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Everybody doing the region shuffle
091611 SHS FOOTBALL 02
Statesboro High linebacker Reggie Owens (86) engulfs Liberty County running back Joaquin Lemapu during the third quarter in this Friday, Sept. 16, 2011, file photo. Statesboro won 17-14. Statesboro and Liberty County, former cross-region rivals in GHSA Region 2-AAAA, both moved to Region 3A-AAAA during the offseason. They join South Effingham and Wayne County in the new subregion. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

                 Area schools with new homes
                        2011 Region    New Region

Bryan County        3A-A        2-AA

Metter               3A-A        2-AA
Portal                   3B-A        3A-A
Southeast Bulloch   3-AA        1-AAA
Statesboro            2B-AAAA    3A-AAAA

    At the end of hard-fought championship games, it is often said that neither team deserves to lose. That platitude will live on, but beginning this season at least one more school in the Georgia High School Association will end their year with a win.
    When the first schools kick off their regular seasons next week, they will be competing in one of six classifications — up from the five classifications that have existed since the 2000 season.
    In this new setup, 65 teams will play in the highest level of GHSA Class-AAAAAA while 71 teams will play in AAAAA and AAAA, 70 will make up Class-AAA, 66 will compete in Class AA, and 71 will play in Class A. For some schools in the Bulloch County area, classifications and region alignments will hardly be changed. For others, 2012 will be a whole new ballgame.
    Statesboro remains in Class AAAA, but has plenty of new neighbors. The Blue Devils will now compete in Region 3 (they called Region 2 home for the last three years) and have a sub-region full of brand new rivals.
    South Effingham, Liberty County and Wayne County all competed in Region 2 last season, but Liberty and Wayne were in the sub-region opposite the Devils.
    One benefit from the reclassification shakeup is that the smaller sub-region makes it easier for Statesboro to qualify for the postseason. But that setup is also a double-edged sword as any sub-region loss now carries much more weight.
    “There’s no doubt that the margin of error is now much smaller,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “At the same time, there’s reason to be excited. We know that if we can go out there and play like we ought to, there aren’t as many teams that we have to go through.”
    Statesboro spent the last two seasons playing over its head as it was last classified as a AAA school, but petitioned to play up. Beginning this season, Statesboro will be one of the largest schools in its classification and has seen many of the perennial Class AAAA powers with which it competed for state titles move up a level.
    In fact, of all the teams ranked in the final Top-10 coaches poll last season, Statesboro is the only team that remains in Class AAAA. Plenty of new competition is sure to arise from teams that have made the move up or down into Statesboro’s classification — defending Class-AAA state champion Burke County joins Statesboro on the opposite sub-region of Region 3 — but there is no doubt that the Devils have benefitted from all of the moving around.
    “When you look at the landscape of the region, it’s nice to see that you won’t have to go through a Tucker or a Northside or other teams like that,” Pennington said. “At the same time, there are plenty of new schools with similarly great traditions that we now have to compete with.
    “I think that we see this as a great challenge and opportunity. We want to continue building upon our tradition here at Statesboro while we start new traditions in this new alignment.”
    One team that will be operating in largely the same environment is Portal. As one of the smallest football playing schools in the state, Portal knew that it would remain in Class-A. The Panthers will also have very few changes on their schedule as many of their region rivals from the last three seasons are still grouped together.
    The biggest change for the Panthers will be crossing over from the western division of Region 3-A to the eastern half. The move means that Portal will not have to take on perennial powers Emanuel County Institute and Johnson County in sub-region games — the only games that count toward state playoff eligibility — but now puts defending state champion Savannah Christian in the middle of its sub-region slate.
    Remaining in Region 3-A along with Portal are fellow area teams Claxton and Jenkins County. Both will compete in Portal’s sub-region and vie for one of the four region playoff spots available in the sub-region.
    Moving out of Region 3-A and up to Class-AA are Metter and Bryan County as both schools will begin play in Region 2-AA. Both the Redskins and Tigers have seen improvement in recent years, but will now face competition from larger schools and from a region that includes the likes of Vidalia and Toombs County.
    The only Bulloch County team to change classifications is Southeast Bulloch, which moves up a level to Class AAA.
    Moving up in classification usually means tougher competition, but the Jackets are leaving a region that has had at least two Top-10 teams in each of the last three years.
    This season, SEB reacquaints itself with an old rival in Tattnall County —which has played SEB in football more times than any other school in program history — adds other rural schools like Appling County and Pierce County, and joins up with a host of Savannah area schools.
    “From our program’s standpoint, this new region has more history,” said SEB coach Pat Collins. “A lot of the schools in our new region are schools that have traditionally been rivals for Southeast Bulloch. I think that this is a great fit for us.”
    For a Jacket program that has struggled recently, seeing a handful of Savannah schools that have also been down lately on the schedule offers an opportunity to begin a new chapter in program history.
    “Some of our new region rivals lack the program tradition of the schools that we have been playing lately,” Collins said. “But we’ll still be facing a lot of talent. It’s going to come down to how hard we work and how much we can improve ourselves, but I think that we’re all looking forward to our new region home.”
    Statesboro, SEB and Portal all begin their regular seasons Aug. 31 as the Panthers and Jackets square off in Portal while Statesboro travels to Lakeside, Evans. Southeast Bulloch plays its first Region 1-AAA game Sept. 28.
    Portal opens its sub-region schedule the next week while the Blue Devils don’t start their short sub-region schedule until Oct. 12.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.