With Cartersville, Sandy Creek, Pickens, St. Pius, Northside-Columbus, Cairo and Salem facing bye weeks, bigger and better weeks frankly lie ahead. There are still plenty of intriguing matchups to be played, however, including old region rivalries disjointed by the recent reclassification, head coaching debuts, long-lost inner-city showdowns and cross-classification clashes between perennial powers. Here are the top five games to watch for.
1. Woodward Academy at Class AAAAA Grady: No. 2 Woodward Academy is the highest-ranked Class AAAA school in action this weekend and it faces a must-see showdown with Class AAAAA's Grady Nights at Grady Stadium. Grady comes off an explosive 53-0 victory over North Atlanta, while Woodward Academy cruised to a 41-13 victory over Westminster last Friday. This sets up to be a talent-packed football game, but the biggest storyline remains the 49 seasons since the programs last met on the gridiron in November of 1967. Woodward Academy owns a 2-1 record in this long-lost series. Louisville fans should also take note of this matchup as two of the Cardinals top incoming playmakers next season will share the field. Grady features Louisville-commit and 6-foot-7, 215-pound tight end Kemari Averett, while Woodward Academy's dual-threat passer Ryan Glover has Lousiville-commit Josh Johnson to stretch the field.
2. Class AAA Lovett at Marist: Class AAAA No. 4 Marist scored a 16-15 victory in last year's private school showdown and we can expect another classic between these two well-coached programs on Friday. Class AAA No. 6 Lovett will be motivated after opening the season with a disappointing 31-6 loss to Greater Atlanta Christian last week. This isn't about Lovett, nor is about much Friday's matchup itself. This is about Marist's unparalleled four-week slate of games to open the 2016 season. After head coach Alan Chadwick opens his 32nd season on Friday, the team packs its bags the following week to take on Miami's Belen Jesuit in Dublin, Ireland. (Not Dublin, Ga., the Dublin nearly 4,000 miles across the North Atlantic Ocean.) Without a week off, Marist will fly back to take on it's biggest rival St. Pius on Sept. 9 and will then face Woodward Academy on Sept. 16. This week will be a great opening test for a four-week-long journey we will all be tracking.
3. Wayne County at West Laurens: These two programs square off for the first time in school history on Friday. West Laurens head coach Stacy Nobles has led the Raiders into the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two years, including a quarterfinal berth in 2014. Wayne County reached the second round in both 2013 (11-3) and 2014 (6-6) under Jody Grooms, but after a 3-8 finish last season Grooms resigned. Wayne County hired former Camden County assistant coach Derek Chastain in July to take over. Chastain also spent a season as defensive coordinator at Eagle's Landing Christian before returning to Camden County, where he won two state championships coaching under Jeff Herron. Chastain's experience in the state's highest and smallest classification should serve Wayne County well and Friday we will see the Chastain era kickoff.
4. Henry County at Northside-Warner Robins: If anything, keep an eye on this matchup to see just how good Class AAAAAA's No. 1 Northside-Warner Robins is this season. On the other hand, Henry County has plenty to gain from scheduling such a challenging opponent to open the season. Head coach Morris Starr has an 11-20 record entering his fourth season at the helm. The Warhawks are coming off back-to-back 4-6 finishes and surprisingly, the 3-7 finish his first year on the job produced the program's last playoff berth. Northside-Warner Robins is fresh off a historic 55-3 beatdown over rival Warner Robins and has outscored Henry County by a combined 93-0 in its only previous to meetings. There is a lot riding on this season for Henry County and this game will show Starr exactly where his team needs to improve to take on a Region 4 lineup that includes Woodward Academy, Eastside, Salem, Druid Hills, North Clayton and Luella in succession.
5. Class AAAAA Spalding at Griffin: Griffin will be tested on Friday as it opens the season with a home matchup with longtime rival Spalding, which they've faced every season since 2008. Last year, Spalding shook the rivalry when it toppled Griffin 28-6 at Memorial Stadium, beating the Bears for the first time in school history. Prior to last year's 22-point win, Spalding had lost the previous seven matchups by a combined 291-36 with a 36.4 average margin of victory in Griffin's favor. None of that matters to former Bear and first-year Griffin head coach Antonio
Andrews, who will make his debut on Friday. Andrews has been a varsity football assistant since 2006, including serving as head coach of Griffin's freshman football team. Andrews takes over for former coach Jarrett Laws, who followed his 11-1 mark in 2014 with a 6-5 finish last season before being dismissed.