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PREP FOOTBALL: 2018 schedule offers up intriguing matchups, freed-up Saturdays
Nick Simmons
The show belongs completely to Alcovy quarterback Nick Simmons, and he'll try to lead the Tigers to their first region win since the 2015 season. - photo by Sydney Chacon

COVINGTON, Ga. -- Our sportswriter Tyler Williams just compiled a master 2018 football schedule for our Newton County Georgia High School Association teams, and the season-opening smorgasbord of football action is going to be intriguing to say the least. 

One thing that immediately jumps out is the overall trade-in of Saturday games for Thursday games. Last year’s schedule featured about a half dozen Saturday games, including one during the first week of the season that made for three straight nights of opening-week action and a midseason Newton-Archer tilt that had a college football feel with its 2:30 p.m. kickoff time. 

This year, however, Saturday games are non-existent. Instead, seven Thursday night games will populate the schedule for, with the first one of the season coming on August 23 when Rockdale comes across the county border to meet Alcovy at Sharp Stadium. 

It’s a renewal of an old region rivalry, as the Tigers and Bulldogs haven’t squared off against each other since 2015 when Rockdale defeated Alcovy 25-6 when both teams shared a spot in Region 2-AAAAAAA. 

Each team has won three games apiece in the all-time series. Someone will break that tie 32 days from now. 

Speaking of rivalries, perhaps the highlight of this year’s slate of games — at least from a local standpoint — is the fact that all three Covington-area schools will play each other for the first time since 2012. 

That year, there was no County Cup to distribute, as each school took turns knocking each other off. Alcovy defeated Eastside 24-10. Eastside got some get-back the next week by defeating Newton 32-0. Then Newton bested the Tigers 14-7 in the area finale. 

This year, Alcovy and Newton will kick things off on Friday August 17, the same night Eastside opens on the road at Ola. The following Fridays will feature Newton playing Eastside (August 24) and Eastside squaring off with Alcovy the following Friday with all games set for a 7:30 p.m. start time at Sharp Stadium. 

Alcovy will look to gain ground on its all-time series with Eastside, as it holds a 3-9 record against the Eagles. Things have been closer for the Tigers against Newton. Alcovy has a 3-5 all-time record against the Rams before the teams ceased playing six years ago. 

Meanwhile, thanks to a 40-0 drubbing of the Eagles last season, Newton took a 7-6-1 lead in the all-time series. Needless to say, the benefit for all local teams playing each other in the regular season once again is huge. Bragging rights will be on the line, the gates should be strong each week and the competition will be no slouch for any school involved. 

Beyond rivalries, here are a few other top games, both region and non-region, on the schedule for each GHSA school that you may want to turn your attention to.

Mike Mathison
Mike Mathison (4) was the star in Newton's 45-6 win over Salem in last Friday's spring football game. Mathison scored four touchdowns while intercepting two passes from his defensive back spot. - photo by Sydney Chacon

Non-region games to watch 

Newton at Buford, Friday Sept. 14: By the time this game comes around, the Rams will have gotten those much anticipated county rivalry games out of the way, and will test its mettle against a 2017 Class AAAAA semifinalist and perennial power with a quarterback in Aaron McLaughlin, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound pocket passing sophomore who’s been getting Power Five recruiting attention since the eighth grade. 

Alcovy at Colquitt, Friday Sept. 28: Just for the sheer fact that it’s another Newton County school being pitted against another South Georgia powerhouse. Colquitt was a North Gwinnett walk-off field goal away from a Class AAAAAAA state championship in 2017. Alcovy’s still looking for its first region win in the Chris Edgar era. Part of the reason Edgar built this meat grinder schedule is to help his Tigers get battle tested for the Region 3-AAAAAA grind. And if you can’t get battle tested against Colquitt County… 

Arabia Mountain at Newton, Friday Sept. 7: When Arabia Mountain comes rolling into Covington, it’ll be another Battle of the Rams. The home team Rams, however, will face another state champion contender that’s coming off a 10-3 season complete with back-to-back region titles, an experienced quarterback in Bryson Williams, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound senior with offers from Alabama State and Southern, and interest from the likes of Georgia State, Kansas State and Mercer. Arabia Mountain also welcomes back a salty, stingy cast of defenders led by 6-foot-4, 250-pound senior Demetric Barnes. Definitely a solid test for the home team.

Alcovy at Salem, Friday Sept. 7: This one isn’t a rivalry, but like the August game against Rockdale, it’s still a border war that should draw decent intrigue, not to mention a solid gate. This is another highly regarded squad on the Tigers’ gauntlet non-region tour.

Taylor Carter
Eastside's Taylor Carter should be a force for the Eagles on both sides of the ball. He'll enter the 2018 season as the team's leading returning rusher, and one of the most valuable members of a talented secondary. - File Photo

Region games to watch

Eastside at Woodward Academy, Friday Oct. 5: The get-back factor will be huge in this matchup. In case you’re wondering why Eastside must travel to College Park for a second straight year, it’s due to two factors: A new two-year region cycle, and the addition of Hampton High to the region. Woodward will come to Sharp Stadium next year. But given how things ended last year, I doubt Eastside cares where it plays the likely Region 4-AAAA favorites.

Salem at Eastside, Friday Oct. 12: Salem has dominated this series, winning six of the eight games they’ve played. But you wouldn’t know by watching the last two matchups, including last year's 21-0 Eastside shutout. The Eagles have owned the Seminoles in the two meetings since Salem coach Jarrett Laws has been at the helm. I’m talking owned to the tune of a combined 77-14 score. Here’s a little interesting factoid: The last time Salem beat Eastside was in 2007 when current Social Circle coach Chad Estes was pacing the sidelines at Salem. The ‘Noles are the likely favorite this year with a much ballyhooed collection of talent. But games aren’t won on paper.

Lakeside at Alcovy, Thursday Oct. 11: We debated whether to include this game, or the Region 3-AAAAAA opener at Grovetown a week earlier, only because both games represent a shot for Alcovy to win its first region contest in three years. Ironically, the last region win Alcovy had came in a 15-12 triumph over Lakeside back in 2015 when Kirk Hoffman was still Alcovy’s coach. With this one being a home game, it could represent the best chance of the first two region tilts for Alcovy to notch a dub in the win column.  

Adrian Robinson
Adrain Robinson (pictured) and twin brother Andrae will be two of Alcovy's top skill players in 2018. The juniors are poised for breakout seasons. - photo by Sydney Chacon

Newton at Archer/Grayson, Thursday Oct. 4, Oct. 19: Different teams. Same kind of game. That’s why we lumped them together. They represent Newton coach Terrance Banks’ latest opportunities to record signature wins against two Class AAAAAAA heavyweights. Newton got closer to pulling off one of these last season, particularly against Archer in that 20-19 loss that could’ve easily ended as a win. Things haven’t been as close when Newton has had to lock horns with the Rams from Gwinnett County. Grayson’s won those games by a combined score of 74-16. And, yes, Grayson’s loaded again with a roster that’s getting loads of national attention. Archer looks to be talented, but perhaps more manageable. But how crazy would it be if the most understated Newton team in years, as far as household names go, was able to pull off one or both of these upsets?

Heritage at Alcovy, Friday Oct. 19: Other than the Archer game, this may have been the most exciting contest of the 2017 season. Honestly, given how it almost ended, it may win the prize. Alcovy almost notched perhaps the biggest comeback in school history, erasing a 30-point deficit in the fourth quarter and falling just short to the Patriots while still breaking in a new starting quarterback. The rematch should be fun, even if both teams look wholly different than last year’s versions. 

Banks County at Social Circle Friday Sept. 14: Outside of the 0-10 2014 campaign — coach Chad Estes’ first at Social Circle — the last three seasons have been almost identical, record wise. And each year has started with an season opener victory. So winning a season opener won’t be the litmus test to a potential state playoff appearance for the Redskins. That’s why we chose this game as one to watch. Third game of the season. Home opener. Region 8-AA opener. If Social Circle is going to be serious about a postseason run, this game could be an early must-win.