Playoff preview: Georgia high school football semifinals

by: GHSF Daily Updated:

The Kell High Longhorns take the field during their home game against the Warner Robins Demons at Corky Kell Stadium Friday, Nov. 29, 2013.


Colquitt County at Norcross

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Norcross Stadium, Norcross

Records, rankings: Colquitt County is 11-2, the No. 2 seed from Region 1 and No. 3; Norcross 11-2, the No. 1 seed from Region 7 and No. 5.

Last meeting: Norcross won 41-27 in the 2012 Class AAAAAA semifinals.

Three things to know: 1. Alabama freshman Alvin Kamara, the AJC’s all-class player of the year last season, had a huge game for Norcross in the 2012 semifinal game between these teams. He rushed for 133 yards and scored on a 65-yard reception. That is the only time these teams have played a true game, although they’ve met in preseason scrimmages the past two seasons, with Norcross winning both. 2. Colquitt County QB Daniel Mobley is 52-of-78 passing (66.7 percent) for 602 yards and five touchdowns in the playoffs. He completed only 52.4 percent of his passes in the regular season. He has 2,391 yards passing on the season. RB Sihiem King has rushed for 1,392 yards and 17 touchdowns, at least one in each game. LB Quintin Hampton has 30 tackles for losses, at least one in every game since the opener. 3. Norcross has 11 sacks for 71 yards in losses in the past two games, more than a third of the team’s season total of 32. DT Dorian Kithcart has four, and DT Khyree Lee and Super 11 DE Lorenzo Carter have two each. The players to watch on offense are QB A.J. Bush (103-of-202 passing, 1,548 yards, 13 TDs) and RB Josh Boyd (1,265 yards rushing, 13 TDs).

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Norcross by 5

North Gwinnett at McEachern

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Walter H. Cantrell Stadium, Powder Springs

Records, rankings: North Gwinnett is 12-1, the No. 3 seed from Region 7 and No. 1; McEachern is 11-2, the No. 3 seed from Region 4 and unranked.

Last meeting: McEachern won 26-17 in the 2011 Corky Kell Classic.

Three things to know: 1. Both teams are seeking their second appearance in the state finals. Both lost championship games in Valdosta – North Gwinnett to Lowndes in 2007, McEachern to Valdosta in 1998. North Gwinnett is trying to become the first team to win four consecutive games on an opponent’s home field to reach a title game. 2. Both teams have overcome injuries to their quarterbacks. McEachern’s Ty Clemons played briefly in the quarterfinals but might be close to 100 percent Friday. He has rushed for 1,171 yards. Freshman Bailey Hockman is 56-of-117 passing for 965 yards in his place. North Gwinnett’s Hayden Sphire has thrown for 2,385 yards and 31 touchdowns on the season. He is 42-of-75 passing for 565 yards and four touchdowns in the three playoff games, or since his return from a leg injury that sidelined him for 2.5 games. North Gwinnett is 10-0 when he starts and finishes a game this season. 3. North Gwinnett RB C.J. Leggett and McEachern RB Taj Griffin have been outstanding in the playoffs. Leggett has rushed for 1,349 yards for the season but 455 with seven touchdowns in the playoffs and at least 133 yards rushing in each playoff game. Griffin, a highly recruited junior, has rushed for 1,175 yards, including 155 last week in a victory over Collins Hill.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: North Gwinnett by 8


Kell at Creekside

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Arrowhead Stadium, Fairburn

Records, rankings: Kell is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 7 and No. 2; Creekside is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 4 and No. 4.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Jay Moxey has run for 1,402 yards and 17 touchdowns for Kell, which averages 400 yards per game in total offense, including 228.7 rushing. In five games since taking over as the starter after an injury to Matthew McGuigan, QB Cameron Rosendahl is 61-of-89 passing (68.5 percent) for 723 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions. WR Julian Burris has 774 yards receiving, 264 yards rushing and 530 in return yardage. 2. Creekside’s Felix Harper passed for 2,092 yards during the regular season and had 172 yards in a 41-14 victory against North Paulding last week. But the Seminoles are perhaps better known for a defense that allows 12.5 points per game, best among the remaining teams. Creekside has not allowed more than 23 points in any game and has held nine of 13 opponents to two touchdowns or less. 3. Kell, which opened in 2003, has set a school record with its 13 victories and is in the semifinals for the first time. Creekside, which opened in 1990, is in the semifinals for the first time since 2000 and second time overall. The Seminoles lost to Statesboro in the 2000 semis and finished 13-1.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Creekside by 8

Gainesville at Tucker

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Hallford Stadium, Clarkston

Records, rankings: Gainesville is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 8 and No. 3; Tucker is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 6 and No. 1.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Gainesville QB Deshaun Watson, who holds the state record for career passing yardage and passing touchdowns, is closing in on another milestone. Watson has 3,584 passing yards this season and needs 416 more to become the first player in state history with two 4,000-yard seasons. Watson, Hutson Mason (Lassiter, 2009) and Taylor Heinicke (Collins Hill, 2010) are the only players to do it once. 2. Tucker PK Eric Webber kicked two field goals and two extra points in a 29-0 victory over Ware County last week to break the DeKalb County record for kicking points in a season. Webber is 62-for-65 on extra points and 10-for-11 on field goals for 92 points, breaking the record of 90 set by Dunwoody’s Austin Breed in 2008. The Tigers are dangerous returning kicks, too. Yaquis Shelley has returned four kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns, and Dominick Sanders has scored on two punt returns. 3. This game matches the defending state champion (Gainesville) against the top-ranked team (Tucker, which won the title in 2011). Gainesville is in the semifinals for the fourth time in five years, while Tucker is making its fifth semifinal appearance in seven seasons.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Gainesville by 2

Class AAAA

Wayne County at Griffin

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Memorial Stadium, Griffin

Records, rankings: Wayne County is 11-2, the No. 2 seed from Region 3 and No. 7; Griffin is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 4 and No. 2.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Both teams have major contenders for offensive player of the year in AAAA. Wayne County WR Krenwick Sanders has 59 receptions for 1,402 yards and 23 touchdowns. He has scored 29 touchdowns overall. Griffin QB Jaquez Parks has 2,948 yards passing and 999 yards rushing. He has thrown 23 TD passes and scored 15 touchdowns. 2. Both teams have standout players beyond Sanders and Parks. Wayne County DL Jeremy Patterson, committed to Wisconsin, has 22 tackles for losses, 12 sacks and seven forced fumbles. Griffin RB Malik Miller has rushed for 782 yards and has 35 catches for 358 yards. He has scored 14 touchdowns. 3. Griffin has not reached a state championship game since 1980. No other school has won more playoff games since 1980 without reaching the finals than Griffin (31). Wayne County has not been to a state final since 1959, when the Yellow Jackets beat Rossville for the Class AA title.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Griffin by 29

Carrollton at Marist

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Hughes Spalding Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Carrollton is 12-1, the No. 2 seed from Region 5 and No. 4; Marist is 11-2, the No. 1 seed from Region 6 and No. 5.

Last meeting: Marist won 43-37 in five overtimes in the second round of the 2012 Class AAAA playoffs.

Three things to know: 1. The 2012 game, won by Marist in five overtimes, had several make-or-break plays. The score was 14-14 in the final minutes when Carrollton attempted a 42-yard field goal that was blocked. Carrollton converted a fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the second overtime. Both teams stopped two-point tries in the fourth overtime. Marist’s goal was to stop the run, and Carrollton QB Will Garrett, who normally throws less than 10 times per game, was 23-of-38 passing for 255 yards. 2. Carrollton has four backs with at least 13 touchdowns. They are RB Jarvis Terrell (984 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns), Malik Sheppard (838, 13), Trey Chivers (719, 14) and Garrett (524, 13). Garrett also has 13 TD passes. The three running backs help in the return game and have more than 1,100 all-purpose yards. 3. Marist QB Chase Martensen has scored 10 touchdowns and rushed for 302 yards in the three playoff games. He also has thrown three TD passes in only 19 attempts. Marist didn’t attempt a pass in a 42-20 victory over Burke County in the quarterfinals. Marist’s option-based offense spreads the carries among Martenson (1,100 yards rushing), Marcus Miller (868), Griffin King (788) and Matt Perez (602).

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Carrollton by 12

Class AAA

Callaway at Buford

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Records, rankings: Callaway is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 4 and No. 5; Buford is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 7 and No. 1.

Last meeting: Buford won 52-14 in the second round of the 2010 Class AA playoffs.

Three things to know: 1. This will be Callaway’s second consecutive game against one of last year’s Class AAA finalists after beating 2012 runner-up St. Pius 35-21 last week. The Cavaliers got 143 yards rushing from Eddie Culpepper and 132 from QB Tez Parks, and both scored two touchdowns, in that game. But the victory wasn’t secure until LB Dre Martin returned an interception 42 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. 2. Buford has scored 648 points in 13 games, an average of 49.8, and needs 35 more to break the state record for points in a season, currently held by the 2006 Dublin team with 682. Buford’s current total is the fifth-best in state history. The Wolves’ 2007 team fell just short of the record with 681 points. Buford has given up just 78 points and has not allowed more than 14 points in any game. 3. Buford, which will be moving to Class AAAA next season, has won nine state championships, including eight since 2001. The Wolves are one victory away from playing in their seventh consecutive championship game (they were 5-1 in the previous six trips). Callaway opened in 1996 and is in the semifinals for the first time.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Buford by 29

Ringgold at Washington County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, House of Pain, Sandersville

Records, rankings: Ringgold is 11-2, the No. 2 seed from Region 5 and unranked; Washington County is 12-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 3 and No. 3.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Ringgold QB Slade Dale has passed for 1,809 yards and 19 touchdowns and is the team’s leading rusher with 1,397 yards and 23 TDs. Kile Sholl has rushed for 826 yards and is the team’s leading receiver with 39 catches for 639 yards. The leaders on defense are LB Dakota Baer (165 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss) and lineman Zach Morris (91 tackles, 13 sacks, 24 tackles for loss). 2. Washington County has three 1,000-yard rushers in Melvin Hill, quarterback A.J. Gray and Danyale Wicker. Gray ran for 248 yards and six touchdowns in a 56-16 victory over Peach County in the second round. Last week, Hill rushed for 235 yards and five touchdowns in a 46-17 quarterfinal victory over Blessed Trinity. Washington County is averaging 52.7 points in its three playoff games. 3. Ringgold is in the semifinals for the first time. The Tigers first played in the GHSA in 1949 but never had won a state playoff game until this season. Washington County is in the semifinals for the 10th time since 1992 but first since 2006. The Golden Hawks went 15-0 and won state championships in 1994, 1996 and 1997.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Washington County by 29

Class AA

Benedictine at Lamar County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Trojan Field, Barnesville

Records, rankings: Benedictine is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 2 and No. 6; Lamar County is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 4 and No. 1.

Last meeting: Lamar County won 24-21 in the second round of the 2012 Class AA playoffs.

Three things to know: 1. Lamar County RB Lawrence Austin has rushed for 183, 250 and 129 yards in the playoffs after averaging 76 per game in the regular season, when he often was taken out when games were in hand. His brother, QB Lance Austin, has 967 yards rushing on the season. Lance Austin averages fewer than four pass attempts per game but has at least one TD pass in 10 of 13 games and has thrown only one interception. 2. Benedictine is primarily a running team. J.J. Gaines (907 yards rushing), Chance Jackson (785) and Mike Huggins (685) have scored 46 touchdowns, and each has at least one 100-yard rushing game in the playoffs. QB Stevie Powers, no threat to run, is 65-of-97 passing for 1,500 yards. Benedictine’s defensive highlights are well-shared. Ten players have at least one interception, and 11 players have at least one sack. 3. The winner will be making its first state finals appearance. Lamar County made the semifinals in 2012 and lost to Calhoun 21-14. Benedictine has made the semifinals twice, most recently in 1978, when beaten by Valdosta 23-0.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Benedictine by 10

Brooks County at Lovett

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Martin E. Kilpatrick Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Brooks County is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 1 and No. 7; Lovett is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 6 and No. 2.

Last meeting: Lovett won 35-18 in the 2010 Class AA quarterfinals.

Three things to know: 1. Lovett RB Grant Haley, a preseason all-state pick who is committed to Vanderbilt, has rushed for 1,300 yards, but it has been only recently that he has become the feature back. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in five consecutive games, peaking with his 219-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 35-33 victory over Laney last week. 2. Brooks County hopes that AJC Super 11 QB Malkom Parrish is OK. He was hobbled by a leg injury that limited his running last week in a 42-26 victory over Bowdon but threw five TD passes, two to Deric Herring, one a 70-yarder. 3. This will be the third time in six seasons that one of these teams has beaten the other in the state playoffs. Brooks County won 33-32 in 2008, and Lovett won 35-18 in 2010. Those were quarterfinals. Lovett is trying to reach the state finals for the first time since 2009 but is 1-8 in semifinal games since its 1970 Class B championship season. Brooks County is 0-2 in semifinals since its 1994 Class A championship season.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Lovett by 18

Class A (public)

Charlton County at Irwin County

When, where: 8 p.m. Friday, Indian Field, Ocilla

Records, rankings: Charlton County is 8-4, the No. 9 seed and unranked; Irwin County is 10-1-1, the No. 4 seed and ranked No. 6.

Last meeting: Irwin County won 29-26 in the regular-season finale on Nov. 8.

Three things to know: 1. Charlton County QB Trae Harrington passed for more than 1,400 yards during the regular season, but the Indians have gotten a boost in the running game with the return of Andrew Lee, who missed seven games with an injury. Lee rushed for 273 yards in three regular-season games but has run for 501 in two playoff victories. 2. Irwin County has two 1,000-yard rushers in Region 2-A player of the year Antuanne Merritt and Jakyron Young. Merritt has rushed for 1,056 yards and 18 touchdowns on 155 attempts, while Young has 1,051 yards and 12 TDs on 118 carries. They combined for 255 yards and three scores in a 56-26 victory over Johnson County last week. Both also are valuable on defense. Merritt has 49 tackles, four sacks and six tackles for loss. Young has 31 tackles, four interceptions and three tackles for loss. 3. Irwin County won the regular-season meeting between the 2-A rivals when Eric Contreras kicked a 33-yard field goal with 3.3 seconds remaining in a game that essentially decided second place in the region. A second victory against Charlton would put Irwin County in the final for the first time since 1997. Charlton County last played for a championship in 2006, when it tied Dublin to share the Class AA title.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Irwin County by 5

Hawkinsville at Marion County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Eagle Stadium, Buena Vista

Records, rankings: Hawkinsville is 9-3, the No. 6 seed and unranked; Marion County is 11-1, the No. 2 seed and unranked.

Last meeting: Hawkinsville won 14-10 in the regular season on Nov. 1.

Three things to know: 1. Hawkinsville is primarily a running team, averaging 281 rushing yards per game. The Red Devils have one 1,000-yard rusher (Dontavious Grace, 140 carries for 1,067 yards) and another player closing in (J.D. Burden, 148 carries for 937 yards). Burden rushed for 197 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-8 victory over Clinch County last week. QB Dakota Sloan attempts less than four passes per game. 2. Marion County’s offense is slightly more balanced, averaging 178.5 yards rushing and 74.8 passing. QB Justin Eckert is 61-of-109 passing for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns and has rushed for 387 yards on 65 carries. The offensive leader, however, is Johnny Royal, who has rushed for 1,316 yards and 20 touchdowns and has scored at least once in 11 of the Eagles’ 12 games. 3. Hawkinsville’s victory against its Region 4-A rival was Marion County’s only loss of the season. Sloan was 1-for-2 passing for 62 yards and rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown. Travon Batton (54 yards), Grace (51) and Burden (43) all had at least eight carries and 43 yards rushing. Marion County’s Royal had a game-best 66 yards on 19 carries.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Marion County by 6

Class A (private)

Calvary Day at Eagle’s Landing Christian

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Commitment Field, McDonough

Records, rankings: Calvary Day is 10-2, the No. 4 seed and ranked No. 8; Eagle’s Landing Christian is 11-0, the No. 1 seed and ranked No. 1.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Calvary Day has won 10 consecutive games since an 0-2 start, and QB Michael Peterson has thrown for at least two TD passes in each of the 10 victories. He has 2,719 yards passing and 36 touchdowns with only three interceptions. RB Robert Heyward rushed for 177 yards in a 33-14 victory over Prince Avenue Christian last week, putting him over 1,000 yards (1,164) on the season. Calvary Day is the only team with a 2,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the Class A semifinals. 2. ELCA is without preseason all-state QB Dalton Etheridge (season-ending leg injury), perhaps the top dual-threat quarterback in Class A. Sophomore Jordan Long (4-for-7 passing, 87 yards) made his first varsity start in last week’s 24-10 victory over Darlington. The go-to player on offense is now RB Lane Timpson, who has rushed for 897 yards on the season. He’s averaging 113 yards rushing in the two playoff games plus the Landmark Christian victory that clinched a region title. DL Andrew Williams has more than 25 tackles for losses. 3. ELCA has won 18 consecutive games and 42 of its last 43 against Georgia private schools. ELCA has one common opponent with Calvary Day. ELCA beat Landmark Christian 35-0. Landmark beat Calvary Day 30-22.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Eagle’s Landing Christian by 19

Aquinas at Mount Pisgah Christian

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Savior Field, Johns Creek

Records, rankings: Aquinas is 12-0, the No. 3 seed and ranked No. 3; Mount Pisgah Christian is 12-0, the No. 2 seed and ranked No. 5.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Mount Pisgah QB Aaron Winchester had perhaps the best game of his career in the quarterfinals against Holy Innocents’ when he passed for 222 yards and rushed for 154. For the season, Winchester is 144-of-262 passing for 2,204 yards and 31 touchdowns and has rushed for 850 yards and two touchdowns. 2. Aquinas RB Ruben Garnett has rushed for 1,709 yards and 20 touchdowns but was banged up and limited to 41 in a 35-32 victory over Mount Paran Christian last week. In his place, freshman Connor Sweeney and junior Daniel Lindsey each rushed for 100 yards. Aquinas has one of the state’s top place-kickers in Justin Thompson, who is 11 of 12 on field goals with two 48-yarders. 3. Both teams have first-year coaches. They are Mike Forester of Mount Pisgah Christian and James Leonard of Aquinas. No first-year coach has won a state title since 2004 or finished unbeaten and untied since 1959.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Mount Pisgah Christian by 6

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