NORTH FULTON/FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The 2020 GHSA high school football season could have never happened, but for local teams the unprecedented year is complete, and cleats, jerseys and helmets will lay dormant until a hopefully brighter spring. While no North Fulton team will appear in a state title game this season for the first time in six seasons, 2020 was still one for the history books.
Here are some of the top aspects of the year that stick out.
Season goes off with few snags
Plenty of games were cancelled, many players tested positive or were quarantined, but local programs went relatively unscathed during a season that was still in question when the first games were scheduled to be played.
Several local programs played abbreviated seasons. Blessed Trinity played just nine games, despite reaching the third round of the playoffs.
Others had rotten luck. Forsyth Central had its opening two games cancelled just hours before they were set to kick off. Its season finale, one last chance for the seniors to take the field, was called off.
However, all local teams were able to play most of their scheduled games, and few serious cases of COVID-19 were reported among programs.
Roswell area schools shine
Roswell, Blessed Trinity and Fellowship Christian are all located within about one mile, making a little stretch of Ga. 92 a mecca of football talent and strong programs that continued this season.
One only has to look at the class of 2021 from those football teams, which includes a bevy of college commits, to showcase their dominance in recent years.
Together, the senior classes from each school combined for a staggering 118-28 record, and that includes an eight-loss season by Roswell in 2017, when many of this year’s seniors were playing for the freshman/JV squad.
Roswell and Fellowship have won two region titles during the last four years, with Blessed Trinity capturing three. Since 2015, each of the teams has made at least one trip to the state finals, Roswell did it twice. BT made four appearances in six years, winning three championships in the process.
Milton state title was no fluke
There were some murmurs among the state’s football community that Milton’s 2018 state championship was a bit of a fluke. Not that they weren’t talented, well-coached or tough-to-beat, but some suggested the program overachieved that year.
However, the last two years have shown evidence against that though.
The Eagles have compiled a 19-5 record since lifting the Class 7A state championship trophy, their only losses coming against ranked teams, including to eventual state champs Marietta last year in the playoffs. This season, Milton earned two on-field wins over ranked teams (not including a forfeit by ranked Cedar Grove) and ran the table in Region 5-7A for the third consecutive year. The Eagles have more region titles in the last three years than the program won from 1950 to 2017.
And few difference-makers remained this year from Milton’s state title squad, showing 2018 was no fluke, rather, it was a coming out party for a program on the rise.
Mixed bag for 1st-year coaches
A new head coach presents many questions for a program, even more so in a season of unknowns like 2020. For the six coaches who made their debuts at North Fulton and Forsyth County programs, there was feast, famine and plenty in between.
The big winners among the group were Dave Svehla of West Forsyth and Mike Palmieri at Denmark. West captured its first region title since 2012 and reached the third round of the playoffs for the second time in program history. Denmark, which West beat for the Region 6-7A title, had its best season in the team’s three years in action, with a 6-1 region record and the program’s first playoff win.
Another strong debut season came from Chris Prewett at Roswell. The Hornets went 8-3, the first winning season by a first-year Roswell head coach since 1998.
At the other end of the scale was Centennial and Lambert.
Under Sean O’Sullivan, the Knights were winless this season, their second year without a “W.” Though Lambert started the season 4-0 under Tommy Watson, the Longhorns went 1-5 down the stretch in region play.
For Terry Crowder of King’s Ridge and Alpharetta’s Jason Kervin, 2020 was a mix. Crowder’s Tigers went 3-5 overall, but earned the program’s first playoff berth. Kervin led the Raiders to a 3-6 mark, but that was good enough for the team’s fifth straight trip to the postseason.
New regions live up to hype
Every local team was in a new or updated region for 2020, and many of those groupings lived up to the expectations of tight title races and solid competition.
Roswell, Milton and Alpharetta played in the same region, 5-7A, for the first time since 2011, and the results lived up to the hype. Milton handed Roswell its first loss of the season and overtook the Hornets for the top spot in the region standings. Alpharetta earned a signature win over Roswell late in the season, it’s first in Class 7A. The loss jeopardized the Hornets’ playoff hopes. When the dust settled, Milton was crowned champ and all three teams earned berths in the postseason.
Region 6-7A included all of Forsyth County’s public schools this year, and the intra-county rivalries took center stage in a fight for the region crown. Gainesville led the region standings the opening weeks of play before Denmark dethroned the Red Elephants late in the regular season. That set up a winner-take-all contest between West Forsyth and the Danes for the region title, with the Wolverines taking a 20-10 victory.
Behind the leaders, South Forsyth, North Forsyth and Forsyth Central continued their rivalries with a tight race for the final playoff spot.
In Region 7-6A, there was a logjam for playoff spots between the North Fulton teams and their Cherokee County foes. The final week of the regular season determined playoff spots, including Cambridge’s first postseason berth in four seasons.
In Region 7-5A, perhaps the most anticipated region game of the year between Blessed Trinity and Cartersville was cancelled due to COVID-19, but with three powerhouses in the region, including Calhoun, the region should serve up entertaining races in the coming years.
The mighty can still fall
There are no easy games in the playoffs and everyone starts the second season 0-0. Those may be football cliches, but they were on display Dec. 11 when three strong and previously undefeated North Fulton teams had their seasons come to an abrupt end.
Despite a brief season that included just six regular season games, three-time defending state champs Blessed Trinity were continuing their dominance over the competition. In the Titans’ five games leading up to the quarterfinals, which included two playoff contests, they had scored over 44 points per game and had posted four shutouts. However, the Titans came up short in a thriller against Warner Robins, ending their season and bid for a fourth state title.
Fellowship Christian looked poised to make a return to the state finals after suffering a heartbreaking, overtime loss in the 2016 championship. Ahead of the quarterfinals, the Paladins controlled their competition, compiling a 10-0 record, which included wins over three ranked teams, while outscoring the opposition by an average of five touchdowns per game.
The dream season wasn’t to be though, with the Trinity Christian pouncing on the Paladins early Dec. 11 on its way to 41-27 win.
Milton’s undefeated run also ended Dec. 11. The Eagles ran the table in the regular season before earning a lopsided win over Peachtree Ridge in the first round of the playoffs and a comeback win over Archer. However, Milton’s bid to return to the semifinals for the second time in three years ended with a 23-13 loss to Lowndes.