Football: Previewing the Week 1 matchups for each North Fulton team

By Zach Shugan

Football fans can rejoice. The long national nightmare is over.

Football officially returns Friday night, with 11 of 13 North Fulton schools kicking off their 2021 regular season. Only Cambridge and King’s Ridge will have to wait a little longer to begin, as they’re both on byes this week. Otherwise, it’ll be a long night of football across the area and state as a whole.

Here are some brief previews for this week’s games.

Class 7A

No. 1 Milton vs Hapeville Charter

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Milton High School

All-time Series Record: Milton leads, 1-0

The top-ranked team in class 7A opens its regular season against the No. 7-ranked team in Class 4A, Hapeville Charter. Milton hosted the Hornets the second week of the 2020 season and won 43-18.

Hapeville’s strong suit is its defense while Milton’s is its loaded offense, setting up for an entertaining matchup (at least on that side of the ball). Hapeville is no slouch, but Milton will use this as a tune-up for next week’s showdown with North Cobb. The Warriors are ranked No. 2 in Class 7A right behind Milton, and ESPN will be in Kennesaw to televise the game nationally.

Prediction: Milton wins, 48-10

Alpharetta vs Chattahoochee

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Alpharetta High School

All-Time Series Record: Alpharetta leads, 9-2

Crosstown rivals Alpharetta and Chattahoochee have played 11 times in history, but 2021 will be the first time they open the season against each other. Alpharetta has won the past nine matchups dating back to 2012, including a 21-7 win last year at Hooch.

The Raiders have a good chance to make it 10 wins in a row against Hooch, as they brough back several playmakers from last year’s squad on both sides of the ball. For the Cougars, they no longer have Jaylen Smith at quarterback and Jahmal Smith and Jordan Palmer catching passes. Some playmakers returned for Hooch, but the difference in experience will likely be too much to overcome in the first week of the season.

Prediction: Alpharetta wins, 35-20

Roswell vs South Forsyth

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Roswell High School

All-Time Series Record: South Forsyth leads 1-0

In 2017, Roswell opened its regular season in Atlanta by taking on South Forsyth in the Corky Kell Classic. The Hornets, who at the time were ranked No. 3 in Class 7A, were upset by the unranked War Eagles, and a disappointing 3-8 season ensued. Although the players from both teams have since graduated and the head coaches have changed, the Hornets will look to avoid starting the 2021 season with a similar fate as four years ago.

This is one of the more even matchups in week one, but I’ll give the edge to Roswell due to their talent and experience at quarterback and running back. The Hornets returned a pair of first-team all-region players from last year in senior quarterback Robbie Roper and senior running back Ryan Hill.

Prediction: Roswell wins, 27-24

Class 6A

Centennial @ Lambert

When: Friday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Lambert High School (Suwanee, GA)

All-Time Series Record: Tied, 2-2

It’s been a tough couple of seasons for Centennial, but it looks like there’s brighter days ahead in 2021. The Knights’ first chance to end their 19-game losing streak comes Friday at Lambert.

It might not happen this week on the road against a solid program in Lambert, but the Knights certainly have the talent to win some games this year. Sophomore offensive lineman Daniel Calhoun was recently ranked the No. 2 offensive tackle in the Class of 2024 by 247Sports. Junior Johnsley Barbas, who plays wide receiver, safety and kicker, has offers from Louisville, Wake Forest, West Virginia and more.

Prediction: Lambert wins, 34-24

Johns Creek @ Gainesville

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Gainesville City Park

TV: CBS46/Peachtree TV

All-Time Series Record: First meeting

Johns Creek will play in the Corky Kell Classic for the first time, traveling 40 miles northwest to take on Gainesville in a game televised locally.

The Gladiators impressed in their scrimmage against Hapeville Charter. Transfer quarterback Kyle Durham tossed for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns, and their defense held the Hornets scoreless in the first half. If they play like they did in their scrimmage, Friday night should see a similar fate for Johns Creek, but Gainesville is a bit of tougher opponent and will have the home crowd on its side.

Prediction: Johns Creek wins, 41-24

Class 5A

No. 1 Blessed Trinity vs Woodland (Stockbridge)

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Blessed Trinity Catholic High School

All-Time Series Record: First meeting

Not to be confused with Blessed Trinity’s Region 7-5A co-member Woodland of Cartersville, the Titans open the 2021 season against Woodland of Stockbridge. It’ll be the Titans’ first game with Tom Hall at the helm following the departure of Tim McFarlin, who’s now coaching down Woodstock Rd. at Fellowship Christian.

The Wolfpack went 6-4 in 2020 and missed out on the state playoffs after finishing 3-4 in region play. Expect the Titans to start off their season on a high note and junior running back Justice Haynes to begin his campaign for this year’s top rusher in the state.

Prediction: Blessed Trinity wins, 50-24

Northview @ Forsyth Central

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Forsyth Central High School

All-Time Series Record: Northview leads, 2-0

The Scott Schwarzer era at Northview will officially kick off Friday night, and it’ll start with a bang. The Titans will go on the road to take on Class 7A’s Forsyth Central, which also has a new head coach after Frank Hepler went 18-29 in five seasons.

Both Northview and Forsyth Central will feature many first-year starters, making this one of the tougher matchups to predict this week. I’ll give the edge to Forysth Central playing at home with a tad more experience on its roster.

Prediction: Forsyth Central wins, 21-14

Class A Private

Fellowship @ Christian Heritage

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Christian Heritage School (Dalton, GA)

All-Time Series Record: Christian Heritage, 6-1

Class A Private teams around the state likely let out a collective groan when Fellowship, a budding program coming off back-to-back region titles, hired a head coach with the winning tradition of Tim McFarlin.

It might be a match made in heaven for Fellowship, but that doesn’t mean 2021 will be all sunshine and roses. The Paladins graduated a senior class which included the school’s all-time leading rusher in Murphy Reeves, a multi-year starter at quarterback in Eli Hildebrandt and a highly-recruited offensive tackle recruit in Charlie Patterson.

But their talent alone makes the Paladins the preseason favorite in Region 6-A Private, and with McFarlin now at the helm, they should be able to avoid a major drop-off in 2021.

Prediction: Fellowship wins, 28-24

Mount Pisgah @ No. 5 Wesleyan

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Wesleyan School

All-Time Series Record: Wesleyan leads, 3-0

Mount Pisgah will open its regular season against Wesleyan for the second year in a row. In 2020, the Patriots hosted the Wolves and lost 45-14.

They’ll look to avoid a similar fate this time around in Ryan Livezey’s first game as head coach. Taking on Wesleyan on the road is a tall task for any team, especially one with many players (including the quarterback) starting their first varsity game. But that’ll be the case for Mount Pisgah, so Friday night should, at minimum, serve as a learning experience.

Prediction: Wesleyan wins, 38-17

St. Francis vs No. 10 North Cobb Christian

When: Friday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: St. Francis High School

All-Time Series Record: St. Francis leads, 5-4

St. Francis looks to bounce back in year four under Frank Barden following a down 2020 season. The Knights went 7-5 and won their first playoff game in program history, but they took a big step backwards last year with a 1-8 season.

I’m not saying they’ll win a state championship this year, but the Knights should definitely win more than one game and have a realistic chance to make the playoffs for the third time in the program’s 10th full season. 2020 should turn out to be more of an anomaly than the start of a bad run for St. Francis.

Prediction: North Cobb Christian wins, 24-14

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