The 14 high school football state finalists are averaging 39.2 points per game and more points don’t necessarily mean more passing. Defenses had better come ready to stop the run Friday and Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Only Tucker and Buford lack a 1,000-yard rusher, but both average over 43 points while running the ball five times for every pass.
The most pass-oriented finalist is Charlton County in the Class A public-school division. Charlton had less than 400 yards rushing in seven games out of a spread offense in which the quarterback passed or ran the ball himself on only almost every play.
Then the team got back its running back, sophomore Andrew Lee, who had suffered a broken arm in preseason. Lee has rushed for 1,167 yards in just six games and put Charlton back in the state finals for the first time since 2006.
‘’I know we’re not playing this week unless we got our running game going,’’ Charlton County coach Rich McWhorter said. “That’s without a doubt.’’
The only other finalists that gain more yards passing than running are Griffin, Calvary Day and North Gwinnett.
Calvary, a Savannah school in the Class A private finals, has a quarterback, Michael Peterson, who has thrown 40 touchdown passes. But the team also has a feature back in Robert Heyward, who has 1,284 yards rushing with at least 100 yards and one touchdown in each of the past five games.
North Gwinnett helped pioneer the spread offense in the highest classification when coach Bob Sphire became head coach in 2006. This year’s team has 42 touchdown passes, but in the playoffs, the offensive star has been running back C.J. Leggett, who rushed for 279 yards in a 27-21 victory over McEachern in the semifinals. Leggett is averaging 183.5 yards rushing in the playoffs.
“Against McEachern, we got caught in a scenario where they wanted to load up and stop the passing game, and they have a lot of good cover guys,’’ Sphire said. ‘’Your response has to be to run the football. If you can’t and they load up the perimeter, you’re going to lose. It’s a simple formula.’’
Griffin is perhaps the only state finalist that doesn’t feature a running back in the ground game. Quarterback Jaquez Parks has more than 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing.
The rest of Georgia’s semifinalists are run-first teams.
Norcross, North Gwinnett’s AAAAAA opponent, runs an occasional spread formation but gets about 60 percent of its yardage on the ground. Josh Boyd has rushed for 1,382 yards.
Tucker’s opponent in AAAAA, Creekside, rushed for 486 yards in its 55-10 semifinal victory over Kell. Carrollton, Griffin’s opponent in AAAA, has 3,873 yards rushing for the season (276.6 per game) from a Wing T offense.
Washington County has three 1,000-yard rushers in quarterback A.J. Gray and running backs Melvin Hill and Danyale Wicker. The Golden Hawks face Buford in the AAA final.
In AA, Lovett is relying more and more on Vanderbilt-committed running back Grant Haley, who had not carried the ball 20 times until the past two games. He has rushed for 1,420 yards, gaining at least 100 in six straight games. Lovett will face a Wing T team with two 1,000-yard rushers as Lamar County features quarterback Lance Austin (1,097 yards) and running back Lawrence Austin (1,348), brothers who have committed to Georgia Tech.
The opponents of Calvary Day and Charlton County in the A finals each have a feature back. Marion County’s Johnny Royal has rushed for 1,390 yards in an offense that attempts fewer than 10 passes per game. Aquinas junior Ruben Garnett has rushed for 1,820 yards.
“If you run for 250 yards and pass for 150, that’s balance,” Charlton’s McWhorter said. “But another definition is whether you can run or pass when you want to. We’re going to do what you allow us. If it means we’ve got to pound it out, we’ll pound it out.”
Points per game averages among Georgia’s 14 state finalists:
49.9 - Washington County
48.0 - Buford
44.4 - Carrollton
43.2 - Tucker
42.2 - Lamar County
41.8 - Griffin
41.7 - Creekside
39.5 - North Gwinnett
38.5 - Calvary Day
37.0 - Aquinas
33.2 - Marion County
32.8 - Lovett
28.7 - Norcross
27.2 - Charlton County