The countdown to Region 1 continues. This week, I’m highlighting Region 5. Links from each of the previous region previews will be provided in each upcoming preview.
Region 5: Cartersville, Cedartown, Central-Carroll, Chapel Hill, LaGrange, Sandy Creek, Troup
Cartersville has won six consecutive region championships, with five perfect regular seasons, two state titles and an incredible 77-5 record in the same span. The Purple Hurricanes carried a state-best 41-game active winning streak into last year’s second round playoffs at the peak of this prominence, but a shocking 21-17 loss to eventual state champion Blessed Trinity ended the Canes’ bid for a three-peat, as well as the record-breaking varsity career of quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The four-year starter and current Clemson Tiger brought a spotlight to not only Cartersville, but the entire state as the No. 1 ranked prospect in the country. He ended his career as the state’s all-time leader in career passing yards and touchdowns, and received the 2017 Hall Trophy for being the ‘Most outstanding high school football player in the United States.’
When Cartersville head coach Joey King took the job in 2014, Lawrence was a freshman, and has started all 82 games that King has been with the program. King and his staff, however, have been able build depth and talent up and down the roster, as well as a strong system on both sides of the football. The Canes will be a tough matchup this upcoming season for any team, in or outside of region competition.
This year’s starting quarterback in going to be junior Tee Webb, a 6-foot-4 passer that has already been offered by Louisville, Mercer, Austin Peay and Rutgers. Webb has big shoes to fill and shouldn’t be expected to match the 41:1 touchdown to (yes, just one) interception ratio that Lawrence put up last season. Webb will be able to emulate Lawrence in many ways, especially when it comes to sharing the football with a deep cast of playmakers. The offensive approach shouldn’t change much at all, even without Lawrence, but Webb does possess enough mobility to potentially keep defenses playing honest with his running ability. Next year’s senior class includes Jackson Lowe, a 6-foot-5 tight end and 4-star prospect committed to Tennessee, Isaiah Chaney, a 6-foot-4 defensive end committed to Wake Forest and Kaleb Chatmon, a 3-star wide receiver. If teams want to dial up the pressure on Webb with an aggressive pass rush, expect him to make them pay with an easy check-down in the spread attack. And if defensive backs get too aggressive and start jumping those routes, Webb has plenty of arm strength to launch the deep ball. Cartersville is a well-coached team and will be ready to hit the ground running this season. Learning behind a ‘once in a generation talent’ like Lawrence has definitely prepared Webb for this opportunity and he is going to be an interesting prospect to watch develop as both a player and leader in 2018.
Cedartown finished second in Region 5 a year ago, only falling to Cartersville in region action and advancing to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time since 2002. This capped an incredible debut season for head coach O’Doyle Kelly. The longtime assistant coach and teacher had worked in the county for three decades before the job finally opened, and Kelly seized his dream opportunity. Cedartown, the alma mater of former UGA running back and current Cleveland Brown Nick Chubb, will feature another star in its backfield this upcoming season. Rising senior Tony Mathis is a physical runner that accounted for more than 1,100 rushing yards last season and holds offers from Louisville, Purdue, Wake Forest and West Virginia among others. Cedartown scored a 23-21 win over Sandy Creek in 2017, the first time in four previous tries that the Bulldogs defeated the Patriots and their 17.75 points per game allowed defensively was their best since 2002.
Troup earned the No. 3 seed a year ago and finished 9-3 overall, but it was the school-record 37.83 points per game that the Tigers put up that was most notable. Quarterback Mason Crowe finished the year with 3,984 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Jamari Thrash (13) and Kobe Hudson (12) combined for 25 touchdown receptions and 2,306 receiving yards last season. Both will be back this year, but without Crowe airing it out this upcoming season, it remains to be seen if Troup is going to be able to maintain this firepower. Troup opened last season 7-0, its best start since going 8-0 to open the 1972 season, but stumbled down the stretch, losing two of its final three games and entering the playoffs as a road team after such a promising start. The Tigers were held to just 18 points in their 21-18 loss to Cedartown and then were intercepted four times in its 52-13 loss to Cartersville in the regular season finale. Troup got past Heritage-Catoosa 31-7 in the opening round, but came up short in a second-round shootout with St. Pius 43-35. Thrash caught a career-high 12 passes for 230 yards in the game, but defensive vulnerabilities allowed St. Pius to win the back-and-forth affair.
Like Cedartown, Chapel Hill defeated Sandy Creek (35-32) for the first time in its program history in 2017. Region losses to Cartersville, Cedartown and Troup gave the Panthers the No. 4 seed with a 3-3 conference record. Chapel Hill entered the postseason with a 6-4 overall record and had guaranteed its first winning season since 2012, but a 63-7 first-round loss to Ridgeland was a reminder of the what still needs to be done in order to broker the breakthrough needed to turn the program into a noisemaker come playoff time. Head coach Justin DeShon will have dual threat quarterback, and strong safety, KJ Burton back for his senior campaign and plenty of team speed and returning experience to see the program make another stride in 2018.
Sandy Creek’s dominance has waned in recent years, and the program’s 5-5 finish last season snapped a run of 15-straight postseason appearances. Rodney Walker led Sandy Creek from 1999-2004 and then handed over the program to his son Chip Walker in 2005, who would lead the Patriots to two state titles during an incredible 12-year run (127-26) until leaving to take the same position at Newnan in 2017. Long-time assistant Brett Garvin is familiar with the program’s winning tradition, and stepped in as new head coach last season with a very young team. After a 3-0 start, the Patriots dropped four straight and five of their final seven games. A 71-16 loss to Troup to open region play was the most points the program had ever given up, and then a disappointing 35-32 loss to Chapel Hill was followed by a 63-0 loss to Cartersville. Sandy Creek was competitive against Cedartown, but fell 23-21. Sandy Creek has had plenty of time to reassess and should be much more competitive this year with a more experienced bunch.
The move to Class AAAA has been a challenge for Central-Carroll, which used a 32-6 win over LaGrange to avoid getting swept by Region 5 for a second straight year. Rico Zachery led the Lions to a perfect regular season finish in 2014 and totaled 30 wins in the program’s final three seasons spent in AAA (2013-15). Zachery left to take the Villa Rica job and Larry Kesler took over in 2016, and quickly found out how much more difficult Region 5-AAAA was than their previous home in Region 5-AAA. The Lions scored just 6.1 ppg and lost by 33.2 ppg. Kesler resigned following the 0-10 campaign and Darius Smiley stepped in. Smiley followed the winless season with a 3-7 debut, but Central-Carroll will still have work to do in order to find the same success in AAAA that they did in AAA.
LaGrange, which has fielded football teams since 1905, has won just two games in its last two seasons, and went 0-10 last year. Statistically, it was the worst season in the program’s 100-plus years of competition as they managed just 4.4 ppg and gave up 37.9 ppg. Chuck Gibbs has been hired to restore order and bring the Grangers program back to life. Gibbs is the son of former NFL and college assistant coach Alex Gibbs, who is celebrated today as a two-time Super Bowl winning coach with the Denver Broncos and a proponent of the zone blocking scheme used widely today. Expect a new-look LaGrange team in 2018, and a much more rounded Region 5-AAAA overall than we have seen the last two seasons.