The year also saw the close of the high school careers from a group of players who left their mark on local programs.
Here’s a look back at the top local sports storylines for 2018:
Year of the running back
Prep football teams in the area featured some high-powered offenses this season with the ground game stealing the spotlight. Several running backs were integral to their team’s success, beginning with Rome High’s Jamious Griffin.
After splitting time in the backfield with Jalynn Sykes for the first three years of his high school career, Griffin had a breakout season in 2018 as the Wolves’ featured back, netting 2,815 yards and 38 touchdowns on 288 carries as a senior, leading his team to the Class 5A state semifinals.
The North Carolina State commit was named the Gatorade Georgia Football Player of the Year, the Region 7-5A MVP and a USA Today first-team All-American for his performance.
The Rockmart Yellow Jackets had not one but two top backs at their disposal with the two-headed monster Markus Smith and Zabrion Whatley.
Each senior scored 18 touchdowns for the Jackets while Smith finished with 1,145 yards rushing and Whatley turned in 1,111 yards, leading the Jackets to a historic 14-1 record and an appearance in a state championship game for the first time since 1957.
At Darlington, the Tigers were forced to rethink their offense when starting quarterback Griffin Brewster suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2 against Coosa and junior running back Kolin Rogers stepped up to carry the load on offense.
Rogers’ efforts included a 289-yard, three-touchdown performance against Whitefield Academy in the final game of the regular season to secure the Tigers a bye in the first round of the Class A Private state playoffs. Darlington went on to have its second straight state quarterfinals appearance.
Chattooga had its own powerful duo of running backs in E.J. Lackey and Lashaun Lester. Lackey rushed for 1,122 yards and eight touchdowns on 171 carries, while Lester powered his way to 15 touchdowns and 1,015 yards on 155 carries, helping the Indians reach the second round of the state playoffs.
The Berry College football team started out the season with three straight wins, but after an eventful trip to Centre College in Kentucky the team had a powerful inspiration to continue its success.
In their Week 4 matchup on the road against Centre — a 38-35 overtime win for the Vikings — sophomore defensive back Justus Edwards was seriously hurt. After being taken to a nearby hospital for undisclosed injuries, Edwards began a long recovery process following surgery.
In the Vikings’ next contest, brought out a flag with Edwards’ number 14 on it to keep on the sidelines and named him as a captain for the game, even though he was unable to be there. Berry roared to a 61-0 win over Austin that day, setting Berry single-game records for points scored (61), most touchdowns (eight) and most touchdown passes (six).
Berry went on to win the Southern Athletic Association for the third straight season, finish 9-1 in the regular season and earn their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division III national playoffs. The Vikings reached the second round before being defeated by eventual national champion Mary Hardin-Baylor.
State titles abound
While the area didn’t have any football teams crowned state champions this year, there were several other area teams and individuals who won state titles.
The Coosa volleyball team earned its second straight championship with a four-set win against Elite Scholars Academy, winning 21-25, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19.
The Darlington girls’ golf team finished 20 shots ahead of second-place Brookstone to be crowned the Class A Private state champions. Armuchee’s competition cheerleading team won its second straight Class AA state title — it’s third in the last five years.
Rome High swimmer Mason Hunter, now at the University of Michigan, came away with GHSA state titles in the 100 breaststroke and the 200 individual medley. Hunter broke the state record in the breaststroke with a time of 54.28 and then set a school record with 1:53.41 in the IM.
Hunter also was part of Rome’s state championship 200 medley relay team, which included Samson Mumber, Kent Schirmacher and Kenta Davis.
Local wrestling teams crowned seven state champions this year with three coming from Darlington — Dalton Blankenship (126 pounds), Colton Woods (132) and Rhett McDurmon (152). The titles were the third straight for Woods and Blankenship in the Class A competition.
Trion’s Lincoln Maddux (138) and Cole Luallen (145) also brought state titles home. In Class AA, Armuchee’s Jacob Henderson (182) and Chattooga’s Griffin Jarrett (106) both won to earn back-to-back titles.
Rounding out the state title winners were a quartet of track and field competitors.
Darlington’s Elijah Ball set a personal record on his way to a Class A Private state title in the boys’ discus with a throw of 158 feet, 10 inches.
In Class AA, Model had a pair of girls earn top finishes as Ellie Getchell won the pole vault by clearing 10 feet and Megan Kent took the high jump title with a successful attempt of 5-6. Chattooga’s Jamarious Mosteller won the triple jump with a jump of 45 feet, 7 ½ inches.
Saxton moves on
The Model girls’ basketball team returned to the Class AA state semifinals only to fall again to eventual state champion Laney for consecutive seasons.
For three straight years, the playoff fate of the Lady Devils has been decided at Georgia College’s Centennial Center Arena in Milledgeville. Three seasons ago the Lady Devils were ousted in the Elite Eight.
This year’s loss was also the final high school game for Model standout Victaria Saxton. The all-time leading scorer at Model went on to South Carolina to pursue her college basketball career, where she has played in nine games this season and averaged 3.9 points per game.
Next level Wolves
The Rome High Wolves began this year watching standout players from 2017’s state championship team take the next step in their football careers.
After the Wolves won their second straight Class 5A state championship, Rome High’s entire starting defensive line signed to play football for Division I programs after helping the Rome defense hold opponents to 9.5 points per game their senior season.
Adam Anderson went on to Georgia, Jamarcus Chatman signed with Florida State, Ja’Quon Griffin moved on to Georgia Tech, and TJ Cammack signed up with Navy.
Morrison returns to Shorter
The Shorter football program was hoping for a boost when the Hawks hired former player Zach Morrison to lead the team after a series of struggles since moving to NCAA Division II and the departure of first head coach Phil Jones.
Morrison was an offensive lineman on the Hawks’ inaugural team in 2005 and played four seasons with Jones at the helm and came into a program that hadn’t won a game in the two seasons under previous head coach Aaron Kelton.
The Hawks unfortunately weren’t able to gain traction this season as the team’s winless skid dating back to October, 2015 extended to 39 games.