A look at some of the top games in AA this week, starting with a clash between top-10 teams in Region 6 ...
No. 7 B.E.S.T. Academy at No. 4 Lovett
This is the top game on my radar by a pretty good margin this week. I've had it circled since B.E.S.T. knocked off Callaway 14-7 in the season opener. I think we knew Lovett (2-2) stood a good chance of taking some lumps, given the difficulty of its nonregion schedule and some of the pieces the Lions had to replace. But I also think we knew that once they got to region play, the Lions would be one of the top teams in the region.
Regardless of the outcome, both teams are a strong bet for the postseason; what tonight's game might tell us is which of these teams stands the best chance of knocking off top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian later in the season.
Lovett's strength is its physical defense and balance on offense. Quarterback Willie Candler leads the Lions in passing yards (469) and rushing (239), while Jay Harris has added 224 yards on the ground.
For the second week in a row, the Lovett defense will be seeing one of the top offensive weapons in the state. Last week, Woodward Academy's Elijah Holyfield churned out 260 yards on 38 carries as the Lions held on for a 21-20 win. This week they'll be tasked with slowing down Deshawn Waller, who has run for 542 yards on the season and passed for more than 200 in a 22-6 win over Therrell last week. Junior Robert Tucker is another two-way standout for the Eagles, leading the team in receiving yards (164) and tackles (29).
No. 2 Fitzgerald at Macon County
Off to its best start since 2009, Fitzgerald (3-0) will bring its high-powered running game to Montezuma on Friday night to face a Bulldog defense that's given up just 13 points in the last two weeks.
The Purple Hurricanes are averaging 321.7 rushing yards per game, led by quarterback Gerald Morgan, who has carried 64 times for 452 yards. Taylen Gaulden also emerged in Fitzgerald's last game, a 40-12 win over rival Irwin County, rushing for 125 yards. Add to the mix Deonvis Bonner (19 carries, 155 yards on the season) and Trey Graham (2 rushing TDs, 2 receiving TDs), and the Purple Hurricanes have a nice arsenal of offensive weapons.
They may need them against Macon County (2-1), home of Roquan Smith, one of the top linebackers in the country. Smith, who has scholarship offers from major programs around the the nation, returned an interception 100 yards for a score in the Bulldogs' 35-6 win over Perry last week. Macon County also has big-time junior prospect Malik Walker on the defensive line, while 220-pound sophomore quarterback K'hari Lane paces the Bulldog offense.
Bowdon at Darlington
After a slow start to the season, Bowdon is picking up speed as the Red Devils approach region play. After a 34-0 loss to Central-Carroll, the Red Devils (2-1) have won back-to-back games, including a 55-20 win over Cedartown. Senior speedster Darnell Holland and Tay Sheppard were at the forefront of a rushing attack that piled up 585 yards in the win.
Similarly, Darlington (2-1) enters on a two-game winning streak, led by senior RB/DB/punt returner Trey Edge. Edge carried the Tigers to a 23-6 win over King's Ridge Christian last week, rushing for 178 yards and intercepting two passes in the fourth quarter.
Both Darlington and Bowdon appear to be among the favorites in their respective regions; this game should serve as a good early-season measuring stick for both.
Also keep an eye on:
Thomson at Washington-Wilkes
Washington-Wilkes was No. 2 in the state until a 14-7 loss to Jefferson County last week dropped the Tigers out of the top 10. They've had trouble with offensive consistency in the last two weeks, and though they remain the favorite in Region 8, this is their last tune-up opportunity before getting into region play on Oct. 3. Thomson is 1-2, but has played a tough schedule -- including a 26-13 win over Jefferson County in the season opener.
Baldwin at Thomasville
Thomasville is staring down an 0-4 start if it can't find some offense in a hurry. The Bulldogs haven't scored since a 42-35 loss to West Laurens on opening weekend, but the flip side of that fact is that the competition has been stiff (Cairo and Valdosta) and the Thomasville defense has acquitted itself well in both games. Baldwin (2-1) has regressed in the last couple of seasons, but seems improved over last year's 3-7 team. It's another tough test for Thomasville.
Groves at Bryan County
This one likely won't cause ripples statewide, but it should give us a clearer picture of what's happening in Region 2 beyond No. 3 Vidalia and No. 5 Benedictine. Groves, which takes on Vidalia next week, won only one game in the past two years combined, but is off to a 3-0 start with wins over two first-year programs and Windsor Forest (currently on a 16-game losing streak). Bryan County made the playoffs last year, but is off to a 1-2 start this season. Even though it's early, this one could have implications down the road if either of these teams are to compete for a playoff spot this fall.