Southwest DeKalb coach Damien Wimes knows all about the school’s long-standing and well-earned reputation for excellence. He was part of it as a player and spent 10 seasons there as an assistant coach. Now in his first season as head coach, Wimes appears to have the Panthers on the path toward regaining its luster.
The Panthers (4-2, 1-0) could take a big step this week with a win over Miller Grove (3-3, 0-1), like Southwest a main contender in Region 5. The game will be played at Hallford Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
If Southwest wins, it would set up season-ending showdowns against Arabia Mountain and Columbia. If Miller Grove wins, the Wolverines would be virtually assured of a playoff spot for the second straight year and remain in contention for the region title.
The unique angle about this game is Wimes, who spent six years as head coach Miller Grove and compiled a 30-30 record. Wimes emphasizes that there’s no ill will toward Miller Grove on his part and stresses that this week’s game is just another important contest his Panthers need.
Wimes and his staff have done a good job getting the program back on track after the emotional turbulence of last year, when coach Michael Tanks tragically died on the eve of the season. That team still went 6-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
This year’s team has been an offensive powerhouse at times, scoring 40 points in three of their four wins. Entering last week, quarterback Justin Tomlin had thrown for 1,057 yards and 10 touchdowns and running back Francisco Hunter, who missed last season with an injury, had rushed for 614 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomore receivers Muhammad Aquil and Tommy Wright have come up with some big catches.
The O-line doesn’t have any big names, but has done a good job coming together and getting the offense rolling.
“Individually we don’t have anyone who’s going to play at Georgia, but they play for each other and they’ve really been responsible for bringing everything together,” Wimes said.
The defense is still a relatively young group that’s learning. Wimes has eight newcomers who are still learning to play together as a group. Senior linebacker Eris Walker is the team’s top tackler and has two sacks and three fumble recoveries. Junior defensive end Josh Tate has been a sackmaster and defensive backs Jamel Starks and McKinley Denson have been excellent.
“They’re still learning how to play together and trust each other,” Wimes said. “This week we’ll have to stop the big pay, tackle well and play as a unit if we want to beat Miller Grove.”
Miller Grove is led by quarterback Jamaal Roach, whose favorite target is Jalen Stuckey. The Wolverines used a couple of key turnovers to get the jump on Arabia Mountain, but losing it in the fourth quarter.
Southwest DeKalb leads the series 9-2. The Panthers won 40-0 in 2016, but the two teams have split the last four games.
Other big games this week include:
Arabia Mountain vs. Columbia (Avondale Stadium): This will determine a share of first place in Region 5. The two teams are currently in a three-way tie with Southwest DeKalb at 1-0. Arabia Mountain (4-2) scored a big win last week over Miller Grove and Columbia (4-2) pounded Lithonia. Arabia Mountain beat Columbia 51-18 last year on the way to the region championship. Columbia had won the first five meetings between the two schools.
Fayette County at Griffin: Fayette County (3-3, 2-0) leads Region 3, but the Tigers must still face the best three teams in the league, starting this week with Griffin (6-1, 2-1). Griffin leads the series 21-4 and won 42-35 last year. The two schools did not play between 2000-2015.
Starr’s Mill at McIntosh: Starr’s Mill (6-1, 2-1) jumped over a big hurdle last week by beating rival Whitewater, but can’t afford a letdown against McIntosh (5-1, 1-1), which lost for the first time a week ago. Starr’s Mill has dominated the series, leading 14-1. The Panthers won 28-7 in 2016. McIntosh scored its only win in 2012.
Eagle’s Landing at Stockbridge: No. 3 Stockbridge (6-0, 4-0) and Eagle’s Landing (4-3, 3-2) meet for more than area pride this time. Stockbridge is steaming toward its fourth straight region championship, while Eagle’s Landing is trying to return for the first time since 2014. Stockbridge leads the series 13-6 and has won the last seven meetings, including 34-6 in 2016.
Kell at Villa Rica: The No. 7 Longhorns (3-3) can’t avoid a letdown against a dangerous Villa Rica (4-3) team that took No. 6 Carrollton to the wire a week ago. Kell has won three straight games. The two schools met for the first time in 2016 and Kell prevailed 50-0.