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Fellowship Christian running back Josh Cole (8) carries the ball for a touchdown early in the first quarter of his game at North Cobb Christian Friday, October 2, 2020. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado

Corky Kell Classic

Corky Kell Classic Friday Preview

The Corky Kell Classic has kicked off the Georgia high school football season every year since 1992, and is gearing up to stage a captivating four-day, 11-game lineup to celebrate its 31st anniversary this year. The ever-growing spotlight surrounding Georgia’s proud gridiron tradition has flourished alongside the Corky Kell Classic, which has routinely raised the bar to ensure that each new season kicks off with with the biggest and most competitive lineup of matchups. This year, eight of the 22 teams participating in the classic will be making their Corky debuts and the lineup will also introduce the first-ever private school matchup in the event’s history with Fellowship Christian and Mt. Pisgah squaring off. Tune into PeachtreeTV to watch live and access the full Corky Kell schedule below.

FELLOWSHIP VS. MT. PISGAH [2:30 p.m.]

In the previous 30 years of the Corky Kell Classic, never had two private schools faced off against each other. This year, that streak comes to an end as Fellowship Christian will take on Mount Pisgah Christian at 2:30 in the first of three games in Rome on Friday, Aug. 19.

Fellowship comes into this season with high hopes after narrowly missing a chance at the Class A-Private state championship a year ago. The Paladins find themselves in Class 2A after a huge realignment that shifted a great number of teams to new regions and classifications in the state. Fellowship, coached by Tim McFarlin, in his 42nd year of coaching in Georgia will look to kick the season off with a win against their former region foe.

Mount Pisgah remains in Class A but are no longer labeled with the private moniker after the public/private divisions were dropped. Instead, Pisgah is now a part of Region-6A Division 1. Head coach Ryan Livezey, like coach McFarlin, is in his second season as the head coach at his respective program.

Coach Livezey had a large task on his hands heading into this offseason as he had to find seven opponents to play in the regular season because the division only has three other football-playing schools. A monumental task for any team but especially a private school with a smaller fanbase.

“I had to reach out to about 40 different schools, which will make you pull your hair out,” said Livezey. “Most public schools would not play us, and I get it because they want a team who will bring a lot of fans because they get money through their gate receipts.”

A great opportunity presented itself to add an opponent with the Corky Kell Classic and it was a game that Livezey and McFarlin both agree they couldn’t pass up. While Livezey, the first and most winningest coach at Holy Innocents, has never competed in the Corky Kell, it will be Coach McFarlin’s fourth appearance. As the head coach at Roswell, they appeared three straight times from 2005-2007.

The last game Mount Pisgah won against Fellowship was in 2017, so this will be the senior’s final opportunity to beat the pesky Paladins. Last year’s result ended with Fellowship beating the Patriots the following Monday after a power outage caused the game to be paused at halftime on October 20th.

“It was halftime of a close game, the transformer blew, and the lights went out,” said McFarlin. “We were able to get a couple of scores early on Saturday, but it was a great game. We’re familiar with their kids and they got a lot of guys coming back so they’re gonna be good. I would say they’re one of the best teams in Single A.

Fellowship’s quarterback, senior Caleb McMickle committed to Houston in late June, and he has a flurry of kids who will play at the next level. Running back Nick Persiano is coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season and didn’t start at the position until the third game. The losses won’t be easy to make up for as senior middle linebacker and defensive signal-caller Josh Cole is off to the Citadel.

“That middle linebacker was one of the best players we saw all season,” said Livezey about the loss a year ago. “We know them, and they know us, and it’s been a long time since we’ve beaten them. We know it’s going to be a challenge to play against them.”

Livezey discussed the importance of returning players and noted inexperience is no longer an excuse for the Patriots who went 5-6 last season after a first-round exit at the hands of Athens Academy, 27-21. The biggest loss for the Patriots is tight end/linebacker Cole Spence who approaches his freshman season playing for the Vanderbilt Commodores. Returning after his first season at Pisgah is rising senior quarterback Jack Cendoya who compiled 3,850 total yards and 36 total touchdowns.

Fellowship will face Trinity Christian in week two who capped off an undefeated season with a state championship in Class A-Private and this season are in Class 4A. Pisgah’s first five games are against teams in Class 2A or higher.

“This is a huge opportunity for private schools to show that we have talented players too,” said coach Livezey. “For the other private schools, hopefully this is an opening that Corky Kell will always be hosting a private school matchup. A lot of private schools have really great talent that goes unnoticed.”

CASS VS. KENNESAW MOUNTAIN [4:30 p.m.]

The second Corky Kell matchup in Rome on Friday, Aug. 19 will take place at 5:30 pm with Cass taking on Kennesaw Mountain.

Each team will make the brief trip to compete in their first-ever Corky Kell competition. Cass comes off a 5-6 season, which saw them lose to St. Pius X in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs (42-9). Kennesaw Mountain achieved greater success with a 10-2 record and ultimately fell in the Class 6A playoffs to Westlake (45-10).

Two tough playoff exits follow these coaches who are coming into this season having learned a lot about their teams. Both coaches, who have built their programs from the ground up, are elated to play in the opening weekend of the 2022 season in the Corky Kell Classic.

Steve Gates, who enters his fourth season as the head coach at Cass, has worked hard to change the identity of a Cass program. Last season, they recorded their fourth ever trip to the playoffs and Gates’ first with his new program.

“They were almost used to losing,” said Gates. “Some of the mindset was, ‘we only got beat by 30 but last year we got beat by 37’. That is unacceptable.’”

Gates has high expectations for this program and his four-year plan will be tested as they face off against a highly competitive Mustangs squad in game one of the 2022 season.

Caleb Carmean, Kennesaw’s fifth-year head coach, showed a four-year plan of his own after a Region 6-6A Championship in 2021. The first region championship in school history only emphasized the trajectory Carmean has put this team on since his second season in 2019 ended with an 0-10 record. The once freshman quarterback, Cayman Prangle, is now all grown up and has his sights set on a deeper run into the playoffs this year.

“He took over in the second game of his freshman year and never looked back,” said Carmean about his quarterback. “I have coached him since eighth grade and having him locked in has been a huge part of our success.”

Prangle, the ultimate professional according to his head coach, was named First-Team All-Region after accruing 2,000 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns. Four-star wide receiver Cayden Lee, after defeating the Mustangs a season ago for Westlake, decided to transfer to the school and catch passes from Prangle as Kennesaw looks to build on 2021 with more playmakers.

Lee, an exceptional route-runner will have to do his best to get open against a Cass defense that wants all the smoke. Cass allowed 25.1 points per game a season ago but that is sure to drop with the addition of freshman phenom defensive end Kaden Ellis, who couldn’t play on varsity last season due to a complication with the GHSA. With Gates’ first group of seniors, Gates identifies one player who has done it all.

Devin Henderson was the only quarterback on the roster for the 2020 season. Gates had no one else and Henderson was forced into action in Game 1 of his freshman season. Not only was he the quarterback of the 2020 season, but he was also a cornerback on the defensive side of the ball. A true Swiss army knife, he no longer will play full time at quarterback thanks to incoming freshman Brody McWhorter.

While Kennesaw Mountain has a larger regional pool for players because of its location in Cobb County, Cass has a more difficult time maintaining athletes because of the near proximity to Cartersville High School who is home to 2021 No.1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. The family presence on the Cass team is large. McWhorter’s cousin, Bear, is an offensive lineman who will protect his cousin for the next four years as they are both in the class of 2026. Kail Ellis, brother of Kaden, will begin his freshman season for the Colonels at tackle alongside Bear.

While Prangley and Lee have shared most of the early season hype, the Mustangs couldn’t have succeeded without a good group of skill players. Wide receiver Jailen Taylor and cornerback Jaylen Moson host a flurry of offers from all over the country and both look to prove their worth on a talented roster.

“I know all about Kennesaw Mountain, and they have been hiding behind the shadows,” said Gates. “They got several division one football players, and it’s a huge challenge, but that’s what we wanted. What do we get playing some small school that we could beat up on? Let’s go challenge these guys and fight and learn about ourselves.”

ROME VS. CREEKSIDE [8:30 p.m.]

Day 3 of the Corky Kell Classic wraps up with one of the most star-studded matchups between two historic programs, as the Rome Wolves host the Creekside Seminoles. Creekside is coming off a 11-3 season, its best mark under sixth-year head coach Maurice Dixon, while Rome looks to avenge its first-round state playoff loss last year. Part of what will draw so much attention to this game will be Creekside’s stingy defense trying to stop Rome’s high-flying offense.

Creekside graduated key players Nyqua Lett, Cameron Burch and Derrick White, but Dixon is not too concerned with how the offense will fare in 2022.

“I think we do a really good job of developing guys. We have great coaches,” Dixon said. “We run the same system on JV and 9th grade as we do on varsity, so for our guys it’s about the reps and getting used to playing at the speed of varsity football.”

To supplement some of the loss, Dixon said he will feature Roderick McCrary. The junior has started on defense in each of his first two seasons, combining for 204 tackles, six tackles for loss, two sacks and two interceptions.

“The development of [McCrary] is going to be very key for our entire football team,” Dixon said. “He’s going to play offense and defense for a lot of snaps on Fridays. I really feel like he’s a guy who can be a 1,200-yard rusher and 100-tackle guy.”

Rome has fewer players to replace on offense, but overcoming the loss of the 2021 Region 5 – AAAAAA All Purpose Player of the Year in Bryson Hill will not be easy. They likely will have to rely more on junior quarterback Reece Fountain, who has shown improvement in each of his first two years.

“It obviously all starts with Reece,” Rome head coach, John Reid, said.

Fountain shined as a freshman, completing 68.2% of his passes with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He followed that up with 2,312 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and just five interceptions last season. He will be elevated by senior standout wide receiver/cornerback Martel Hight, who is listed as a four-star prospect according to 247Sports. He posted 1,069 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 62 receptions last season. University of Alabama tight end commit Martavious Collins will also be an integral component to the passing game.

While Rome may boast the best defensive player between the two teams in Clemson-commit Stephiylan Green, Creekside’s collection of talent is astonishing.

“I think our physicality and our toughness is our biggest strength,” Dixon said. “We take pride in building a strong football team.”

That starts with Javeon Miller, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior linebacker for the Seminoles. He posted eye-popping numbers in 2021, recording 102 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 22 sacks. Creekside has four other returning players who totaled 70 or more tackles in 2021 and Malik Tullis had 67 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as a junior last year.

The Seminoles also come into this game as the 2022 Corky Kell 7-on-7 champions, so now they have their eyes focused on winning the real thing.

“The Corky Kell 7-on-7 is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s about how much pain you can endure and how hard your kids have prepared themselves to play that many games in a day. It’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked in the offseason, and that’ll help us in the playoffs,” Dixon said.

And no, Dixon did not shy away from mentioning the playoffs and what his overall expectations are for the 2022 season.

“We got no secret about what our main goal is,” Dixon said. “We want to be competitive, we want to win our side of town, we want to be the best team in South Fulton, we want to win our region and of course we want to win a state championship.”

Meanwhile, Reid is more concerned about what is directly in front of him and his team. That certainly is a valid approach, considering the Wolves have won four region titles and two state championships under him.

“We want to get off to a good start and win the first game,” Reid said. “Then you maneuver through this tough first five games we have on our schedule.”

“It’s an opportunity to represent South Fulton and also Creekside. It’s like a dream come true,” Dixon said. “We’re showing up and we’re giving our best effort to win.”

2022 Corky Kell Classic Schedule

August 17 at Johns Creek

5:30 p.m. Kell vs. Cherokee Bluff

8:30 p.m. Johns Creek vs. Parkview

August 18 at West Forsyth

5:30 p.m. North Atlanta vs. North Forsyth

8:30 p.m. West Forsyth vs. Archer

August 19 at Rome

2:30 p.m. Fellowship Christian vs. Mt. Pisgah

5:30 p.m. Cass vs. Kennesaw Mountain

8:30 p.m. Rome vs. Creekside

August 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium

10 a.m. McEachern vs. North Gwinnett

1 p.m. Brookwood vs. Norcross

4 p.m. Walton vs. Mill Creek

7 p.m. Marietta vs. Grayson

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