After a three-year stretch in which it nearly choked the competitive life out of high school football in Northeast Georgia, the era of the blowout has ended.
In recent seasons, especially 2008 and 2009, the disparity between the haves and have-nots of high school football was so stark, too many Friday nights were rendered flat boring.
Lest we forget, here’s a random sampling of Week 1 scores from last year: 34-0, 34-8, 33-0, 55-26, 40-6. And that was before the high-powered offenses really started clicking. By midseason, point totals in the 60s were almost common.
Compare that with this season’s 17-14, 21-14, 14-8, 18-6, 27-14.
Which games would you rather watch?
Granted, the second set probably lacks the first’s electrifying one-man shows, but with the kind of talent that graced a few area gridirons last year, the competitive balance was so out of whack, the outcomes of the games themselves were never in doubt.
That uncertainty of outcome is where the real excitement, or lack of it, originates. And no matter what any coach said or hoped for, about half of the teams in Northeast Georgia last season had no chance of competing with the top tier.
Even for the most hardcore fans and partisan homers, that makes for some dull football.
Of course there are still the haves and have-nots. But thanks partly to realignment and partly to the graduation of what was possibly the most talented senior class of football players in Hall County history, the gap between the two has dwindled drastically.
Consider this: Commerce has lost 17-14 to Jefferson and 31-28 to Franklin County so far this season.
Jefferson lost 24-21 to North Hall. Franklin County tied Hart County 14-14. Later this year Franklin County and North Hall, and Jefferson and Hart County will be jockeying for playoff spots in regions 8A-AAA and 8B-AA, respectively.
Now, these comparative scores doesn’t mean we know anything about what’s going to happen when these teams tee it up.
But that’s the point.
Unlike last year, when the conclusions were often forgone long before kickoff, we don’t know what’s going to happen week-to-week this season — much less six weeks down the road. All four of the aforementioned teams could make the playoffs. But it’s not that big of a leap to say that none of them will.
Part of that is due to the depth of the subregions we’re dealing with in this example.
In 8-AAA’s northern half, the Trojans and Lions are joined by Stephens County (a perennial contender), White County (7-3 last season), and Lumpkin County (2-0 this year).
In 8-AA South, Jefferson and Hart County are competing with East Jackson, North Oconee and Elbert County — each of which made the playoffs last season. There’s also Jackson County, which is off to a 2-0 start.
And don’t forget Commerce, the 0-2 Class A school which was within one score of potential Class AAA and AA playoff teams.
Top to bottom, there’s a smaller gap in this year’s teams, and that will make for fewer blowouts and more competitive games.
But what will make this season truly exciting to watch unfold is the near equality of the good teams and the best ones.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.