After a week where two-thirds of Newton County’s GHSA football teams had bye weeks, everyone is back in action this week with games that carry huge playoff implications, as the season’s homestretch approaches.
With just two regular season games remaining, all three area schools — Alcovy, Eastside and Newton —still mathematically have a shot at postseason berths. Some will need more help than others, but the possibilities are great that all three schools could extend their seasons deep into November.
Here’s a capsulized look at this week’s three football games, and the possible implications, starting with tonight’s matchup between Newton and Shiloh over at Sharp Stadium.
The Records: Shiloh (2-6, 1-2 in Region 8-AAAAAAA) at Newton (4-3-1, 1-2). Alcovy is last in the region, while Heritage is second.
The Matchup: Don’t let the records fool you. Shiloh and Newton are both playing for the same thing tonight. With identical region records, the winner — for all intents and purposes — secures the final playoff spot in the region. If Shiloh beats Newton, even with a loss next week to Archer and a Newton win at Rockdale, both teams would be 2-3 in the region with Shiloh holding the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage. That said, neither of these teams have been putting up playoff team style numbers on the scoreboard lately. Newton has lost its last two games — and its offensive punch — to Archer and No. 3 Grayson by a combined score of 56-0. Meanwhile, after a season opening win against Collins Hill, Shiloh has dropped six of its last seven. So playoff implications aside, both of these squads are just hungry to get back in the win column.
The Playmakers: When Shiloh has the ball, D.J. Walker to Donovan Grier is the connection to watch for. Grier is Walker’s favorite target in the passing game, and with a 17-yard-per-catch average, there should be no reason why. But if he plays, watch for fellow senior wideout Purvis Terrell. They could both be dangerous. But if they are, they’ll have to produce against a speedy, salty Newton defense which seems to be housing all of the Rams’ top playmakers at the moment. Look for defensive end Darnell Jeffries to regularly penetrate the Generals’ offensive backfield, along with senior linebacker Jeremiah Bundrage and Tennessee commit Jaquan Henderson making it hard for Shiloh to move the ball. J.J. Holloman has been a bright spot offensively for the Rams. Quarterback Myron Middlebrooks has been steady.
The Prediction: Despite similar region records, we don’t see much similarity in overall speed and talent. The edge, of course, going to Newton, which began the year as the No. 7 team in the state’s largest classification. Injuries and youth have plagued them during the season, but there should be more than enough in the cupboard for Newton to easily dispatch the Generals. Score Prediction: Newton 38, Shiloh 10.
The Records: Alcovy (4-4, 0-3 in Region 3-AAAAAA) at Heritage (4-4, 2-1). Alcovy is last in the region, while Heritage is second.
The Matchup: This game is being dubbed as the First Annual Buddy’s Bowl with the new Buddy’s Home Furnishings store in Conyers as the sponsor. Here, the Tigers and Patriots have identical overall records, but are very much two teams trending in opposite directions. Alcovy’s four wins came on the front end of its schedule, but lately the Tigers have experienced a skid, thanks largely in part to a somewhat anemic offense. After a 7-6 win over struggling Forest Park back on Sept. 23, coach Chris Edgar’s bunch has dropped three straight to Grovetown, Evans and Lakeside-Evans — all region games — by a combined score of 103-6. Meanwhile, Heritage has won two of its last three, while looking competitive even in a 28-26 loss to Lakeside-Evans — a team that beat Alcovy 37-6. If Alcovy wins, it keeps its slim hopes of a postseason berth alive. The Tigers would have to win out, including beating Greenbrier next week, and then hope for some help in the form of a Grovetown collapse. If Heritage wins, it takes another step toward being able to host a first round playoff game.
The Playmakers: These two teams are almost polar opposites in the way they will try to attack each other. Alcovy has been buoyed by its twin tandem running backs freshmen Andrae and Adrian Robinson. Combined, they’ve rushed for well over 500 yards. On the flip side, Heritage will try to air it out with junior quarterback Caleb Pruitt. Pruitt has passed for 2,310 yards while completing 60 percent of his 225 passes. He’s also tossed 22 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. His favorite targets are 5-foot-10 speedsters, Adeolu Adeleke and A.J. Morton. Both are seniors. Adeleke is on pace for a 1,000 yard season with a team-leading 889 receiving yards on 47 catches and seven touchdown catches, while Morton has snagged 35 balls for 77 yards and eight scores.
The Prediction: With much on the line for Alcovy in Edgar’s first season, look for the Tigers to play Heritage tough, especially early. Alcovy’s penchant for running the ball against a Patriots run defense that has shown vulnerability against the run should help the Tigers control the clock and pace of the game in the first half, but expect Heritage to make the big plays in the passing game when it counts. Score Prediction: Heritage 31, Alcovy 14
The Records: Salem (5-3, 2-2 in Region 4-AAAA) at Eastside (5-2-1, 3-1). Salem is fourth in the region, while Eastside is second.
The Matchup: Salem’s 8-0 loss to North Clayton sliced its two game region lead over fifth place Luella, and while Eastside has no shot at overtaking Woodward Academy for tops in the standings, it can ill-afford a misstep against Salem (with North Clayton looming next week) if the opportunity to host a first round game is to remain in view.
The Playmakers: For Eastside, naturally, it starts at quarterback with Austin Holloway. The 5-foot-11 senior has just 1,329 yards passing on the season, but with a 60 percent completion rate and 15 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, Holloway is more than just a game manager under center. The Eagles are averaging 165.1 rushing yards per game, and while senior Anthony Brown (407 yards and a 6.3 yards per carry average) and sophomore Taylor Carter (399 rushing yards and five touchdowns) are the workhorses, senior Eric Stokes, with his 4.28 40-yard speed, 7.8 yards per carry average and three touchdowns, is still a big play waiting to happen. Salem has struggled to implement coach Jarrett Laws’ high octane, fast paced, Oregon Ducks-style offense in the coach’s first year. But when Salem does get going, it’s usually because junior tailback Lu’quan Williams gets it going behind an offensive line anchored by 6-0, 280-pound center Zach Lee.
The Prediction: Both of these teams are hungry to show that their last two poor showings — particularly on offense — were just an aberration. Salem has been a hard team to get a read on this season, as it has oscillated between moments of domination and head scratching mediocrity. Meanwhile, Eastside’s two losses were handed to them by two of the better teams Georgia has to offer. With both teams pretty much solid for postseason berths, the intangible motivation tips in Eastside’s favor with a chance to host a first round game on the line. Score Prediction: Eastside 35, Salem 21.