On Friday, we said goodbye to Callaway and Hapeville Charter as both were eliminated in the semifinals. Though I had plenty of misses in my bracket (10 games wrong out of 30), I was right about the championship game matchup which, admittedly, wasn't a bold prediction by anyone's standard. Both Benedictine and Fitzgerald have been playing the best football of any AA team all season long, so as soon as it was realized the two teams would be on opposite ends of the bracket, a title game matchup seemed all but inevitable.
And that was the case. The Cadets and Purple Hurricane bulldozed their way into the title game, winning their games by a combined average of 34.875 points. The closest margin of any of the eight games played involving the two teams was Fitzgerald's 35-16 win over Rabun County in the quarterfinals, and that was against a Wildcats team that was undefeated and averaging 53 points a game. The closest any team got to Benedictine in the playoffs was Pepperell, which the Cadets beat 51-13 in the quarterfinals. And that was against a Dragons defense that was allowing less than 10 points a game.
So here we are, with top-ranked Benedictine playing No. 2 Fitzgerald, with the kickoff scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Dome. Although both teams are worthy to call themselves state champions, only one is taking home the crown. Before the playoffs started, I pegged Benedictine to win it all. I saw the Cadets as the slightly better team based on their play thus far. Add in the fact the Cadets' season ended so abruptly last year at the hands of Fitzgerald and you have a recipe for redemption.
About that game last season: The Cadets were the defending state champions, off to a 12-0 start and on track to win another AA title. Then Fitzgerald came to Savannah and punched them in the mouth in the form of a 54-28 win.
The game started out close and Benedictine led 21-20 at halftime. At that point, the Purple Hurricane had already overcome significant Cadets momentum created when Benedictine opened the scoring with a 45-yard interception returned for a touchdown. And then the second half came. Led by AJC Super 11 selection JD King, the Purple Hurricane went on a 20-7 third quarter run and closed out the game with a 14-0 fourth quarter. And that was the game.
The all-time series is tied at 1-1, with Benedictine winning 51-7 in the second round of the 2013 playoffs.
I expect this year's game to be much closer. Both teams are strong on the line, strong in the run and are well-disciplined. In addition to being a closer game, I also envision a lower scoring game. I'll go with this final score:
Benedictine 31, Fitzgerald 24.
On Thursday, the Fitzgerald-Benedictine AA title game will be further previewed, with insights from Cadets coach Danny Britt, Purple Hurricane coach Jason Strickland and players from both teams.
- The All-Region 1-AA team was recently released, with 17 Purple Hurricane selections leading the way.
- The All-Region 4-AA team was recently released, with Screven County and Jefferson County dominating selections.
- The All-Region 7-AA team was recently released, with Chattooga's Isaac Foster earning Offensive Player of the Year honors.
- The All-Region 8-AA team was recently released. Coming as no surprise, Rabun County quarterback Bailey Fisher was named Player of the Year.
- Here's a heartwarming story from Fitzgerald Athletics of a young Purple Hurricane fan who painted a picture of AJC Super 11 selection JD King and gave it to him. King returned the favor by giving the child an 8x10 picture of himself.
- All On Georgia's Cassie Bryant recaps the Chattooga Indians' historic season. Their quarterfinal matchup with Hapeville Charter can be watched in full here.
- Here's a good shot of the Purple Hurricane celebrating their ticket to the Dome following their win over Callaway.
- If there was any question about whether Benedictine is motivated by the way their season ended last year...
- A number of players from Region 4 will participate in the CRSA Senior Bowl and CRSA Junior Bowl while more were named to the Underclassman Showcase America Team.
- Maxwell's playoff projections puts the odds of winning in Benedictine's favor.
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