On Friday, the four remaining teams in Class AA play to determine which two reach the Georgia Dome for their chance at a state title. The four teams remaining: Callaway, Hapeville Charter, Fitzgerald and Benedictine.
Three of the four remaining teams are holdovers from last year's AA. Only the Callaway Cavaliers are new to AA, coming from AAA following the reclassification. What's developing as one of the biggest surprises of the tournament is the possibility the state title could again come from Region 6, the region that owns two of the last three titles. That's where the Hapeville Charter Hornets reside, and they've represented Region 6 well after the realignment moved all of the region's private schools to other classifications.
The Hornets are enjoying a historic run. Heading into the season, they'd never been to the state playoffs. They always lost out to GAC, Wesleyan, Pace Academy and Lovett. In fact, before last year they'd never had a winning season since the program debuted in 2011. But this season everything has come together under coach Winston Gordon, the only coach the Hornets have ever had.
On Sept. 16 the Hornets lost to Cartersville 38-7. Cartersville is the No. 1 team in AAAA, led by the nation's top prospect in Trevor Lawrence, and that team is on a 28-game win streak as it heads into the semifinals. With the Cartersville loss, the Hornets sat at 1-3 heading into region play. They haven't lost since. Everything they've done since Sept. 16 has helped to make program history, which includes most wins in a season, their first region title, their first playoff wins and...their first state championship, perhaps?
On the other side of the bracket, the Cavs dented my bracket (pictured above), surviving at Screven County by the skin of their teeth in an unbelievable 35-34 win. As the LaGrange Daily News' Kevin Eckleberry reports, the Cavs drove 98 yards with a little more than two minutes remaining to steal the game with 17 seconds left.
Callaway is another relatively young program, coming to be in 1996. The Cavs' success has been fast-tracked, as they were winning by their third season. They only have seven losing seasons overall, and the last one came in 2006, when they finished 5-6 with a first-round AA playoff loss. This is their second stint in AA, where they resided from 2000-2011, advancing as far as the quarterfinals in 2009. They played in AAA from 2012-2015 and were highly competitive, going 39-11, reaching the semifinals in 2013. This is the Cavs' second-ever time reaching the semifinals, and like the Hornets, they're seeking their first state title.
Even though the Hornets and Cavs are oh-so-close to reaching the Georgia Dome to take a crack at a state title, they both have to huge roadblocks in their way. The Hornets will play at the No. 2 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane, and the Cavs play at the No. 1 Benedictine Cadets.
My bracket speaks for itself as to what I think the outcome of those games will be. But when the players hit the field, predictions and Maxwell Projections go out the window. Both the Cavs and Hornets are worthy of being in the semifinals, but the Purple Hurricane and Cadets have recent history on their side. Benedictine won it all in 2014 and have now won 33 of their last 34, while Fitzgerald reached the AA championship last year and returns its core from that team.
We'll discuss the semifinals matchups further on Thursday.
AA in brief:
- WJCL 22 in Savannah recently covered players from Benedictine being honored by the Savannah QB Club. Speaking of rewards, Cadets star Wesley Kennedy won the Michael Finocchiaro Memorial Outstanding Football Player trophy, given to the best high school player in Chatham County as selected by coaches and media.
- Speaking of the Cadets, here's footage of Tyleek Collins' big night against Pepperell.
- Here's highlights of Benedictine's win from WSAV.
- Here's a preview of the Callaway-Benedictine game from WJCL 22.
- Any time a team reaches the state quarterfinals, they have earned my respect. I just didn't think the Pepperell Dragons could beat Benedictine in Savannah.
- Callaway didn't seem to mind practicing on Thanksgiving Day. It certainly paid off. Here's footage of the long touchdown pass with 17 seconds that won it for the Cavs. Here's footage of the game ending.
- The bad news from the Callaway-Screven County game: Emotions were destined to run high after such an incredible finish, and apparently some of those emotions turned into violent action.
- There's a GoFundMe account out there with a stated purpose to help Callaway with its travel expenses as the Cavs make the 520-mile roundtrip commute to play Benedictine. You can contribute here.
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