Weeks of speculation finally were put to bed on Wednesday as it was officially announced that Ridgeland will face fellow northwest Georgia area powerhouse Calhoun on the first day of the 2018 Corky Kell Classic.
The announcement, which was carried live on an Atlanta-area television station, told the lineup for the three-day event, which will include nine games featuring top high school football teams from around the state.
The Panthers and Yellow Jackets will face off in the first game of next year's Classic at Barron Stadium in Rome. Kickoff will be on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 at 5:30 p.m., followed by a matchup between Rome and Marietta at 8:30.
"I think it means a lot for the program and says a lot about where we are hopefully headed as a program to be chosen to play in the Corky Kell Classic," Ridgeland head coach Wesley Tankersley said. "Only a few select teams every year get to play in the games, no matter the venue. It's based off the success you're having this year, but also the success you've had the last few years. Hopefully this is something we can continue to build on, year in and year out. It's an honor to be chosen."
Former Wheeler High School head coach Corky Kell helped create what was then known as the High School Football Classic in 1992, when it was played in the then-brand new Georgia Dome. Since then, Corky Kell Classic games have also been at McEachern High School and Five Star Stadium in Macon on the campus of Mercer.
This past fall, games were played at the newly-remodeled Georgia State Stadium - formerly Turner Field - and in addition to Barron Stadium, the event will incorporate new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time next season.
"We got the call about six weeks ago," Tankersley explained. "They were looking for some northwest Georgia teams to expand the Corky Kell a little bit, not just Atlanta teams, but teams in other parts of Georgia as well. It's an honor to think they thought we'll be a good program over the next few years that will give them a good game to have for their slate."
The Panthers' opponent in the game will be a familiar one. Ridgeland has faced Calhoun five times in the past, but four times since the 2008 season with the Jackets winning all four meetings, including the epic 2012 matchup.
Calhoun won that meeting at home, 42-35, on a TD pass in the closing seconds. Both teams advanced to the state finals that season, the Jackets in Class AA and the Panthers in Class AAAA.
The first meeting came in Ridgeland's first season (1989) when the Panthers claimed a 7-0 win.
"Calhoun is a perennial playoff team, one that usually goes deep in the state playoffs and one that's won state championships," Tankersley added. "We know they have a great program and it's someone that's fairly close to us so there is some familiarity there. I think it will be a big draw for the crowds to show up."
On Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, at Georgia State Stadium, Buford will face Tucker at 5:30 p.m., followed by a matchup between Archer and Milton at 8:30.
Then on Saturday, Aug, 18, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the lineup includes Kell versus East Coweta (9 a.m.), Brookwood versus North Gwinnett (11:45 a.m.), McEachern versus Colquitt County (2:45 p.m.), Mill Creek versus Walton (5:45 p.m.) and Norcross versus Mays (8:45 p.m.)
Partial Proceeds from the Corky Kell Classic go to the Kell Scholarship Fund.