– By Chris Goltermann, CowetaScore.com
In every high school football season, there will be dates to circle in red marker on the calendar.
The fall — in which marks a new reclassification period for the Georgia High School Association — may have more than the usual after looking at a few completed schedules for the 2018 season.
And it starts with one in the biggest venue in the state.
East Coweta kicks off during the GHSA’s “Zero Week” against Kell on Saturday, Aug. 18, as part of the annual Corky Kell Classic in a game set for Mercedes Benz Stadium.
The first-ever meeting between the Indians and the Class 5A Longhorns out of Marietta could be nicknamed the “Starbucks Bowl,” with an early 9 a.m., kickoff to begin the third and final day of this year’s Classic, which will also have games Thursday in Rome and Friday at Georgia State Stadium.
But that’s just breakfast.
The meat and potatoes may come in non-region schedules as they begin to become finalized, especially since Region 2-7A and 5-6A will have identical looks in 2018 and 2019 as they have the past two years.
They include the first football game between Newnan and Northgate in 15 years.
The Cougars are set to host the Vikings at Drake Stadium on Aug. 24. It comes following Newnan’s season opener, also at home, on Friday, Aug. 17, against Chapel Hill.
“That’ll be good, I think for the two schools,” Newnan head coach Chip Walker said. “Of the non-region teams [on our schedule], Northgate’s the only one who didn’t make the playoffs and we all know they were good enough last year to make them.”
It’s the first meeting since the 2002 and 2003 seasons, when Northgate had completed the move to Class AAAA.
The Vikings will again be limited again to just two non-region games. While head coach Kesley Dalrymple said this week that the complete schedule was in the process of being finalized, among the possibilities for Northgate’s other non-region game is continuing its rivalry with former region opponent Starr’s Mill in a well-received drawing card at the gate.
In his first new reclassification period since coming aboard last year, East Coweta head coach John Small was true to a promise of playing the toughest non-region schedule possible.
Following the opener in Mercedes Benz Stadium, the Indians will face Carrollton — a former scrimmage opponent in recent years — at University of West Georgia Stadium at RaLin Field the following Friday, Aug. 24.
East Coweta will then receive a well-deserved off week to prepare for a Sep. 7 trip to Lowndes, coming off an 11-1 season.
It then wraps up with two more of last year’s ranked teams in Class 7A starting with a rematch with North Cobb at home from last year’s 36-35 thriller in Acworth, before hosting McEachern on Sep. 21.
The Indians had their postseason streak of 21 consecutive playoff appearances snapped last fall while finishing 5-5 after starting the 2017 season at 4-1.
“You got to play those people to have a chance to be good later on,” Small said. “We’ve got to grow up as a program. That’s why we’re doing it.”
Along with Northgate and Chapel Hill, Newnan’s non-region schedule includes state-playoff opponents Alexander on the road Aug. 31 and Griffin at home on Sep. 7, before closing it out with a trip to face Walton and one of the Class of 2019’s top recruits, wide receiver Dominick Blaylock, who is verbally committed to Georgia.
The 2018 football season will also see Trinity Christian make its debut in the GHSA while joining an established group of schools in Region 5-A that head coach Kenny Dallas is more than familiar with.
Dallas previously was a defensive coordinator for three-time state champion Eagle’s Landing Christian when returning to the Georgia high school football coaching scene. Before leaving for an AD job in Tennessee, he became the winningest head coach at Landmark Christian in a tenure that included six consecutive Region 5-A titles.
Trinity’s region schedule is a gauntlet that will also include first-ever varsity football meetings with Wesleyan, Mount Vernon and Our Lady Mercy — each of which finished above .500. Strong Rock and Holy Innocents also return to 5-A, which now includes eight football schools.
Heritage School, meanwhile, returns to the GISA, which changes its schedule with a drop to 19 football schools in Class AAA.
The Hawks will be in Region 1-AAA with holdovers Holy Spirit and Loganville Christian, as well as newcomer Notre Dame Academy in Gwinnett. The new reclassification period from 2018-2020 will have Region 1 crossing over to play five schools in Region 3 — Brookwood, Deerfield-Windsor, Southland, Tiftarea and Valwood, while Region 2 and Region 4 also crossover for remaining games.
A 12-team playoff will be determined by the top-two finishers in each region, plus the next two teams with the best record in each crossover pool (1-3 and 2-4).