In the battle of Region 6 vs. Region 2, we got a split, which seems fitting. Region 2’s Benedictine scored an impressive 31-10 win over Lovett in the battle of the second-place finishers, while Region 6’s Greater Atlanta Christian took a big lead early and cruised to a 34-22 win over Vidalia in the clash of the unbeatens.
We’ll start with GAC/Vidalia, because that’s the game I actually got to see.
This one was all but decided in the first eight minutes – though it should be said that Vidalia fought until the last seconds stubbornly ticked off of the clock. The Indians put themselves in a hole right off the bat on an errant punt snap and a fumble on a kickoff, resulting in 14 of GAC’s 21 first-quarter points.
Vidalia, which runs the ball almost exclusively, is just not built to overcome that kind of deficit against a team as good as the Spartans. They had a couple of chances to make a push, but each time they threatened, GAC had the answer, whether it was a third-quarter goal-line stand or a long touchdown run by Micah Abernathy.
Speaking of, when Abernathy hits the open field and turns on the jets, there’s no doubt in anybody’s mind why he’ll be playing in the SEC next year. The Tennessee commit flashed “wow” speed on touchdown runs of 70 and 48 yards Friday night, finishing with 186 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries.
The Spartans, by the way, have now beaten the teams that finished the regular season at Nos. 2 (Vidalia), 3 (Lovett) and 4 (Benedictine). Up next? No. 5 Fitzgerald.
If GAC makes it to the Dome, let no one say the Spartans haven’t earned it.
On to Fitzgerald
The Purple Hurricanes (12-1) continued their offensive onslaught in a 49-21 win over upstart Pace Academy (7-6). Fitzgerald has now scored at least 42 points in each of its seven straight wins since falling to Thomasville. During that span, they’re averaging 50.3 points per game.
As has been the case all season, the Purple Hurricanes were led Friday night by quarterback Gerald Morgan, who topped 2,000 rushing yards for the season in the win.
Brooks County survives wild tussle with Heard County
Ok, so we’ve got to skip right to the end with this one, because that’s what people are going to be talking about. The game – which Brooks County won, 35-34 – went back and forth all night, and was ultimately decided on a missed PAT in the fourth quarter.
Here’s how it went down, with a hat tip to the Times-Georgian (subscription required) for the recap: Heard County had a chance to tie it after Duranta Dunson ran in his fifth touchdown of the night. On the PAT, Brooks County was flagged for an offsides penalty, which prompted the Heard County coaching staff to opt for the go-ahead two-point conversion. But before the Braves could get the play off, they were flagged for delay of game. So Heard County sent the kicking team back out, only to miss the PAT. Initially, it looked like Brooks County would be called for roughing the kicker on the play, but the flag was picked up, the missed kick stood, and after stopping Heard County in the waning minutes, Brooks emerged with a one-point win and a trip to the semifinals.
Lost in the hub-bub: Brooks County quarterback Demontay Jones continues to deliver in the postseason. A week after guiding the Trojans to a 21-14 win over Washington-Wilkes, the 6-1, 190-pound junior accounted for all five of the Brooks County’s touchdowns, throwing for three and running for two.
Also: Duranta Dunson is really good. More on that later.
Benedictine shows no signs of slowing
The Cadets have been on an absolute tear since dropping a heart-breaking 35-28 loss to Vidalia that cost them the Region 2-AA title. Since then, they’ve won six straight, outscoring opponents 303-61. That dominance has continued through three playoff wins, none more impressive than Friday’s 31-10 win over Lovett.
The Lions finish the season at 9-4, but that record is probably deceiving. They lost 13-10 to Westminster, a Class AAA semifinalist; 27-7 to Marist, a AAAA quarterfinalist (who might’ve gone farther had they not faced Buford on Friday night); 14-7 to GAC, AA semifinalist; and now 31-10 to Benedictine, another AA semifinalist.
The Cadets are the only team to crack 30 points against the Lions all season and one of only four to hold them to fewer than 21 points. Arguably, nobody beat Lovett as soundly as Benedictine did Friday night.
After going heavily toward the running game through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Cadets went back to quarterback Stevie Powers in this one, and the senior came through, completing 13 of 20 for 305 yards and three touchdowns. That puts him very near 3,000 passing yards for the season.
The Benedictine running backs were still very much a part of the game plan, however, with sophomore John Kennedy compiling 56 rushing yards and 69 receiving yards, while senior Chance Jackson rushed for 59 yards and caught two passes for 70 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown.
Scores of high school football careers came to an end Friday night, and that’s always cause for reflection. There’s not much like strapping on the shoulder pads and all that comes with it, and when you know you’re taking them off for the last time, there’s real grief.
We pause here for those young men, and also to say a few words about four who made a special impression.
First off, Kevin Johnson, Pace Academy quarterback. Thankfully, and unlike the others on this list, we know there’s more football left to play for Johnson. He’s verbally committed to James Madison University over other, more prestigious offers, and will get a chance to do more of what he’s done over the past few weeks in the coming years. The Knights were one of the most unexpected stories of these playoffs, winning the first and second playoff games in program history after starting the season 2-5, needing a comeback win to get into the playoffs and then pulling off a pair of upsets as a No. 4 seed. Johnson, a four-year starter who left an indelible mark on his program, is a big reason why.
Willie Candler: His numbers are good – really good – but they aren’t the kind that inspire awe these days. He passed for over 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns, and ran for over 700 and 14 scores. But anybody who saw Lovett knows Candler's importance extended beyond the box score. Lovett was not a team stocked with high-end college talent in 2014. Defensive end Jack Gearon will likely play college ball somewhere, as will WR/DB Jonathan Thomas. But the driving force behind the Lions, the reason they were one of AA’s best teams, is Candler. A willing and capable runner, smart with the ball, accurate under pressure, he’s everything you could want in a high school quarterback.
File these last two under: Somebody Give Them A Scholarship, because when I last spoke with their coaches nobody had, and according to the Rivals.com database, that hasn’t changed.
Jordan Black: Mr. Everything at Vidalia, and after seeing him in person for the first time Friday night, it’s easy to see why. Black, a three-sport standout for the Indians, is lightning in a bottle. A wide receiver who took over at quarterback for his senior season, the question of what position he’ll play at the next level must be what’s preventing the scholarship offers, because I can’t imagine what else it would be. Running the Indians’ double-wing/wing-T/whatever-you-wanna-call-it offense, Black reminded me a lot of former Habersham Central QB Kevin Ellison. Unless you follow Georgia Southern (or maybe Florida – sorry, Gators) you may not know the name, but Ellison ran a similar offensive system to perfection at Habersham before moving to Statesboro. Now a redshirt sophomore, he’s about to go over 1,000 rushing yards in his second season as the Eagles starter at QB. I’m not saying Black is a shoo-in for similar success at the next level, but the kid deserves a shot. Whether it’s under center, at receiver, or in the defensive backfield (where he also starred for the Indians), he’s a legit college-caliber athlete.
Duranta Dunson: I’ll go ahead and warn y’all, somebody might have to kick the soapbox out from underneath me soon. I’m not gonna name any names here, but anybody who’s been following high school football for any significant amount of time has seen the workout warrior: the kid who may not show up on Friday night, but who can throw down a mean shuttle time in mid-June, and who (as a former co-worker once put it) looks real good in their Under Armour and as a result earns scholarship offers galore. Well, Dunson is the opposite of that. All he does is produce. I don’t know what his laser-timed 40-yard dash is, and I don’t care. This kid is a football player, and how he doesn’t have college programs beating down his door is an unfathomable mystery to me. Listen, it doesn’t have to be Alabama, but somebody needs to put this kid on roster. Friday night he ran for 216 yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries. That’ll bring his career average down (down!) to a 10.3 yards per carry. 673 carries, 6,915 yards. That puts him at sixth all-time in the state (and just 8 yards out of fourth place), despite the fact that he missed three full games due to a broken collarbone this season. He also finished with 96 career touchdowns, and he did most of that while also starting on defense, where he racked up over 100 tackles and four interceptions last year. Look, I get it. The annals of Georgia High School Football are filled with kids who did great things and then didn’t pan out at the next level. Ok, fine. Just look at this kid run the ball and tell me he’s not a player.
Look at the bracket
No more bloodletting this week, we got the final four right. And in most ways, I still feel like GAC is the most complete team – followed very closely by Benedictine – but what Fitzgerald is doing on offense right now has gotta be scary for opposing defenses. Good luck to anybody trying to corral that running game, and Morgan is putting up numbers through the air lately, as well. The Purple Hurricanes are going to be a handful for anybody.
If I had to bet right now, I still feel good about the GAC vs. Benedictine rematch for the title, but watch out for Fitzgerald. Call it a hedge, but if the Purple Hurricanes upset anybody from here on out, I won't be shocked.
Overall, we’re 23-5 through three rounds, so I haven’t been totally embarrassed. Cheers.