I know it's the second weekend of October but it's true, there are championship implications on the line in the two ballgames that I'll be calling on CSS this weekend. First up, a big Region 6-AAAA battle of unbeatens in Georgia High School Football as the 3rd-ranked Tucker Tigers (5-0) take on the Mays Raiders (5-0) at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta, 8pm ET for our Comcast viewers in Atlanta. Then I'll hop a flight to Gulfport, MS Saturday morning, and then drive over to Hattiesburg for a huge CUSA match-up between the East Carolina Pirates (2-2) and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (4-1), 7:30 pm ET Saturday night.
EAST CAROLINA AT SOUTHERN MISS
Let's start with that ballgame. Neither team can clinch CUSA's Eastern Division title with a victory Saturday night but they can lose their chance to win it with a loss. Golden Eagles Head Coach Larry Fedora knows that if his team wants to get back to the conference championship game, which he has not been able to do since he took over the program, they've got to beat East Carolina.
They had a chance to do it last year but were a 25-20 loser in Greenville, NC after two big mistakes kept them from victory - a fumble at the goal line as the Eagles were getting ready to score 6 and a blocked PAT that was taken back the other way for two Pirate points. The Eagles have rebounded nicely since their extremely disappointing season opening loss at South Carolina 41-13. The defense has responded since that embarrassment, rising to 16th in the nation in total defense. They'll have their hands full against a Pirates offense that is a 180-degree change from what ECU used to be under former coach Skip Holtz.
Ruffin McNeill has brought in that "Air Raid" offense that they coached at Texas Tech and now the Eagles average close to 300 yards passing per game in a no-huddle spread that features former Boston College QB Dominique Davis at the helm and Dwayne Harris at WR, who just maybe the best in CUSA, if not Top 5 in the nation (at least his coaches think so). Offensively the Eagles offense has produced despite playing without the oft-injured DeAndre Brown who may or may not play this Saturday. After catching 67 balls as a freshman, Brown dipped to 47 last season while still recovering from that devastating broken leg at the end of his first season. This year he's had trouble staying on the field because of a "lower leg injury," but Coach Fedora believes that Brown will eventually get his game back to where it was two years ago - that is, mentioned in the same breath with A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
One big reason why the Eagles offense has produced despite Brown's injury, plus an injury to WR Quentin Pierce and a host of others, is QB Austin Davis. He's back after missing 8 games last season with a torn ligament in his foot. Even though his stats are not as pretty, Fedora says he is even better than he was a year ago, and he was pretty good before he got hurt. Put your remote down for this one, both teams are up-tempo and no-huddle, won't be much time to breath or take a frig or potty break, and that's what both offensive coordinators are banking on - wearing down each other's defense. Should be high scoring and fun!
3 TUCKER VS MAYS
The Tigers can all but clinch Georgia's Region 6-AAAA championship with a win over the Raiders Friday night. A victory will leave Tucker as the only remaining unbeaten team in the Region and heavy favorites to wax their last 4 regular season opponents. Tucker is one of the best programs this state has to offer. They've won 5 region titles in the last decade, gone 114-17 the last 10-plus seasons and won a 2008 state championship.
They are also a college football recruiter's treasure trove with 4-star ILB James Vaughters (5 in the nation) committed to Stanford, 3-star athlete (WRS) Chris Sanders (35 athlete in the nation) committed to Georgia, 3-star OLB Justin Garrett committed to Auburn, 2-star RB Bashr Coles (reportedly offered by UCF) and OT Aaron Epps, committed to Louisville.
As for Mays, they are led by third year head coach Dominic Callaway, who was a three-year starter at Memphis back in the day and a teammate of first-year UM Head Coach Larry Porter. He's in his sixth year at Mays after originally arriving there as a defensive coordinator and it's no coincidence that the Raiders are in the middle of the program's best run ever (63-20 over the last seven-plus seasons).
The Raiders don't have as many major college stars as the Tigers but do boast Rivals 3-star DE Darrius Caldwell, who is committed to Georgia Tech and DT Roderick Thompson, who is committed to Georgia State. Mays has two tall and speedy WR in Jonathan Williams and DeAngelo Yancey and that might be where the Raiders have an advantage against this Tucker team. If they can get Torrie Bowen going (over 700 yards rushing in 5 games) and open up that passing game for QB Homer Causey, the Raiders might be able to pull off the upset. But that might be a big "if."
Either way it should be a spirited game against a Tucker team that knows it's one of the best in the state and a Mays team who says they won't back down and are anxious to prove that they belong. So as we like to say on "In the Huddle, " who wins?