We've reached the quarterfinals of the AA playoffs which means if your team is playing, you're not leaving town for Thanksgiving. But there's a silver lining for those teams: You're also two wins away from a state championship. Since Thursday marks Turkey Day, this will be the week's only blog post until Saturday. So today we will: take a look at the current bracket and how it compares to my predictions; preview Friday's games; take a look at the AA in brief.
As was discussed on Saturday, the makeup of the final eight isn't all surprising. Seven of the eight teams are No. 1 seeds, with the only top seed eliminated being the Washington County Golden Hawks. They were beat on Friday by the tournament's biggest surprise, the Chattooga Indians.
As far as my predictions (pictured above) go, I correctly picked five of the eight remaining teams. I would have done much better had I simply picked all No. 1 seeds to advance this far, but what's the fun in that? I had my reasons for underestimating Hapeville Charter and also flat-out missed on Region 7, which has both Pepperell and the Indians alive. As far as Chattooga goes, I should have just stuck with my gut and followed through with my preseason dark horse pick.
The storyline of this tournament so far is the No. 1 seeds, for the most part, are taking care of business. That may not seem like much of a story, but it is when you consider Class AA has more No. 1 seeds left than any other classification. (Class A is excluded from this conversation because its tournaments -- both public and private subdivisions -- follow a different format). And the Indians are in exclusive company as a No. 3 seed. Of the 24 No. 3 seeds across six tournaments, the Indians are one of five remaining. There's also a No. 4 seed out there in AAAAAA with Coffee.
So while the No. 1 seed isn't always the obvious choice to advance, Class AA represents the counterargument to that notion.
(be sure to check out GHSF Daily's Class AA previews, which will be released on Wednesday. Go here to subscribe to the newsletter.)
Callaway Cavaliers at Screven County Gamecocks
Records: Callaway is 12-0 and a No. 1 seed from Region 5; Screven County is 11-1 and a No. 1 seed from Region 4.
All-time series: First meeting.
Maxwell's projection: Callaway by 18
Outlook: Both teams are undefeated against Peach State teams, with the Gamecocks' lone loss coming to South Carolina's Bluffton by a score of 32-25. Bluffton, by the way, entered its postseason as the No. 2 team in the state in AAA and has also advanced to the quarterfinals.
The Cavs disposed of Model (55-20) in the first round and are coming off a 28-14 win Friday over the Brooks County Trojans. The Trojans, who have battled injuries to key players all season, made the Cavs sweat a little as they built a 14-0 first quarter lead over Callaway. Trailing early wasn't a common position for the Cavs to be in, so it was good for them that they were able to punch back. It was a good test for key players including quarterback Dylan Johnson, receiver Braylon Sanders, running back DJ Atkins and defensive back Dominic Copeland, all of whom came up big last week.
The Gamecocks beat Toombs County 35-9 in the first round and hung on to beat Douglass 28-20 in the second round. CJ Wright was the difference for Screven County, rushing for nearly 200 yards and scoring three of its four scores and had the game-ending sack on defense. He'll need to play a big role again for the Gamecocks to advance.
There's one state title between the two schools and that comes from the Gamecocks, which won AAA in 2002. The Cavs are projected to win by two-plus scores and has more Division I caliber athletes than Screven County so they make for an obvious choice to win. That's why I'm picking the upset for the Gamecocks, who won the coin toss to host the game.
Pepperell Dragons at Benedictine Cadets
Records: Pepperell is 10-1 and the No. 1 seed from Region 7; Benedictine is 12-0 and the No. 1 seed from Region 2.
All-time series: First meeting
Maxwell's projection: Benedictine by 22
Outlook: The Cadets put their perfect record on the line against the Dragons, who are on a nine-game win streak.
The Dragons have an offense, led by running back Tae Hammond, capable of putting up a lot of points in a hurry but they might be even better on defense. The most points they've allowed all season was 20 in their only loss, which came at the hands of AAAA's Cedartown, a team that failed to reach the state playoffs. In the Dragons' 10 wins they've allowed an average of just 8.9 points.
However, the Dragons defense will be put to the ultimate test by the Cadets offense, led by athlete Wesley Kennedy and quarterback Nick Iannone. In only three games have they scored less than 47 points, and those were three of the first four games of the season. And in the playoffs they're averaging 53.5 points while allowing 3.5. They have the defense to match the Dragons as well, as their season high for points allowed is also 20, which came in a 28-point win over Bryan County. They're allowing just an average of 7.3 points.
The projections aren't giving the Dragons much of a chance and I tend to agree, especially with the game being played in Savannah. The Cadets have been on a mission ever since last year's disappointing end, which came in the quarterfinals against Fitzgerald -- their only loss of the season. I do expect the Dragons to keep the score closer than the projections, however, because of the level they're playing at heading into Friday.
Rabun County Wildcats at Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane
Records: Rabun County is 11-0 and the No. 1 seed from Region 8; Fitzgerald is 11-1 and the No. 1 seed from Region 1.
All-time series: First meeting
Maxwell's projection: Fitzgerald by 5
Outlook: The Purple Hurricane are aiming to return to the state title game, where they lost last year to Pace Academy, now in Class AAA. Their lone loss came to a Tift County team that reached the playoffs in the high class. The Wildcats completed the first undefeated regular season in program history.
This game will come down to whether the Purple Hurricane defense can do what no other team has been able to do this year: slow down the Wildcats offense led by quarterback Bailey Fisher and running back Cal Drummond. Fisher leads AA with 2,442 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. He has just six interceptions and a QB rating of 139.1.
The best way for Fitzgerald to limit the Wildcats' offense is to keep it off the field, and the Purple Hurricane have a way to do just that: AJC Super 11 selection JD King. The senior running back will need to dominate in the ground game as he's done his entire prep career -- he has more than 5,000 career rushing yards -- to ensure the Purple Hurricane control time of possession.
The projections have this being a close game and for good reason. It should be competitive and, with home-field advantage and a drive for redemption from last season, Fitzgerald should prevail.
Chattooga Indians at Hapeville Charter Hornets
Records: The Indians are 8-4 and a No. 3 seed from Region 7; the Hornets are 9-3 and a No. 1 seed from Region 6.
All-time series: First meeting.
Maxwell's projection: Hapeville Charter by 4.
Outlook: The Indians are AA's Cinderella, not expected to make it this far and the lowest remaining seed. They rebounded from a 35-10 loss to Pepperell in the regular season finale to beat Lamar County and Washington County by a combined score of 82-21, their first two playoff wins in school history. Speaking of first-ever playoff wins, the Hornets are in the postseason for the first time in their brief history, which dates back to 2011.
The Hornets are an eight-game win streak after starting the season 1-3. They ran the tables on the revamped Region 6 that's devoid of Atlanta's private schools. They are led by UGA commit William Poole III on defense, with receiver Adunte Devereux and quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams the players to look out for on offense.
The Indians are led by twins Isaac and Isaiah Foster who dominate in the backfield as a quarterback-running back tandem. How the Hornets respond to the Fosters will go a long ways in determining the game's outcome.
The projections have this game almost too close to call, but I'll stick to my preseason dark horse favorite of Chattooga to pull out the upset.
AA in brief:
- Douglass coach Rodney Cofield admitted to High5Sports he didn't know where Screven County was when he first learned his Astros would be playing them on the road in Round 2. It's 200 miles east of Douglass and the Astros traveled well, coming up just short in a 28-20 loss. It was Cofield's first trip to the state playoffs with Douglass since taking over in 2012 and the Astros' first-round victory was their first playoff win since 2007. Here's more from Fox 5 on Douglass.
- Jason Strickland earned his 50th career win at Fitzgerald with the Purple Hurricane's No. 4 win over Thomasville.
- Barry Every of Recruit Georgia broke down both Fitzgerald and Dublin in their Round 1 matchup.
- The Chattooga Indians community is showing off their school spirit for the Indians' historic playoff run. Here are some highlights from WGXA TV of their win over Washington County. Here's the writeup on the Indians' win from USA Today.
- Pepperell coach Rick Hurst offered his sincere apologies for advancing the Dragons to the quarterfinals, which may have spoiled Thanksgiving plans for some. Go here to purchase tickets online for Friday's game.
- Check out highlights of Rabun County's win over Vidalia courtesy of Blitz.
- Former Berrien coach Ed Pilcher was recently named to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, with the induction ceremony taking place in June.
- Access WDUN's Morgan Lee opines that Rabun County is both hungry and able to reach the Georgia Dome.
- Of the eight known coaching vacancies around the state, two are in AA -- Jeff Davis and Therrell.
Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.