We knew heading into the first fall under the Georgia High School Association's most recent and quite drastic reclassification that the region races in football would be quick, dramatic and chaotic. We were sure of it. With only five region games on the schedule and three high caliber football teams in Lambert, South Forsyth and West Forsyth, what would happen if they all beat each other? What if a team like North Forsyth or Forsyth Central got an upset here or there and jumped into the mix? And what about that pesky Milton team we hadn't seen that much?
As it turns out, the standings heading into the final week of the regular season are pretty clear cut, even though — as expected — Lambert, South and West all enter Friday with identical 3-1 records in Region 5-7A play.
If everything goes just right, Forsyth County will have four playoff teams from that region, while Lambert should take the region championship and Pinecrest Academy will make the cut for the Class A private school playoffs.
Below is a complete breakdown of how this Friday can unfold.
Lambert's path to a region title
The Longhorns (5-4, 3-1), which are tired of finishing region runner-up since beginning play in 2009, could have met the benchmark last week at Milton. But, the Eagles, fighting for their playoff lives, scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to stun Lambert in a 20-17 victory.
On the final week of the regular season last year the Longhorns had a chance at that title, and that was after leading the region with an undefeated mark for the entirety of eight weeks. They fell 31-6 in what, for them, was an anticlimactic nightmare in the confines of a blacked-out War Eagle Stadium at rival South.
This season their title is on the line on the eve of the playoffs again, but the opponent isn't nearly as daunting as an eventual state quarterfinalist. All Lambert has to do is get past Central, which has been outscored 107-7 in its last three games as it continues to transition in the state's highest classification. Outside of the Bulldogs' valiant effort against West earlier in the year it's been clear that they simply aren't built like the usual suspects from the county schools. Injuries haven’t helped, either.
This should be easy right? Not so fast. More than winning a title, Lambert's focus might now be on cleaning up a discombobulated offense before the playoffs. Two weeks ago, the Longhorns’ output of just 106 yards was masked by a defense that sacked West nine times in a 17-7 win. Last week they led 17-0, but that was thanks to one 80-yard play and an interception return for a touchdown. Lambert's lead at halftime against Milton felt like a stack of books waiting to fall down.
The Longhorns, which started region play with big wins over South and West, at least look as vulnerable as they have been all year. This is actually a very big game for them—but one where the output and look of the team should matter more than the title trophy they should finally receive.
West vs. South
South and West enter the final game at War Eagle Stadium with 3-1 marks in region play, so one of them will be 4-1 when it's all over and at least numerically tied with Lambert, assuming the Longhorns win. If the Longhorns were to lose in a monumental upset, the winner of this game would become the region champion. But, coaches would tell you that's not the first thing on their mind.
Home field advantage is. It's more likely that Lambert wins, then owns the tie-breaker over the winner of this game, but the prize for finishing No. 2 in region is a home playoff game in the first round. South won its home playoff game last year while West, which had to travel to Peachtree Ridge, did not get so lucky.
The loser of this game is guaranteed a No. 3 seed because Milton (4-5, 2-2) can only finish 3-2 with a win over North, but does not own a tiebreaker over South or West.
Milton vs. North
The Raiders (4-5, 1-3) from Coal Mountain can make the playoffs for the first time since 2013 if they can win at home against the Eagles (4-5, 2-2). This is an unpredictable matchup, as North has looked good at home this season (3-1 with the only loss being a 48-40 finish against Lambert), but has lost by a combined score of 97-14 in the last two weeks against South and West on the road.
If the Raiders want to advance past Friday, they'll need to rediscover their potent offense. Milton ran a quarterback-run heavy attack last week that could either be replicated or tucked away.
A North victory would give them identical region records and the tie-breaker with Milton.
Pinecrest at Bowdon
Pinecrest is sitting pretty. The Paladins recovered from tough losses to Mount Paran and Fellowship Christian with two straight shutouts against Whitefield Academy and St. Francis to the tune of 41-0 and 42-0, respectively.
The Paladins currently rank No. 11 in the Class 1A private school power ratings. Twenty-four teams will make the playoffs, with many of them on the back end holding average records. Because Bowdon boasts a 6-3 record the Paladins are surely going to fall within the cut, win or lose.
Region 5-7A schools will play Region 7-7A in the first round of the playoffs. That region includes Norcross, Brookwood, Parkview and Central Gwinnett as teams heading toward the postseason.