The reigning GHSA Region 3-AAAA champion Baldwin Braves will have a tough act to follow when the team takes the field for the upcoming 2019 season that is now less than three months away.
Things weren’t looking too promising for the Braves as they played their way through the first half of the 2018 campaign. Although losing five straight games may not have been in the plans for head coach Jesse Hicks, he did want to prepare his team for the tougher competition they would later see in the Class 4A playoffs. The Braves kept their composure and completed a huge turnaround that saw them win their last five regular season games, including a perfect 4-0 run through region play. Baldwin would win its first two playoff games comfortably before the season ended at the hands of Cartersville in the state quarterfinals on Nov. 23. The Purple Hurricanes, one of the top programs in the state in recent years, went on to lose to Blessed Trinity in the title game.
Baldwin’s 2019 schedule will be a nearly-perfect mirror of last season as the opponents remain the same while only the dates and sites will change. After having hosted Dublin in a spring game last week and in last year’s preseason scrimmage, the Braves will return the favor and take the quick trip down 441 to face the Irish in a final dress rehearsal before the regular season, Aug. 16.
One of the biggest changes to the Braves’ schedule date-wise is the fact that the regular season has been pushed back a week. Last year Baldwin opened at home against Washington County on Aug. 17, but this year the Braves and Golden Hawks are scheduled to clash Aug. 23. Rather than travel to Sandersville for the matchup, the two teams have struck a deal to play in the Macon Touchdown Club’s annual Middle Georgia Kickoff Classic, an event pitting two teams from the area against one another at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium. Last year the kickoff event hosted two matchups — Dublin versus Tattnall and Northside-Warner Robins versus Peach County. Last year, WaCo got the Braves’ season started on a sour note, winning the meeting in Milledgeville 19-7 by running the football straight at a stout Baldwin defense. The BHS offense, meanwhile, was still searching for its identity at the time and struggled to produce in the opener.
The stretch of five consecutive opponents that handed the Braves those losses to open last season isn’t likely to get any easier in 2019. Making things even more difficult is the fact that four of Baldwin’s first five contests will be played away from its home field, the only exclusion coming week two when Jones County comes to Milledgeville. After that comes three straight road trips to the Warner Robins area to take on a much improved Veterans squad before facing the 2018 state runners-up in Class 6A (Northside-Warner Robins) and 5A (Warner Robins). The Braves will then hit the road to face Greenbrier, the matchup that gave them their first win of 2018, before taking what will likely be a much-needed off week.
Coming off the bye the Braves will jump right into Region 3-AAAA competition as they look to defend their title. Richmond Academy and Thomson will both come to town before BHS travels to take on Burke, the 2018 region runner-up. Thomson and Burke had been the perennial powers in the region until the Braves stepped up last year, so it will be interesting to see which team earns that coveted No. 1 seed for the state playoffs this year. Baldwin’s 2019 regular season closes out with a home match against Cross Creek, the lone Region 3-4A team that was left out of the playoff picture a season ago.
Coach Hicks is in his third year back at Baldwin, and has a ton of talent to replace on the defensive side of the football. Offensively, the Braves are likely to be led by senior running backs Noah Hill and Zaahir Salahuddin.