Reporting the news since 1914

The Blue & Gold

Reporting the news since 1914

The Blue & Gold

Reporting the news since 1914

The Blue & Gold

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The Way-Too-Early 2024 War Eagle Football Preview

War Eagle fans have much to look forward to
Photographer: Contributed
The varsity War Eagles move to 4A for the 2024 season. What implications might that hold for Head Coach Alan Chadwick and his team?

Change can be difficult, but it apparently has no effect on our varsity football program.

After just two years in the 6A Division, the War Eagles have molded themselves into a formidable competitor against any team, earning a record of 91 during what was arguably the toughest regular season in school history.

Entering the 2023 postseason as a powerful contender for the state title, the War Eagles fell just short of championship glory, losing to Thomas County Central 137 in a heartbreaking semifinals matchup at home. They finished the season ranked 78th in CalPreps’s Top-100 Teams in the Nation.

The 112th team in program history, however, is back for revenge in the new 4A division, following the recent statewide reclassification. With multiple returning stars, such as quarterback Jack Euart and linebacker Noah Gerrick, this team is a favorite to win a state title, according to the team at  High School Football Daily, which would be the fourth state championship in school history.

Despite high expectations, the upcoming 2023 season is no cakewalk, as Head Coach Alan Chadwick will lead the team into battle against some of the best teams in all of Georgia.

As we prepare for the return of Friday night lights in Hughes Spalding Stadium, let’s take an early look at the upcoming regular varsity football season.

Week 1: Jefferson Dragons (Aug 16 at Home)

The season starts with an incredible rematch against a 4A powerhouse. Besides a scrimmage in 2023, these teams have yet to face off since their 2020 State Championship thriller, where Marist won 3014 and took home its third title in school history. Jefferson ended the season with a 131 record thanks to the leadership of 5-star senior linebacker Sammy Brown, who led the team in both tackles (153) and touchdowns (40). The Dragons remained a Top 25 team in the state, and with quarterback Gavin Markley making his return for a second year, Chadwick and the War Eagles will need to be in top condition.

Week 2: Bye (Aug 23)

Week 3: Woodward Academy War Eagles (Aug 30 Away)

Mark your calendars because this game is an instant classic. The War Eagle rivalry continues after a nail-biting 17-10 overtime victory at home last year. Woodward takes the home field advantage this year, and there is little doubt that Coach John Hunt’s crew is ready to put up a fight after finishing as the 6A state runner up last season. Woodward averaged 32 points per game in 2023. Fielding one of the strongest receiver corps in the state with Abullah, Bettis Jr., and Grice, Woodward Academy will also return with star running back Lucas Farrington. With this much firepower, Marist versus Woodward will prove the most difficult matchup of the season for both War Eagle teams.

Week 4: Bye (Sept 6)

Week 5: Northview Titans (Sept 13 at Home)

Marist starts out its four-game stretch at home against a Northview team out to redeem itself following a painful 2023 season, when they suffered through a 10-game dry spell. The Titans have not enjoyed a winning season in eight years; however, a move down from the 5A division might be the perfect chance for Head Coach Scott Schwarzer to change the narrative for this program. The War Eagles need to shut down any Northview offensive momentum early on, as the Titans scored only four times in the second half last year.

Week 6: Druid Hills Red Devils (Sept 20 at Home)

The Red Devils return to 4A for the ninth consecutive year, and with a 2023 record of 811. Head Coach Fredrick Green has high expectations for his team. Druid Hills opted out of region play in 2023, and their only loss came from the Dunwoody Wildcats, who Marist defeated by 38 points three weeks later. With the combination of an experienced offense and a young defense, Druid Hills has a roster that can catch opponents by surprise. Marist has not faced the Red Devils in the last ten years. A new adversary might help the War Eagles to prepare for the postseason. 

Week 7: Southwest Dekalb Panthers (Sept 27 at Home)

Southwest Dekalb had a difficult time in the 4A region last year with a record of 28, but the Panthers return to the division hoping to flip the script with their 2024 season. Unlike many of the “below500” teams the War Eagles face in the 2024 season, Southwest Dekalb was no stranger to the endzone last year. They averaged 17.5 points per game under the leadership of Junior QB Brishaun Reese. With the Panthers returning many of their top offensive starters, the War Eagle defense will need to be in lock-down mode to seal the deal in this matchup.

Week 8: North Springs Spartans (Oct 4 at Home)

Similar to Southwest Dekalb, the Spartans struggled to gain any traction last season, finishing with a 2-8 record. Nonetheless, North Springs is preparing to turn the tables in their new division. Their solution might be found in running back Kendell Hunt. Hunt led this run-heavy team in rushing yards, averaging 43.6 yards per game in his freshman season. Along with the return of leading receiver Jarquis Williams, the Spartans are hoping to put up a good fight against Marist in Hughes Spalding Stadium.

Week 9: St. Pius X Golden Lions (Oct 11 Away)

Marist hits the road for the fifty-ninth Fish Bowl, continuing one of the state’s longest high school rivalries. The War Eagles have won four games in a row against the Golden Lions, including a 170 win last season. They hope to continue their streak against a team that lost a majority of its offensive firepower, such as quarterback Jack Mount. The Golden Lions ended last season with a record of 38 and are determined to make a strong return to the playoffs after getting shutout 490 by Thomas County Central in the first round. With both teams running a triple-option offense, recent Fish Bowls have been unpredictable thrillers between two football-crazed Catholic schools. We can expect the same type of “must-see Friday night television” next season.

Week 10: Clarkston Angoras (Oct 17 Away)

Thursday night football is back, not only for the NFL. Marist will take a quick 20-minute drive over to Clarkston High School to take on the Angoras, who also had a brutal 2023 schedule. Clarkston missed the chance to compete in the 4A playoffs with a record of 19 during the regular season. Opponents won by an average of 30.5 points per game. Nonetheless, the Angoras delivered at least one scoring drive in 7 out of their 10 games. We can expect this team to not go down too lightly against the War Eagles.

Week 11: Lithonia Bulldogs (Oct 24 Away)

The War Eagles continue their unusual schedule with a second consecutive Thursday night away game. Similar to Clarkston, Lithonia finished with a record of 19 with no postseason appearance. The Bulldogs did, however, have a very competitive 2023 schedule in their previous 5A division, including the Rome Wolves, who went on to contend for the 6A title. Lithonia differs from many high school teams with a pass heavy play style. They did it all with freshmen QB Caleb Hill at the helm. Now with some experience under their belt, this young team is ready for an uphill battle against the War Eagles under the Thursday nights lights.

Week 12: Tucker Tigers (Nov 1 at Home)

The War Eagles end their regular season back at Hughes Spalding Stadium with an exciting matchup against a solid Tucker team. The Tigers are coming off their first winning season in four years, with Head Coach Lonnie Jones leading his crew to a record of 65. Tucker averaged 208 rushing yards per game with 181 of those coming from senior RB Jordan McCoy, who led the Tigers in scoring with 30 touchdowns. This roster has key offensive gaps to fill with their starting QB and leading receiver not returning, which could give the War Eagles’ infamous defense a huge advantage in their last matchup before playoffs.

With the descent to 4A after the division reclassification, Marist football is headed into new territory, but it’s nothing the War Eagles can’t handle after proving themselves in 6A for the past two seasons. The Marist team does, however, have their work cut out for them. They need to fill some gaps left in the roster by a massive senior class that made up 16 of 22 total starters.

While Jackson Hughes, Luke Harpring, and others continue football at the collegiate level, Chadwick will need to find a way to recreate the unprecedented offensive power War Eagle fans witnessed during the 2023 season.

Halfbacks Brayden Lewis and Max Mraz both showed plenty of promise in their junior season. These returners could be the duo that the run-heavy War Eagles offense needs for success this year.

On the defensive side of the ball, safety Trace Gaynes and Linebacker Noah Gerrick both stood out as key contributors last season. They hope to continue overpowering opponents on a weekly basis.

Only two starting linemen return to the trenches: Owen Nolte and Austin Sperry. Their performance will be a big indicator early in the season, especially if the O-line can give Euart the time he needs in the pocket.

2024 is the second year in a row with a massive lineman loss. Any doubts concerning the success rate of Lineman Coaches Dan Perez, John Embry, and Danny Stephens were erased after the War Eagles went on a 11-game win streak with minimal sacks on Euart last season.

For special teams, kicker Drew Linnihan is expected to assume the role of punter after the loss of Grady Jones. Linnihan will also continue his exceptional touchback streak on kickoffs as he carries on the Bomb Squad legacy.

All things considered, Marist football fans are in for an exciting season as the War Eagles have a chance to go undefeated once again, possibly adding a fourth state title to the trophy case.

Only time will tell if championship dreams are achievable when Friday night lights return in only three short months.