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GAME DAY: Newton County alums to take center stage in SEC Championship game
Eric Stokes
Former Eastside standout Eric Stokes jumps for joy in celebration of a defensive stop against Auburn earlier in the season. Both Stokes and Newton alum, Jeremiah Holloman, could figure heavily into the game plan for No. 4 Georgia against top-ranked Alabama in Saturday's SEC title game. -photo by Anthony Banks

*Note: We will be at Mercedes Benz Stadium providing live coverage of Georgia and Alabama’s tussle for a SEC title. Visit covnews.com and our social media channels for real-time updates and postgame reaction. 

ATLANTA, Ga. — This time last year, the Georgia Bulldogs found themselves in a situation that doesn’t look foreign to where the program is in 2018, heading into the SEC Championship game at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta. 

Last year, after a midseason loss to a highly ranked SEC foe (Auburn), the Bulldogs settled themselves, ran the table on the rest of the year and rode the momentum of knowing a revenge win against Auburn in the SEC title game would ensure them a trip to the College Football Playoff. 

Georgia commenced to laying a pretty good beat down on that Tigers’ squad, en route to a playoff berth, classic Rose Bowl win against Oklahoma and a three-point overtime loss to Alabama in the national championship game. 

Saturday, it’s a similar situation. Georgia fell in midseason to a hot LSU team on the road, but bounced back to run the table on the season, knowing it will be a shoo-in for another shot at a national crown if it can defeat No. 1 Alabama in this year’s SEC title matchup. 

Several things are different in this year’s clash, though, including the roles two Newton County alums will play. Last year, cornerback Eric Stokes and wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman were largely relegated to scout team duty for that UGA squad. But this season, both players have been major contributors to the fourth-ranked Bulldogs’ fortunes. 

Stokes, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound redshirt freshman and graduate of Eastside High, has shined at times as a defensive back — so much so that he was able to crack the Dawgs’ starting lineup in the final two regular season games of the season against UMass and Georgia Tech. 

Stokes has 11 total tackles and seven pass breakups on the season, including an impressive pass deflection on a fourth down play against Georgia Tech last week that prevented a Yellow Jackets touchdown. Whether he starts or not against Alabama, Stokes will definitely have his fair share of opportunities to shine against an extremely talented Crimson Tide receiving corps. 

Meanwhile, Holloman, with his 21 catches, 350 yards and five touchdown receptions, has developed into one of the team’s top receiving threats, and sort of a Jake Fromm favorite once the Dawgs’ offense gets to the end zone. 

After he caught his fifth score of the season against Tech last week, both he and Fromm shared sentiments of a growing connection between the two of them on the field. 

“J.J., man, he’s a great receiver,” Fromm said following the Georgia Tech win. “He’s been doing a great job, and it’s just fun to kind of watch him grow and become as dynamic a receiver as he has. Hopefully he can keep it up, and let’s keep this thing rolling.” 

Said Holloman: “(Fromm) just trusts me know. Being out there on the field, I developed trust with him over practice and things like that, but being out there in the game, he sees that I am reliable, so it’s a growing chemistry.” 

UGA coach, Kirby Smart says ‘Bama, Dawgs compare favorably

During Sunday’s SEC Championship Game coaches teleconference, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart stopped just short of calling his squad and his former squad mirror images of each other. 

“The common thing with us would be quarterback play and third down conversions and protecting the ball and not turning the ball over a lot,” Smart said. “Those are similarities. Both got good set of backs and a good set of receivers. Both teams are scoring points.” 

The comparisons ended for Smart, however, when the matter of defense came up. 

“The biggest difference is they play better defense, obviously, than we have, and we’ve got to improve upon that. But I think both teams are good football teams. That’s why they’re representing their divisions in the conference championship, and both teams continue to get better.” 

Dawgs come in as almost two-touchdown underdog against Tide

When it comes to the oddsmakers predictions, Alabama’s a 13.5-point favorite to knock off Georgia in Saturday’s 4 p.m. SEC Championship game. 

Thats probably to be expected, given the dominant way the Crimson Tide has bowled over opposition this season. Meanwhile, an 11-1, fourth-ranked Georgia is nothing to sneeze at. But the LSU hiccup — a team that defeated UGA soundly before being shutout to Alabama — and the Dawgs’ sometimes bend-but-don’t-break defense no doubt contributes to that line. 

A loss to Alabama would likely eliminate Georgia from playoff contention, although some prognosticators believe a scenario exists where a two-loss Georgia team could still find its way in if its defeat to Alabama is a narrow one and if Texas beats Oklahoma and Northwestern upsets Ohio State in the Big 12 and Big 10 championship games. 

There is no doubt that a Georgia win over the Alabama juggernaut would all but guarantee its entrance into the playoffs for a second straight year.