Before Friday, we will look at all 16 first-round matchups in Class AAAA. But Today, we get started with the left side of the bracket and breakdown each of the eight matchups.
R8 #3 Oconee County at R6 #2 Northwest Whitfield
Northwest Whitfield rebounded from three-straight losses in September to close the season with five straight victories and home field in the first round. The Bruins have used an explosive 39.8 points per game on offense the past five games to help a leaky defense that has surrendered 22.6 points per game this season. Oconee County comes in battle tested out of the top-heavy Region 8 with Jefferson and Stephens County. Oconee County has had a strong season at 7-3, but will need to get the taste of a 31-7 loss to Jefferson in the season finale out of its mouth and return to form.
R2 #4 Upson-Lee at R4 #1 Woodward Academy
Upson-Lee faces No. 3 ranked Woodward Academy for the third time in school history on Friday. The Knights won the last matchup 6-3 in 2011, but this Woodward offense has the explosiveness to light up the scoreboard at a record pace, while keeping opponents to the same single-digit standard defensively that Upson-Lee saw five years ago. The War Eagles have held their last eight opponents to single digits, including four shutouts and a 3 points per game average.
R1 #3 Northside-Columbus at R3 #2 Burke County
Burke County boasts a solid defense, that was good enough to be the only team that held No. 2 Thomson to less than 35 points this season (20-7). Veteran coach Eric Parker is in his 20th season as a head coach and is in the playoffs for the 17th consecutive year. Northside-Columbus has posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in school history and will look for its first playoff win since a 41-32 win over Monroe in November of 2005.
R7 #4 Chestatee at R5 #1 Cartersville
After plowing through the first nine games of the regular season, Cartersville faced Troup last Friday night with the Region 5 No. 1 seed up for grabs. With the stakes high, the Purple Hurricanes looked more dominant than ever, cruising to a 68-0 victory, the largest margin of victory in school history for a school-record 25th straight win. Trey Creamer punched in six touchdowns, five rushing and one receiving, while the defense forced five turnovers in the shutout.
R6 #3 Heritage-Catoosa at R8 #2 Stephens County
Heritage-Catoosa is one win away from posting a school-record eight victories and makes its first-ever playoff appearance. The Generals closed the season with their biggest win, traveling to Pickens to defeat the Dragons 48-35. This is the first meeting between the two schools, but Stephens County head coach Frank Barden has led his teams into the playoffs 15 times over his impressive 23-year career. Junior Bell Jackson is an athletic two-sport athlete that Stephens County will look to spark plays under center.
R4 #4 North Clayton at R2 #1 Mary Persons
Mary Persons and North Clayton is another first-time matchup slated in the opening round. North Clayton sits at 5-5 which marks its largest win total since a 7-4 finish in 2011. The Eagles are led by first-year head coach Cap Burnett, who will need his team to regain its footing after a 34-0 blowout loss against Eastside to close the regular season. Mary Persons went 5-0 in Region 2 to take the top seed and hasn’t lost to a Class 4A opponent this season. The Bulldogs defense has held five offenses scoreless this season if you include the 14-2 victory over West Laurens.
R3 #3 Cross Creek at R1 #2 Carver-Columbus
From 2006-2013, Carver-Columbus won 96 games over that eight-year span. The Tigers have failed to advance past the first round in the two seasons since, and enter this postseason with a 6-4 record. Carver-Columbus earned the No. 2 seed out of Region 1, which is the biggest region in the classification and was the most competitive region this season. A competitive 35-28 loss at region champion Cairo proved the Tigers are not far from picking up a stride that could lead to playoff success. Cross Creek was dominated by Burke County and Thomson in Region 3, but so were the other three region opponents. As a result, the Razorbacks put together victories over Hephzibah, Richmond Academy and Baldwin in region play to clinch the school’s first playoff appearance since 2007. Cross Creek posted back-to-back 1-9 seasons and eight straight years without a winning record before this year’s turnaround.
R5 #4 Chapel Hill at R7 #1 Blessed Trinity
After going 2-18 the past two seasons, Justin DeShon leads the Panthers into the playoffs with a 5-4-1 record. Chapel Hill has already faced Starr’s Mill, Troup, Sandy Creek and Cartersville this season, so the Panthers know what type of challenge they face with a talented team like Blessed Trinity. The Titans are back in the playoffs and motivated to make another run to the Dome after last year’s last second heartbreaker to Westminster. The Titans’ two losses this season came in Tennessee and Dublin, Ireland and they have compiled an 8-0 record against Georgia opponents. A 28-26 win at Marist on Oct. 21 already gave this year's Titans a taste of a playoff atmosphere.