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Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Class AAA Quarterfinal preview

The quarterfinals of the Class AAA playoffs feature four highly anticipated games among eight programs with championship pedigrees. The final eight teams feature six ranked programs -- including the top 5 -- and five region champions. Westminster and Pike are the only teams left in the bracket that did not win region championships. Westminster finished the regular season as the No. 3 seed from Region 5, and Pike County finished as the No. 3 seed from Region 4. Pike and Liberty, despite trudging through to the quarterfinals, were unranked at the end of the regular season.

Here are the matchups:

Greater Atlanta Christian at Jenkins

The top matchup provides a growing Jenkins team an opportunity to answer the question that has been posed to Savannah teams for decades: Can you hang with the Atlanta schools in football?

Second-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian (11-1, 6-0), which will make the 4-and-a-half-hour trip from Indian Trail Road in Norcross to DeRenne Avenue in Savannah to take on Jenkins (12-0, 7-0), will look to provide a quick answer to that question.

The Spartans, who secured a 38-21 victory against Lovett in the second round, are firing on all cylinders again this postseason. Josh Rose has completed 79 of 140 passes for 1,113 yards and 14 touchdowns. Backup quarterback and coach Tim Hardy’s son, Jackson, has completed 37 of 54 passes for 624 yards and 11 touchdowns.

AJC Super 11 selection and Clemson commitment Kyler McMichael leads the Spartans rushing attack that is averaging 262.3 yards per game. While splitting offensive and defensive responsibilities, McMichael has rushed for 1,228 yards and 23 touchdowns on 101 carries with six games of 100-plus yards of rushing. Sophomore Montae Bailey is the Spartans' second leading rusher with 555 yards and seven touchdowns on 53 carries.

The Warriors, under first-year coach Jason Cameron, stormed through the regular season and Region 3 to earn its second consecutive region title. Jenkins defeated Jackson and Cook to advance.

Jenkins also features a run-heavy offense, averaging 256.1 yards. Senior Ameen Stevens has rushed for 1,838 yards and 26 touchdowns on 195 carries. Stevens, whose longest run this year was a 49-yarder, has 10 games of 100-plus yards rushing.

The Warriors, who average 165 yards passing, are led senior quarterback Javonte Middleton, who has completed 106 of 191 pases for 1,937 yards and 17 touchdowns. The last time Jenkins made it past the quarterfinals was in the 1966 season under coach Richard “Bubba” Attwood.

Calhoun at Liberty County

A long drive is in store for another North Georgia team as fourth-ranked Calhoun (11-1, 4-0) will travel to Hinesville, just southwest of Savannah, to take on Liberty County (9-3, 5-0).

The Yellow Jackets, who won state titles in 2011 and 2014, have made it to the playoffs every year since 2000. In that time, Hal Lamb’s program has advanced at least to the quarterfinals five times (2001, 2004, 2013, 2016-17), the semifinals once and has been in the championship game five times (2005, 2008-10, 2012).

The Panthers rely mainly on a strong rushing attack which averages 277.3 yards per game. But when needed, quarterback Dionte Bowens, who has completed 43 of 87 passes for 1,025 yards and 11 touchdowns, can make defenses pay.

Westminster at Peach County

If you drive north from Savannah on I-16 and hang a left just short of Macon, you’ll arrive at Anderson Field in Fort Valley where No. 10 Westminster (7-5, 5-2) will meet No. 2 Peach County (11-1, 6-0) in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row.

Peach traveled to Westminster last season and won 27-17. The Trojans, who could be without two key players, will look to fill the voids to earn a semifinal berth. Peach’s Chris Gibson, its leading rusher at the time, went down with an ACL tear a few weeks ago. UGA commitment and AJC Super 11 selection Kearis Jackson injured his hand last week.

The Trojans are averaging 226.8 yards receiving and 165.8 yards rushing.  Trevon Woolfolk has filled in nicely for the injured Gibson and has rushed for 850 yards and 16 touchdowns on 100 carries. Quarterback Antonio Gilbert has passed for 2,531 yards and 20 touchdowns on 168-of-248 passing. Jackson leads Peach in receiving with 852 yards  and nine touchdowns on 47 receptions.

Westminster will enter the game riding momentum from last week's shootout with East Hall. The Wildcats prevailed 58-57 to earn an extra week of football. For Westminster to pull out a victory, it will need to take control of all three facets of the game and match Peach's intensity.

Pike County at Cedar Grove

Our round-the-state tour ends in Atlanta as unranked Pike County (9-3, 4-2), which defeated Crisp County to earn its quarterfinal berth, will take on No. 1 Cedar Grove (12-0, 7-0) hoping for another upset.

It will be a tall task.

The top-ranked and defending champion Saints defeated Adairsville and Dawson County in the first two rounds to earn the quarterfinal berth for the third consecutive season. Cedar Grove amassed 487 yards of offense in just 33 plays against Dawson County. Quarterback Xavier Dennis was a perfect 7-of-7 passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Jadon Haselwood had two receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns. The two-way star also had five tackles and two interceptions on defense.

Cedar Grove’s rushing attack anchored by Darrell Neal, who rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries against Dawson County. Israel Spivey added two receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ second-round victory.

It is safe to say that Pike County finally has found the playoff's rare air. The Pirates had never won a playoff game until this season. Then last week, Pike got its first victory against a ranked opponent. Pike had been 0-38 against the Top 10.

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