COVINGTON, Ga. -- Finally, all the preseason talk can cease, and by the end of the day today, we'll have real, live, meaningful game action to discuss. That's because the kickoff of the 2018 high school football season begins with all three Newton County teams in action under the Friday night lights.
Since the final buzzer of the last 2017 game sounded, gridiron fans have been anticipating this week, and come Friday, the only anticipation remaining will be seeing how close to a playoff contender can their favorite teams look as the season progresses.
This week, we’ve got two openers involving Newton County Georgia High School Association schools for Friday and a couple of enticing middle school matchups to watch on Wednesday. So let’s break them down.
The Matchup: Eastside Eagles at Ola Mustangs. Eastside finished the 2017 season 8-3 overall last year and 5-1 in Region 4-AAAA with a 21-16 loss to Baldwin in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs. Meanwhile, Ola finished 5-5 overall and 4-4 in Region 4-AAAAA which was good enough for fifth place, just outside of the spot needed for a playoff berth. Friday will be the first meeting between the schools.
The When and Where: Friday August 17, 7:30 p.m. at Ola High School, 357 North Ola Rd., McDonough.
The Key Players: For Eastside, it starts with the running game. Three capable tailbacks in senior Taylor Carter and sophomores Quincy Cullins, Jr. and Terrance Reid will likely get the lion’s share of carries. Quarterback Noah Cook looks ready to lead Eastside’s fast-paced offense, and on defense, a ball-hawking secondary and linebackers Dalton Whitley and Jamari Brundage will look to rule the day.
For Ola, they’ve lost standouts like record-setting tailback Chris Rodriguez, quarterback Bryce Lawrence and lineman Austin Smith, all of whom were major college prospects. But wideout Jourdan Cooper and running back Karl Kennedy are pieces to watch offensively. Defensively, Jonathan Puckett, Baylen Sanders and Clay Sumner look like potential disrupters in the front seven.
Eastside wins…If its offensive line can find enough creases to give room for tailbacks Taylor Carter, Quincy Cullins, Jr., and Jordan Rogers to do the rest, and if its defensive front can give a semblance of the pressure and disruption it put on Walnut Grove to Ola’s rebuilt offensive line.
Ola wins…If it can force some turnovers and find ways to get their brand-spanking-new quarterback and skill players in position to make big plays to capitalize off those turnovers.
The Prediction: In many ways, both teams will sort of be mirror images of each other. Both Eastside and Ola have lost a lot to graduation, whether skill position wise or up front in the trenches. Eastside has more proven players where it counts, particularly at quarterback, as Ola will likely call up a 2017 JV player to start behind center in 2018. Both teams have major question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, but Eastside may have perhaps one or two more answers, and that, along with the plethora of skill talent in the Eagles’ cupboard, could be the difference. Score: Eastside 27, Ola 14.
The Matchup: Newton Rams vs. Alcovy Tigers. Newton finished the 2017 season with a 7-4 record overall and a 3-2 mark in the gauntlet Region 8-AAAAAAA which includes Archer and Grayson, both nationally ranked squads. Newton finished its season with a 42-35 overtime loss to Parkview in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA tournament. Meanwhile, Alcovy was 3-7 and 0-5 in Region 3-AAAAAA, extending its region losing streak to 14 games. Friday will be the ninth overall meeting between the two schools, and the first since 2015. Newton is 5-3 all time against Alcovy
The When and Where: Friday August 17, 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium in Covington.
The Key Players: Keeping with what seems to be the common local theme, both Newton and Alcovy lost major contributors to graduation last year. Among the biggest departures for the Rams is Region defensive player of the year and current Clemson defensive lineman, Darnell Jefferies. But the Rams are in the midst of a quarterback battle because efficient starter Myron Middlebrooks has also graduated. The trenches are smaller for the Rams than they were last year, but could be faster and a bit more aggressive. Newton may have the best 1-2 wide receiver corps in the area with Mike Mathison and Robert Lewis on the outside, not to mention slot guy Jerrol Hines. And Adarius Thomas and Josh Hardeman look like a dangerous tailback tandem.
Alcovy, after losing virtually its entire receiving corps from a year ago, will start over in that regard. But the Tigers still have solid players who can make plays. Adrian Robinson had four catches for 90 yards and a score in last Thursday’s scrimmage with Jackson, but will be sidelined with an injury for the foreseeable future. Transfer Eric Johnson looks sharp, and quarterback Nick Simmons is comfortable in his starting role. Defensively, the back four is salty and the defensive line is aggressive. Both teams may not be that mismatched when it comes to the top 11, but Alcovy’s depth could be an issue.
Alcovy wins…If the Tigers can make some big plays early offensively -- including connecting on a couple throws down field -- and a potentially ball-hawking defense can can limit Newton’s skill guys from making momentum-changing plays. If it’s a seven or 10 point game in the fourth quarter, Alcovy could make it interesting.
Newton wins…If it plays clean (penalty free) and are as explosive offensively as it showed against Salem in the spring game and at times in the scrimmage against Columbia.
Prediction: Newton and Alcovy’s first game in three years helps make it the first time in six seasons that all three Covington schools have played each other in the regular season. Newton thoroughly dominated the Tigers in a spring game last year, but that Alcovy offensive line and the one that will trot out onto the field Friday are like complete night and day. The Tigers have definitely been winning the battle of self confidence, as they’ve taken to social media frequently to express their anxiousness to prove they belong with the Rams. Meanwhile, Newton has perhaps its least star-studded roster in years, but seem to have gained a dramatic uptick in chemistry. Expect a wild, competitive and emotional start with a couple of big plays going either way. Then expect Newton’s depth to take over. Score: Newton 35, Alcovy 24