The first season with the new region with the separate division, the 2014 season was one for the books where a perennial power played a surprise team in the championship game. This season I think things will be just as tight and the games late in the season will mean even more competitive. This season the reigning region champion Cairo Syrupmakers will be breaking in a new head coach for the first time in over a decade and they’ll be challenged in the B Division by Monroe & Thomas County Central while Division A won’t be a cake walk either with Bainbridge, Worth County & Americus-Sumter all vying for the top spot.
The Americus-Sumter Panthers lost a lot of the offense last year to graduation so they will be looking for play makers on offense but defensively they will need improvement as well if they plan on competing for the region championship. The Panthers held opponents to 25 points or less only three times last season. New yet old head coach Erik Soliday will look to get the Panthers back in order in his second stint in Americus. Soliday coached Americus High School from 1999-2003 and in his final five seasons had a 52-4 record.
Bainbridge is in year number three under head coach Jeff Littleton who has led the Bearcats to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. The Bearcats have yet to earn their first playoff win under Littleton but are in a position to do so in 2015 with a junior and senior heavy football team. Sophomore running back Damien Pierce looks to be the star of the offense but solid players at other positions on offense and a stingy defense will make the Bearcats a definite contender for the division crown as well as the region title.
Dougherty County finished the 2014 season on a five game losing streak and will look to have their first winning season since 2008 here in 2015. The Trojans do have some talent on the field, it’s just a matter of putting it all together and they’ll attempt to do that in 2015 with a new quarterback but do return some young talent who got plenty of playing time in 2014. The Dougherty Trojans won’t win the division but they just might play spoiler and keep someone from winning it.
Westover will have a tough time replacing defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, who so far has been penciled in as a true freshman starter for the Georgia Bulldogs this fall, but the Patriots do return just about every key player on offense from a team who lost games against the two teams who played for the region title by a combined 9 points. The Patriots are looking to make another run to the playoffs in 2015 but hopefully the Region Championship Game will be on the path.
All Worth County did in 2014 was improve from a 3-7 record to an undefeated region record until the region championship against Cairo when they were outlasted in the 4th quarter. The Rams were obviously one of the best teams in the region in 2014 and return just about everyone from their Wing-T offense. Worth County’s offense was one of the best in the area last season but if the Rams want to go deep into the playoffs in 2015, their defense will need to improve but head coach Jason Tone will get them in line in his third season in Sylvester.
It has been a rough couple decades for Albany to be completely honest. The Indians have had only two winning seasons since 1989 and will need to make vast improvements to make it three. On the positive side of things, Albany did finish out the 2014 season with a win over crosstown rival Dougherty so maybe there will be some momentum carried over from last season. They do return quite a few senior leaders and have some nice skill players. They’ll get their first test week one when they travel to Camilla to take on the Mitchell County Eagles, who are the preseason favorite to win Region 1-A.
The Cairo Syrupmakers will be taking the field without Coach Fallow for the first time in over a decade but in 2015 will be led by veteran coach Steve Devoursney who won a state title with Griffin in 2013. The Syrupmakers return loads of talent as always but will need to replace some key seniors from last season. Expect the defense to be ahead of the offense in Syrup City this season and whether or not Cairo reaches the region championship game again all depends on how quickly the offense can find its rhythm.
Not only did the Crisp County Cougars lose their starting star quarterback after last season they also lose his father and head coach Lee Campbell. The Cougars will be led by Shelton Felton in 2015 and will be looking to improve from the 3-7 mark last year. Crisp County returns a good group of players from last year’s team but will need to find some new play makers to kick start the offense and they better do it fast as they open the season with back-to-back road games at Lee County and reigning state champion Colquitt County.
The Monroe Tornadoes were a pleasant surprise in 2014 but missed the playoffs by the thinnest of margins after a nail-biting loss to Crisp County late in the season. Monroe did upset the Syrupmakers last season and will look to make a push to the playoffs in 2015. Gone is quarterback Willie Jones so expect Monroe to rely heavily on their rushing attack early in the season until the new quarterback gets his feet underneath him. The Tornadoes were the ‘odd man out’ of the playoffs last season but I don’t expect them to miss out on the party in 2015.
There was as major of a coaching staff overhaul as there has been in over 20 years at Thomas County Central this off season and unfortunately for the rest of the region, the Jackets may be better off for it. Some new blood in the coaching staff couldn’t be a bad thing for a program that had gotten a little stale in recent seasons, culminating in missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990. That’s all outside the white lines whereas inside the lines Thomas County Central returns just about everyone from a team hungry to get back in the post season.
When this region was conceived, anyone who has followed high school football in southwest Georgia saw that this group of teams could potentially create a powder keg of competitiveness that is only enjoyed by a few regions in the whole state. Just like any other region, there are obvious have-nots but there are a lot more haves in this region and it will be a major logjam at the top in 2015 so make sure you are strapped in when region play begins in a few short weeks.