan Taleb are both enjoying breakout seasons; what other players have surprised you early on this season?
Frank Malloy: ACE Charter’s Aaron Davis has been explosive on offense for the unbeaten Gryphons, both on special teams and from the line of scrimmage. Bleckley County is also unbeaten, thanks to a stout defense and the running of Jahvon Butler. He’s a yardage machine, and last week he churned out 172 against a very good Schley County team.
Marvin James: Perry’s Demetrius Carter and Mary Persons’ Duke Watson are both contributing heavily to their team's respective offenses. Carter recently rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns, taking down previously unbeaten Veterans. The week before that, Carter had 100 yards rushing in an upset win over Jones County.
Meanwhile, Watson is continuing where he left off last season, earning 290 yards and three touchdowns in week 2 and last Friday night vs. Haralson County, the junior rushed for 238 yards and two scores in the win.
Connor Hines: ACE running back Aaron Davis immediately grabbed my attention in the Gryphons’ season-opening win against Crawford County, where he rushed for 232 yards and five touchdowns — and he’s keeping it up, beginning last week’s action with the 8th most rushing yards of anybody in the GHSA. If ACE is to beat Northeast this week, Davis will play a major role.
Across town, Stratford running back Keondre Glover continues to lead the Eagles, who have yet to lose this year. Glover had yet another big night against Brookwood, rushing for 168 yards and four scores. The man does not miss a beat.
Justin Baxley: Let’s give some love to the offensive line. I will go with one of the top offensive linemen in the state, Johnny Williams IV from Northeast. Now it doesn’t surprise me that Williams is playing well as he is a highly touted recruit. But he is leading the way for an offense that lost Travion Solomon and looked destined for a drop-off.
Instead, they’ve found new ways to win, and Williams has been a big part of it. Woodford has nearly 550 yards rushing in his first two and a half games. He is certainly very skilled at running back but having Williams and the guys up front has really set the tone for a Raiders team that looks like a state title contender.
What do you make of Northeast’s dominant performance against Carver?
Frank: I mentioned last week that I thought Northeast had a very good team despite its oh and two starts. They are physical up front on both sides of the ball, and they can run and pass. They also are well coached and will be a factor in the playoffs later this season as their young players gain more game experience.
Marvin: I come away with two things. First, I continue to be impressed by the growth in the leadership of head coach Jeremy Wiggins. He’s changing the culture on the Eastside back to the days when he was playing and winning region titles. The 28-6 win over Carver Columbus (state runner-ups) after a one-point loss to Fitzgerald the week before shows this team is evolving under his tenure. My second point, sophomore Nick Woodford rushing 32 times for 238 yards and three touchdowns while playing hard-nosed defense at linebacker for the Raiders, showcases the heartbeat of this team, along with many that surround him.
Connor: More than anything, I think it showed us how many different ways Northeast can hurt you. Last season much of the focus was on quarterback Travion Solomon, and rightfully so — the dude did it all. But look at this year’s group, and it goes beyond just one or two guys.
Nick Woodford sets the tone out of the backfield, but the Raiders are just as scary up front on the other side of the ball — look no further than Carlton Jackson’s three sacks against Carver on Friday night. Add in a dynamic play-caller in Orintae Curry and receiving targets like Kavon Conciauro, and the Raiders look as balanced as ever.
Justin: Jeremy Wiggins has built a program at Northeast. This isn’t a team built around one group of great players. They aren’t just a flash in the pan. Instead, the Raiders are here to stay.
I expect them to retool each year and really turn into a powerhouse-level team in Macon. Don’t be surprised to see this team win a title really soon. Especially when you consider Nick Woodford is just a sophomore, and he might be one of the best backs in the state already.
Is it time to hit the panic button at Warner Robins and Jones County?
Frank: Both teams definitely need to find some type of offensive identity. The Demons were shut out last week, and the Hounds scored just three points. A lack of success running the ball has placed an added burden on both teams’ first-year quarterbacks, and both have struggled in recent weeks. I still think it’s a little too early to panic, but some offensive answers need to be found soon.
Marvin: The past couple of seasons, Jones County has had issues with non-region matchups at the beginning of the year before righting the ship in league play, so I see no real worries there. Warner Robins, however, this is a first for this program, at least during the past 5 years. The real issue with the Demons is adjusting to the loss of both coordinators and OL coaches.
The transition appears to have a slow learning curve for the offense, which has only managed 27 points in 3 games, which included a shutout for the first time since 2017.
Once the offense can contribute consistently at least half the point total from yesteryear with at least 20 points, things will begin to improve. The defense is playing fairly strong, all things considered, and special teams must eliminate costly errors. I believe Coach Westbrook will get things trending positively during region play.
Connor: I’ve got no doubts about the Demons’ ability to get things going as region play begins later this season. We knew there was going to be a bit of a drop-off after much of last year’s talent departed, and that identity is still building on itself.
As for Jones County, Coach Chastain will probably be the first to say they haven’t played up to their expectations or talent level in the last couple of weeks. That’s a program that won’t allow issues to linger, and I fully expect the Hounds to kick it into high gear this Friday as region play begins against Locust Grove.
Justin: I still think it is too early to hit the panic button, so perhaps fans can reach for a slightly worried button instead. I think there are some concerns with both teams heading into region play, specifically on the offensive side of the ball. Those will need to be corrected quickly as the games will now mean more with playoff seeding and spots on the line. I think both are very talented teams and will likely finish in one of the top two spots in region play. But if the offenses continue to come out flat, then it might be time to swap out the buttons.
Football is now fully back, with the NFL, College and High School football all going on right now. What is your favorite football memory of all time?
Frank: Maybe because it’s one of the most recent, but Kelee Ringo’s Pick-6 to clinch the national championship for my Alma Mater with me and my son Nick hollering at the top of our lungs on the television is certainly tough to top.
Marvin: Finishing my senior season and career at Georgia Southern with a 14-1 record. We were the FCS national champion runner-ups. It was my second year starting for the Eagles, and we came up just a bit short against the University of Massachusetts. Upon graduation, I started working here at 13WMAZ and was able to cover my Eagles winning back-to-back FCS (I-AA) Championships as a journalist. Awesome feeling.
Connor: October 26, 2019. Indiana goes into Lincoln to beat Nebraska and, in doing so, all but guarantee the Hoosiers a trip back to a bowl game for the first time since 2016. I had the chance to broadcast that one on the radio for IU’s student radio station. Just an all-time night for Indiana fans in an all-time college football atmosphere.
Justin: I am a big Georgia fan, so the national championship will always have a special place in my heart, but I think might favorite is the UGA Rose Bowl victory. Watching Sony Michel and Nick Chubb take over the game in the second half was magical stuff with Houston County’s own Jake Fromm under center. I will never forget gathering around the TV to watch that one with my family, as it happened just a couple of years after my grandad, a UGA grad, had passed away. So it meant just a little bit more to our family.
Quick hit: Give me your favorite matchup this week.
Frank: Peach County at Perry tops my list. Two fierce rivals who have not met in a few years collide inside the Panther Pit. Peach dominated the most recent games, but this is definitely a different Perry team, and the Perry program is certainly in a different place than it was back then.
Marvin: Peach and Perry haven’t played a regular season game in 4 years. And whenever they did play, the Trojans have dominated Perry to the tune of a 13-1 record since 2004. But this Perry program isn’t the same team; they built different. I expect this to be a heavy-weight fight at the Panther Pit Friday.
Connor: Can’t go wrong with Peach County and Perry. I think we learn a lot more about both of these teams on Friday night, and the Panthers have a great opportunity to make another statement and solidify themselves as one of Central Georgia’s top powers this year.
Justin: The guys are spot on with the Peach County and Perry picks, but I will offer up another intriguing matchup with Northeast vs ACE. ACE is undefeated but is taking on a team in Northeast with a deceptive 1-2 record. This will likely be the Gryphons' biggest test to date. I think the Raiders might have the edge in this one.
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