Each of the three schools in Rockdale County will be tested Friday on the football field.
Heritage picked up a much-needed victory in week six against Winder-Barrow and now the Patriots hit their toughest two-week stretch with some momentum. Heritage, which was blown out by Gainesville in week five, knocked off the Bulldoggs for the fourth consecutive season, is 3-1 in Region 8-AAAAA. The Patriots are 3-0 away from Conyers in 2013, but will have its toughest road test tonight in Athens. Under first-year coach Ahren Self, Clarke Central has made an opening night loss to Marist a distant memory with four consecutive victories - three in league play - by an average margin of 19 points.
The Gladiators’ rushing attack, particularly Jaqua Daniels, has been excellent of late. Daniels followed a school-record five-touchdown performance against Apalachee with two more scores against Salem last weekend.
Stop the rushing attack and topple Clarke, which Heritage hasn’t been able to do in Athens since a one-point triumph in 2006, and the Patriots host Flowery Branch October 18. The Falcons, who are averaging over 41 points in league play, should be 5-0 after this weekend’s game at Winder. Before preparing for the challenging two-week stretch, first-year Heritage coach was happy with the bounce back win over Winder.
“It was a good win for us after having it handed it to us the week before. I’m proud of our guys, I thought we responded real well,” Parris said.
Rockdale’s improvement on the football field has been apparent through six games. Despite last weekend’s 23-3 loss to defending Region 2-AAAAAA champion and state finalist Lovejoy, the 4-2 Bulldogs have their best record after six games since the 1999 team began the year 5-1 on its way to the second round of the state playoffs.
The Bulldogs, 1-1 in league play, control their own destiny for the league’s No. 2 seed and a first-round home playoff game. Starting with Friday’s game at Luella, Rockdale plays three consecutive teams who are expected to fight for the other three playoff spots behind expected repeat league titelist Lovejoy (Newton on October 18 and Alcovy on November 1 are the others).
Rockdale will have to get its offense going again. After scoring 71 points in three consecutive wins to open the season, the Bulldogs have scored just 33 in their current 1-2 stretch.
It seemed as though the Salem football team had gotten on track after its performances in week three and four. The Seminoles had followed a narrow defeat in a winnable game against rival Heritage with a blowout victory over Winder-Barrow in which the offense scored the third-most points (60) in the program’s history.
But since that win on September 20, things have turned sour as Salem began a daunting part of its schedule by dropping consecutive games to Flowery Branch and Clarke Central by a combined score of 71-22.
Things don’t get any easier this weekend.
Salem (2-4, 1-3 Region 8-AAAAA) will travel to Hall County to face defending state champion Gainesville and the state’s all-time leading passer, Deshaun Watson. The Clemson commitment, who is ranked as the Class of 2014’s top dual threat quarterback in the nation by rivals.com, has carved up opposing defenses all season and Salem’s defense, which has surrendered 108 points in the last three games, could be next.
Gainesville (5-1, 4-0), the defending Region 8 champion, has defeated its first four region opponents by an average margin of 49 points. But the Red Elephants’ defense has been just as tough, having surrendered just 19 total points in those four convincing victories.