Two schools that have enjoyed success in recent years will open their 2010 campaign this weekend when Lakeside plays host to Glenn Hills.
The Panthers are coming off the best season in school history with last year's 10-2 mark. They also claimed their first regular-season region crown.
The team lost several key players from a year ago, especially on defense. In 2009, the Panthers' defense was among the best in the state, but team leader Chris Hartfield and talented safety Khadi Tshishiku are now playing college ball.
The Panthers also have a new man at the helm as Jarrett Troxler takes over from his mentor Jody Grooms, who is now head coach and athletic director at Wayne County High School.
Evans will travel to Richmond Academy to kick off the season. The Knights are coming off a solid 8-3 campaign, and have been among the area's steadier teams with a 27-7 mark since 2007.
Evans might play with some extra incentive after a disappointing loss in last year's season finale at Richmond. The Knights played without star running back Jonathan Finch and lost 21-15.
That loss forced the Knights to travel in the opening round of the playoffs, where they blew a late lead in a 18-14 loss to Ware County. Finch graduated, as did starting quarterback Troy Griffith, but the Knights still have some weapons on both sides of the ball.
Last year, I finished the regular season 45-7 (87 percent) in my predictions. I must admit, however, that 2010 has me a little worried. I cannot remember a season that is more up in the air as the opening week approaches. Here are my first two picks of the new year.
Evans at Richmond Academy
Last meeting: Richmond Academy knocked off Evans in the final game of the regular season last year 21-15
All-time: Despite last season's loss, the Knights still boast a 14-2-1 mark all-time against the Musketeers
Other stats: The Knights have had the second best three-year run in school history, going 27-7 since 2007. Coley Cassedy led the Knights to a 29-6 mark in his only three years as head coach from 1985-87.
Keys to victory: Last season, the Knights were able to run the ball very effectively against the Musketeers, even without Finch.
Jamerson Turner and Will Scott stepped up big-time last year in Finch's absence. Richmond Academy had enough firepower to still get a victory. With quarterback Marquan Medlock lost to graduation, a successful Evans ground attack should be enough to win.
Score: Evans 20, Richmond Academy 14
Glenn Hills at Lakeside
Last meeting: The Panthers shut out Glenn Hills 18-0
All-time : Lakeside has a 7-5 advantage in this series
Other stats: Glenn Hills has not been overwhelming in recent years, but it has been steady. The Spartans have enjoyed six consecutive non-losing seasons, including a 5-5 mark in 2009.
The Panthers will be without star linebacker Kendal Parker, who is out with an injury. That could shift Lakeside's game plan quite a bit. Last season, the defense led the way. This year, Lakeside will rely on its high-powered offense much more.
Keys to victory: Glenn Hills stopping the big play will be something to watch. While the Panthers' defense stole the show last year, their offense got better and better each week. By the end of the season the Panthers' offense was capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. If Glenn Hills can eliminate the big plays, it might be able to keep it close.
Score: Lakeside 34, Glenn Hills 13
Blackburn and Lee win at Jones Creek
The 2010 Regions Bank Amateur Series concluded this weekend at the Gordon Chevrolet Jones Creek Classic. Thanks to the new sponsorship from Gordon Chevrolet, the first-place check in both the regular and senior divisions was $750.
In the regular division, Jay Blackburn opened with a 4-under 68 to lead by one over Doug Weiss and Tripp Kuhlke.
On Sunday, Blackburn carded a 2-under 70 to finish at 6 under and 4 shots clear of the field. Weiss and Kuhlke each shot 73 on Sunday to finish at 2 under for the tournament. The win was Blackburn's record 12th career Regions Cup title.
Young Lee fired a sensational final round 69 to claim the senior division title by a shot over Jim Brisson. The victory also gave Lee Senior Division Player of the Year honors for 2010.
Also of note was the wild weekend for Mike Montarbo. Montarbo, a popular trainer at The Omni club in Evans, opened the event with a very disappointing 91. The score left him two shots out of last place.
On Sunday, he carded five birdies and a single bogey en route to a 4-under 68. The 23-stroke turnaround was the buzz of the clubhouse after the event and was also enough for the low round of the day.
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