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The release of the 2014 DeKalb County football schedule signals a build up for a thrilling start to the season for high school football fans, players and coaches.
Not only does it feature seven games on the opening weekend of August 22-23, but also a four-game Battle of the Borders (Georgia vs. Florida) on Labor Day weekend (Aug. 30).
One of the matchups on the opening Friday is Southwest DeKalb and Columbia in a series the Panthers lead 21-8. The two teams have not played since 2007, a 28-0 win by Southwest, due to reclassification.
A first ever meeting of two of DeKalb County's football programs also takes place on opening day as Miller Grove faces Towers.
Class AAAAA state runner-up Tucker which might have the toughest two week stretch of any team in Georgia opens its season against Class AAAAAA state champion Norcross in the Corky Kell Classic on Saturday, August 23. Tucker plays in Georgia's largest classification (AAAAAA) for the next two seasons along with Lakeside in Region 2-AAAAAA.
The Tigers follow up that tough season opener by taking on 2013 mythical high school national champion Booker T. Washington of Miami the next Saturday as the 8 p.m. marquee game of the Battle of the Borders Classic at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston. Booker T. Washington shut out Norcross 55-0 to open the 2013 season and finished 14-0 as the Florida Class AAAA state champion.
The Battle of the Borders opens play at 11:45 as Marist (Class AAAA semifinalist) plays host to Godby (Tallahassee, Fl) which went 10-2 and lost a tough 41-40 decision in the first round of the Florida Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Norland of Miami returns to Hallford for the second consecutive season and will face Martin Luther King at 2:30. Norland went 3-7 in 2013 including a season opening 29-12 loss to Stephenson. The Lions finished 7-4 last season with a season ending loss to Gainesville in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Stephenson, a Class AAAAA Sweet 16 participant last season, takes on another Florida power in Central of Miami. Central finished 14-1 and scored 50 or more points in four of the five state playoff games on the way to the Florida Class AAAAAA state championship.
The week of August 28th also features the 28th meeting between Chamblee and Druid Hills. Chamblee leads a tight series 15-12-1 after having won the past two meetings, including a 28-0 win in 2013. Southwest DeKalb and Cedar Grove renew their series for the seventh time and the first since a 17-7 Southwest win in 2007. Southwest holds a 6-0 lead in the series. Stone Mountain and Tucker renew a 27-game series which Tucker leads 17-8-2 for the first time since 2009, a 7-0 Tucker victory.
Dunwoody and Chamblee renew their rivalry with the 17th meeting of the two programs on Friday, September 5. Chamblee leads 9-7 behind consecutive wins in 2012 and 2013. Lakeside is moving to Class AAAAAA and will be in the middle of three week road trip as the Vikings take on Duluth on Sept. 5. The Vikings face Cobb County opponents Osborne (Aug. 29) and Campbell (Sept. 12) as they prepare for their foray into Region 2-AAAAAA play.
The fourth week of the season (Sept. 12-13) includes such meetings as Arabia Mountain at Marist (first meeting) and Tucker against Martin Luther King Jr. (series tied at 1-1).
Stephenson which plays DeKalb County rivals Martin Luther King Jr. (Oct. 24, series tied 4-4) and Southwest DeKalb (Oct. 31, series tied 5-5) on back-to-back weekends also plays defending Class AAAAA state champion Creekside on September 19 at Creekside. Southwest DeKalb and King play on October 3 in another local rivalry (King leads 4-0).
Tucker faces a rematch with their 2011 state title opponent Lovejoy (22-7 Tucker win) in a Region 2-AAAAAA battle on October 31 and then renews its longstanding rivalry with Lakeside in the final week of the season. Tucker leads the tight Lakeside series 24-22-1.
Ninety DeKalb County football players signed on with the college or prep school of their choice on Wednesday to open the National Signing Period.
Close to 20 more athletes are expected to sign in the coming week which would bring DeKalb County's total to over 100 signees for the sixth consecutive year dating back to 2009.
The 2013 DeKalb County signing class totaled 125 signatures and surpassed the century mark for the fifth consecutive year. The previous three years' totals were 100 (2009), 126 (2010), 127 (2011) and 152 (2012). These numbers include four-year and two-year colleges as well as prep schools to aid the athletes in furthering their educations and playing careers.
DeKalb had 106 signees in 2006 to make six of the last eight years for 100 or more athletes to sign.
Twenty-two of the 90 (24.4 percent) signed on with the highest level in college football including 16 with major conferences including the SEC (9), ACC (4), Big 10 (2) and Big 12 (2). The signees are spread out over 23 states and 57 colleges with Georgia and North Carolina having nine colleges each sign players from DeKalb County. Five colleges each in Alabama and South Carolina picked up signatures in DeKalb County.
Players are going as far west as California with Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma included in those west of the Mississippi River. Universities as far north as Michigan, Indiana, New York and Ohio also signed players from the county. DeKalb is also sending one player to each of the military academies (Air Force, Army, Navy).
Stephenson led the way on Wednesday with 23 student athletes to sign to further their education and athletic careers post high school. Three signed with SEC universities (Jared Tucker (KY), Jordan Harris (Miss. State), Dallas Rivers (Vanderbilt), two with ACC (Tyler Jones (NC State), Cameron Glenn (Wake Forest) and one Big 10 signee (Montez Sweat (Mich. St).
Martin Luther King put 15 on scholarship on Wednesday and expect up to six more. The Lions signees were led by defensive back Wesley Green (South Carolina).
Class AAAAA state runner-up Tucker marched 16 athletes on to the auditorium stage including Elisha Shaw (Alabama), Dominick Sanders (Georgia), Detric Dukes (Georgia), Justin Hughes (Kansas State) and Kirk Tucker (Oklahoma State).
Arabia Mountain's nine signees on the day (10 more expected) included a pair of military academy signees in Nasiir Edwards (Air Force) and Demetro Stephens (Army). The Rams' signees also included a Big 10 and ACC pair in Gregory Phillips (Purdue) and Kayton Samuels (Syracuse).
The 10 expected signees would push the Rams' total to 19 and seven above 2013 to set a new signing class high for the school which just played its fifth football season and picked up its first winning season.
Columbia (6), Lithonia (5), Cedar Grove (4), Miller Grove (3), Redan (3), Stone Mountain (3), Lakeside (2) and Chamblee (1) rounded out the schools with signees on Wednesday.
Creekside's Cameron Jackson returned the second half kickoff 99 yards to give the Seminoles the big momentum lift on the way to defeating the Tucker Tigers 52-28 for the Class AAAAA high school football state championship in the Georgia Dome.
Ranked No. 1 heading into the championship tilt, Tucker opened the game with a 73-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead on Joseph Farrar's one-yard run and the point after by Eric Webber with 7:53 remaining in the first quarter.
Bricen Terry's one-yard plunge with 2:04 left in the quarter helped made it 7-7 as Creekside responded with a score on their opening drive.
The Tigers survived a muff on the ensuing kickoff to force a 33-yard field goal attempt by the Seminoles which was short and then needed just three plays to take a 14-7 lead. Elijah Sullivan had a 43 yard run to set up a 38 yard touchdown pass from Farrar to a wide open Dominick Sanders down the middle of the field with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
Creekside sent the teams to the half tied at 14-14 as Dexter Knox scored on a three yard run after two pass interference penalties on the Tigers helped the Seminoles move down the field.
Tucker kicked off to open the second half and Jackson collected the kick at the one and raced downfield to give Creekside the lead for good at 21-14 with just 13 seconds gone in the second half.
A Tiger fumble at their own 32 set up another Knox touchdown, his second of four in the game, as he went 16 yards for the score and a 28-14 lead. The Tigers closed it back to 28-21 on a 21-yard run by Yaquis Shelley, but Creekside answered again with a field goal and a 22 yard touchdown run by Knox to push the lead to 38-21 with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
Tucker scored one final time on a 65-yard pass as Farrar connected with Sanders again with 1:18 left in the third quarter to close the gap to 38-28.
Creekside (15-0) would score two more times to close out the game for the final of 52-28.
Tucker finishes the season 14-1 as the state runner-up.
For the third time in six seasons the Tucker Tigers trek to the Georgia Dome to play for a state title as they take on the Creekside Seminoles at 8:30 p.m. on Friday in a battle of undefeated finalists.
The two teams are both 14-0 on the season with Tucker coming in as the No. 1 ranked team in Class AAAAA while Creekside is No. 4.
Tucker shut down an explosive No. 3 ranked and defending state champion Gainesville offense led by DeShaun Watson, the career passing leader in Georgia, in the second half last Friday night at Hallford Stadium while rallying from an early 14-0 deficit on the way to a 20-14 victory. Gainesville was averaging 49 points per game on the season and Tucker held the Red Elephants to its lowest total of the season, tying Buford which also held them to 14 points.
Defense has been the staple for this Tiger team all season and it had allowed just 20 points total in the first three games of the playoffs in wins over Heritage-Conyers (35-7), East Paulding (16-13) and Ware County (29-0).
Creekside rolled past No. 2 ranked Kell by a score of 55-10 and comes into the finals averaging 47.3 points in its first four playoff games.
Creekside has allowed a total of 59 points in the state playoffs including wins of 47-14 over Lakeside-Evans, 42-21 over Harris County and 41-14 over North Paulding.
The two teams have met in the postseason just once in 1999 and Creekside won that game 27-22 to advance to the quarterfinals that season.
Tucker has put together an impressive playoff run over the past seven seasons (2007-2013) going 23-4 since missing the playoffs in 2006. The Tigers are 44-32 overall in the state playoffs as a program.
The offense is led by quarterback Joseph Farrar who had two touchdown passes in the semifinals along with running back Elijah Sullivan and the quick strike duo of Dominick Sanders (two touchdowns in win over Gainesville) and Yaquis Shelley.
Detric Dukes, a Georgia commit, and Kirk Tucker, a Stanford commit, are the leaders on defense along with Sanders and Shelley. Dukes harassed Gainesville's Deshaun Watson in the semifinal victory coming up with a pair of sacks and tackles for a loss. Sanders had two interceptions to aid the victory.
Shelley who has three kickoff returns, a punt return and two interception returns for touchdowns is a big threat when kicked to and had a big punt return to set up the Tigers' winning drive against Gainesville.
Tickets for the state championship game are $18 on presale at the schools and $20 on Ticketmaster or at the Georgia Dome.
Class 5A State Championship
Friday, Dec. 13
Tucker (14-0) vs. Creekside (14-0), Georgia Dome, 8:30 p..m
Dominick Sanders scored in the pouring rain with 2:22 to play to give the No. 1 ranked Tucker Tigers a 20-14 victory over No. 3 ranked Gainesville in the Class AAAAA high school football state playoff semifinals at Hallford Stadium on Friday night.
The Tigers were in trouble early on finding themselves down 14-0 with 10:36 to play in the first half against the Georgia career passing record holder Deshaun Watson and his Red Elephant teammates. The score might have been worse but an interception in the corner of the end zone by Sanders on Gainesville's opening drive and a big sack by Detric Dukes on Gainesville's second drive of the game forced a long field goal that fell well short.
Watson had scored on a nine-yard run in the first quarter and then tossed a 26 yard touchdown pass on fourth and 12 which receiver Jay Gaudlock made a diving, one-handed catch in the end zone early in the second quarter for the 14-0 lead.
Special teams played a big role in rallying the Tigers in the first half as Yaquis Shelley returned the kickoff 72 yards to the Gainesville 24 to set up the Tucker's first score.
Tucker got the Gainesville defense all stacked close to the line on second and eight at the 10 and slipped tight end Detric Dukes free into the end zone where quarterback Joseph Farrar tossed him an easy pass for the score.
The two teams went into the half tied at 14-14 as Kirk Tucker picked up the third interception of the half against Watson as the half ended.
The Tucker defense which had gradually began to figure out the Gainesville offense as the half was coming to close flexed its muscles and speed in the second half limiting the vaunted Gainesville attack to just 42 yards of offense (40 passing, 2 rushing). The Tigers did this by making five plays on the Elephants that lost yardage in the second half, most on sacks of Watson.
It was the Tigers who went to the air late in the third quarter when facing a third and seven at their own 23. Farrar rolled to his right and found Sanders along the sideline for a 40-yard pass play to the Gainesville 37.
Three plays later on third and five from the 33 Farrar faked, dropped back and threw down the middle of the field to a streaking Sanders again. Sanders looked over his left shoulder and had to turn back to his right to haul in the pass as he crossed the goal line. Eric Weber added to his county scoring record, now at 95, as his kick was good to knot the game at 14-14.
The two teams traded punts and Gainesville was facing a third and four at its own 40 with seven minutes to play and the Tigers stopped Watson for no gain to force another punt.
Shelley caught the punt and returned it 25 yards to the Tucker 47 as the rain began to fall with 6:55 to play. Tucker began a 12 play drive in the rain with Raquan Rush's run of 13 yards to the Gainesville 27 being the longest play of the drive.
Sanders touchdown with 2:22 gave Watson and his offense once last shot, but on second down a pass long downfield was snared by Sanders, his second against Watson on the night, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
The Tigers improved to 14-0 for just the second time in the program's history, the only other time coming in its undefeated championship season of 2011.
Tucker moves into the Class AAAAA championship game to face undefeated and No. 4 ranked Creekside (14-0), which took apart No. 2 ranked Kell 55-10, on Friday, December 13 at 8:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
One of the most anticipated games of the Class AAAAA state high school football playoffs as the No. 1 ranked Tucker Tigers host the No. 3 ranked and defending champions Gainesville Red Elephants on Friday night at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston at 7:30 p.m. with a spot in the state championship game on the line.
It will be the first meeting between the two teams which have won state championships in the past two years. Tucker won the Class AAAA state title in 2011 while Gainesville won the Class AAAAA title in 2012.
Tucker (13-0) is coming off an impressive 29-0 win over Ware County (11-2) last Friday at Hallford Stadium in which the defense allowed just three first downs and 101 yards of offense to a Gator team that had scored 49 points in a first round win over Bainbridge and 35 in a second round victory over Northside-Warner Robins. Tucker is 2-0 all-time against the Gators in the state playoffs including a 42-3 win in the 2010 playoffs.
It is the third season in the history of the Tucker football program the team has reached the 13-0 plateau. Tucker was 13-0 in 1994 under Mike Falleur before losing in the state semifinals and finished 15-0 in 2011 while winning the Class AAAA state title under Franklin Stephens. Coach Bryan Lamar's squad has gone 23-3 in his two seasons at the helm including a quarterfinal appearance a year ago.
Tucker is 43-32 overall in the state playoffs and 10-1 over the past three seasons in the postseason as they make their fifth appearance in the state semifinals in seven years (2007-2013).
The Tiger defense has given up just 20 points in the three games in the playoffs and has over 100 tackles for a loss and over 50 sacks on the season. Seniors Justin Hughes and Kirk Tucker and junior Maurice Williams all have double digit tackles for a loss while junior Elijah Sullivan along with Tucker and Williams all have eight or more sacks on the season.
Senior Dominick Sanders leads the team with six interceptions (1 for a touchdown) followed by junior Yaquis Shelley with five (3 for touchdowns) and Stephen Reynolds has four picks.
The Tiger defense must face a Gainesville (12-1) offense led by Georgia career passing leader Deshaun Watson that is averaging 40.3 points a game in the state playoffs.
Tucker's offense is piloted by senior quarterback Joseph Farrar (10 touchdowns rushing after two against Ware and over 500 yards rushing and over 800 passing with 8 touchdowns), running back Elijah Sullivan (13 touchdowns on over 600 yards rushing) and Dominick Sanders (12 touchdowns and over 500 yards on the ground).
Gainesville defense has allowed 14, 12 and 28 points in the three wins against Martin Luther King Jr., South Paulding and Mundy's Mill.
The Tiger special teams are led by return men Yaquis Shelley and Dominick Sanders and place kicker Eric Webber. Shelley has four kickoff returns (87, 78, 68 and 99 yards) for touchdowns on the season with one punt return (57 yards) while Sanders has a pair of punt returns for touchdowns (76 and 47 yards).
Webber became the DeKalb County record holder for kicking points in a season with 92 as he kicked two field goals and two extra points in the 29-0 win over Ware County. He broke the 2008 record of 90 set by Dunwoody's Austin Breed. He is 62 of 65 on extra points and 10 of 11 on field goals with his first miss of the season coming against Ware County as a high snap led to a kick going wide right.
All tickets for the state semifinals are $15 per person.
Football State Playoffs Schedule
Friday, December 6
Gainesville (12-1) vs. Tucker (13-0), Hallford, 7:30 p.m.
The No. 1 ranked Tucker Tigers allowed Ware County just three first downs on the way to a 29-0 victory in the Class AAAAA high school state quarterfinals on Friday at Hallford Stadium.
Defense is the key thus far in the state playoffs for Tucker as the Tigers have allowed just 20 points in three games and collected nine tackles for a loss in the game against the Gators from Ware County that had scored 35 points against Northside-Warner Robins in the second round and 49 in the opening round against Bainbridge.
Ware opened the game with a three and out against the Tiger defense and Tucker promptly marched 50 yards to take the lead for good.
A 23-yard run by Yaquis Shelley on second and 12 at the Tiger 48 moved the ball to the Gators' 29 and with runs of 6 and 18 by quarterback Joseph Farrar the Tigers were set up first and goal at the 5-yard line. Farrar went the final five on third down for the score. Eric Webber tacked on the point after for a 7-0 Tiger lead with 7:45 to play in the first quarter.
Another three and out forced by the Tucker defense and the Tigers had good field position at their own 46. Elijah Sullivan break away for a 23-yard run in the drive and Dominick Sanders added 14 as the Tigers moved to the Ware 4-yard line. Three plays later Farrar got into the end zone for the second time on a two-yard keeper. Webber again tacked on the point after as he moved closer to the DeKalb County single season points by kicking record to make it 14-0 with 2:32 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers found the offensive going a little tougher the rest of the half and a high snap on a 34-yard field goal attempt ended in a miss with 2:50 left in the first half. It was Webber's first miss of the season.
Ware County would then pick up two of its three first downs in the game on the ensuing drive on pass plays covering 34 and 26 yards, but the Tiger defense stiffened to force a field goal try on fourth and four at the Tiger 9. A mishandled snap forced a run attempt, but Tucker's Stephen Reynolds stopped it short and the Tigers ran out the final 16 seconds of the half.
Tucker opened the second half driving to the Ware 19 where the drive stalled and Webber came on and kicked a 36-yard field goal to give Tucker a 17-0 lead with 8:13 to play in the third quarter.
The two teams traded punts and Ware was backed up at its own 6-yard line facing a third and 8 when the Tiger defensive pressure forced an intentional grounding penalty in the end zone to collect a safety for a 19-0 lead with 3:58 left in the third quarter.
Tucker drove down to the Ware 25 and Webber trotted out on fourth and 10 for a 42-yard field goal attempt that would give him the new record. His kick was high and through the uprights for the record and a 22-0 Tucker lead with 10:23 to play in the game.
Two possessions later Yaquis Shelley intercepted a pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown with 6:55 to play. Webber tacked on the point after to make the final of 29-0. It was Shelley's third interception return for a touchdown on the season.
Tucker moves on to play defending Class AAAAA state champion Gainesville (12-1), a 42-28 winner over Mundy's Mill (8-5).
Football State Playoffs Schedule
Friday, November 30
Tucker (13-0) 29, Ware Co. (11-2) 0
It was a once in a lifetime meeting for Towers head football coach James Holloway last Saturday night as he, his staff and four team captains set down with ESPN NFL football analyst Jon Gruden.
Towers was one of four high schools in the Atlanta Metro Atlanta chosen to meet with Gruden including Therrell, Osborne and Forest Park. The staffs and players met with Gruden, who is town to announce the Monday Night Football game between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets, met with him at Hooters in downtown Atlanta for two hours on Saturday evening.
The four schools were chosen with the help of local media and coaches to meet Gruden who asked for schools showing improvement while battling against demographic and monetary odds.
Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and has a career record of 95-81 in 18 seasons including stops at Oakland and Tampa. He won five division championships along the way.
After being fired by the Buccaneers in 2009, he was hired to be a NFL television analyst for ESPN where he works on Monday Night Football.
"It was a great time for everyone," said Holloway. "Being able to sit down and talk to a Super Bowl champion coach and get ideas from him on building a program is something that only comes around once in a lifetime."
Gruden spoke to the coaching staffs and players about being tough and working on fundamentals.
"He said he knew how tough it is to build a program, but that we had to keep on keeping on," said Holloway. "He gave a general overview on building a program and being not only tough physically but mentally and honing the fundamentals of the game."
Besides enjoying a free buffet meal, each team received a camera for filming practice, dry fit shirts and a $1,000 check donation to aid the programs and "Keep the Game Strong".Holloway brought his staff of Emmanuel Lewis, Mark Evans, Eric Brinn and William Ward along with players Jeffery Lovett, Stevenson Derival, Daemyon Hassell and Emmanuel Badru.
"The staff and players all enjoyed the event," said Holloway. "Of course the players are a bit young to appreciate the contributions to football and the history Gruden made as a coach. It was a great event and means so much to our program as we try to build it into a winner and playoff contender."
Towers is currently 4-2 on the season after going winless a year ago and is having its best year since the 2009 playoff season.
DeKalb County School District is renown in the state of Georgia for its football accomplishments on and off the field.
The school district boasts 12 state titles and repeatedly puts out state title contenders and Top 10 ranked football programs from year to year.
Avondale (1958, 1963, 1976) and Lakeside (1970, 1972, 1991) have both won three state championships to combine for six of the 12 claimed by DeKalb County Schools.
Southwest DeKalb follows right behind with two state titles (1972, 1995) and with its 2011 Class AAAA state title Tucker joined in with two (2008, 2011). Tucker (2011) and Dunwoody (1993) are the only two DeKalb teams to go 15-0 in a season.
Dunwoody (1993) and Redan (1979) round out the state title holders with one title each.
Seventeen of the current 19 DeKalb County High Schools hold playoff appearances during their football histories. M.L. King Jr., the second newest school in the county, made its first appearance in the state playoffs in 2003 after winning the Region 5-AAA title.
DeKalb County also tops the state in talent produced and athletes signing scholarships to continue their education and athletic careers on the next level. College coaches from across the Southeast and many other parts of the country find academically qualified athletes every year as they visit games and the annual DeKalb County Schools Football Video Forum for college scouts.
The 2013 DeKalb County signing class totaled 122 signatures as the district surpassed the century mark for the fourth consecutive year. The previous three years totals were 119 (2010), 120 (2011) and 132 (2012).
photos by Mark Brock