The stage is set for another big season-opening bout between the Baldwin Braves and Washington County Golden Hawks.
The two are set to meet 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a game that serves as one of two matchups scheduled for the 2019 Macon Touchdown Club’s Kickoff Classic. Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in Macon is the venue where the Braves and Hawks will compete to jumpstart their 2019 campaigns with a win. Saturday’s meeting will be the day’s second matchup as Westside and Southwest are set to start at 4 p.m.
Baldwin head coach Jesse Hicks says his team has transitioned well from preseason into regular season mode where practices become more about preparing for opponents.
The Braves traveled down to Dublin last week where they took on the Irish in their one and only full dress rehearsal. Dublin’s wing T offense got the best of Baldwin’s inexperienced defense. Coach Hicks is having to replace an entire linebacking corps and almost his whole secondary from last season’s region championship run.
“It’s been tough defensively because we’ve got so many kids who haven't played, so they’ve got to understand what Friday nights are going to be like and what expectation level is,” Hicks said. “They just need to be consistent.”
The opposite is true for BHS offensively. Coordinator Jamoski Ward has nearly all his pieces returning, including two outstanding backs in Noah Hill and Zaahir Salahuddin and a few seasoned blockers up front.
“That side brought back so many people, so I’m hoping they’ll put points up to help out our defense while those younger guys figure everything out early in the season,” added Hicks.
The Baldwin head coach was not, however, ready to name a starting quarterback when The Union-Recorder spoke with him Wednesday. Sophomores Derrick Lewis and Gerald Kilgore have been dueling it out for starting reps in practice. Lewis came onto the scene and helped his team out in a big way last season as just a freshman. He stepped in for injured senior starter Torez Hicks on the team’s seven-game win streak that closed out the regular season and extended into the playoffs.
“They’re pretty much the same kid — not in size or stature — but in ability,” Hicks said of the two signal-callers. “Right now it’s pretty even, so it could be a toss-up as to who will start the game. Competition’s driving the bus. It always does.”
Washington County enters Saturday’s matchup coming off a 10-3 2018 campaign that saw the Hawks advance all the way to the AA state quarterfinals. The first of their 10 wins came at Baldwin’s expense as WACO left Milledgeville last year with a 19-7 season-opening victory.
“They’re going to be consistent and run the ball well,” Hicks said. “They won’t throw the ball too much. Defensively, they’ve got one of the better linemen in this area with Jabari Brooks. They’re going to be a challenge for us, but Joel (Ingram, WACO head coach) always has his kids ready to play. You can throw records and everything that’s happened before out when these two teams play.”
Hicks carried a few of his players over to Mercer earlier this week for a press conference promoting Saturday’s kickoff event. The guys enjoyed checking out the Bears’ modern facilities ahead of the big matchup. It’s part of what the Macon Touchdown Club’s Kickoff Classic is all about, giving area student-athletes the opportunity to play on a big stage and exposing them to college-level venues.
Coach Hicks wants the public to know that fan attendance and support are driving forces behind his team’s performance.
“We’ve sold a bunch of tickets, so I hope our fans will make the trip over,” the head coach said. “I was a little disappointed in how we ended last year having three home playoff games and seeing some of the opponents brought more people. I don’t think people realize what it does for our kids when they feel like they’re being supported. They’re going to play harder and at a higher level, so we want to encourage everybody to get their tickets. We want our fans to pack our side, be loud, and show our kids that we support them.”
Saturday’s kickoff between Baldwin and WACO is set for 7:30 p.m.