The first round of the football playoffs will kick off across the state Friday night with 32 Class AAA teams trying to advance. Each of the four quadrants have one or two clear front-runners that want to avoid possible bracket-shattering upsets.
All of the teams ranked in the AJC's top 10 made it to the playoffs, yet just one first-round matchup has ranked teams playing against each other – No. 8 Bremen vs. No. 9 Lovett in the top-left quadrant.
But it all begins, and could end, with No. 1-ranked and defending champion Cedar Grove, the top seed from Region 5, which plays against Region 6, No. 4 seed Adairsville in the opening round.
Adairsville’s offense is led by Mason Boswell, a 6-foot, 195-pound junior quarterback who has passed for 819 yards and seven touchdowns on 81 completions and has rushed for 387 yards and eight touchdowns. Adairsville's top running back is senior Christian Steele, who has 628 yards rushing on 97 carries with five touchdowns.
“They have an athletic quarterback and they do a few different things on defense that we have to make sure we are prepared for," Cedar Grove coach Jimmy Smith said. "On offense, they run a triple-option, so we have to make sure we are on our assignments and are doing our job on defense.”
Smith said Cedar Grove has worked on defending the triple-option throughout the season, devoting time on it at each practice session.
“We run a 4-2-5, so we have implemented an option period in practice, and that was good for us," Smith said. "Even though we didn’t play a lot of option teams this year, we know you can’t prepare for an option in one week . That’s one of the big things that a lot of college teams or others have a problem with. They try to prepare for the option in a week, and it really can’t be done.”
The defending-champion Saints are riding a 20-game winning streak and have not been beaten since losing to Westminster on Oct. 7, 2016.
Here's what the other top 10 teams will face Friday in Round 1:
-- No. 2 Peach County (9-1, 6-0), the No. 1 seed from Region 4, will host Savannah, the Region 3 No. 4 seed, in Fort Valley. This will mark the first meeting between the two programs. Peach County has outscored its opponents 488-127 this season with two shutouts (Kendrick, 82-0; Central-Macon, 44-0).
-- No. 3 Greater Atlanta Christian (9-1, 6-0) took the top-seed from Region 7 again this season and will face Jackson County, the Region 8 No. 4 seed. This will mark the second meeting overall and the first meeting since 1991 for GAC and Jackson County. GAC fell 41-12 in the first meeting. Things have clearly changed, and the powerhouse Spartans are heavily favored to advance.
-- No. 4 Calhoun (9-1, 4-0), the top-seed from Region-6 North/South, will face the Region 5 No. 4 seed Pace Academy (5-4, 5-2). The Yellow Jackets are favored in this game, but Pace could shake up the bracket with a victory. The Knights will have to make each play count on the offensive side of the ball to keep up with Calhoun’s high-powered offense. In the past seven games, Calhoun has scored 60 points twice and at least 40 points in the other five games. Pace has only managed to score more than 40 points once this season, against Stone Mountain on Sept. 15 (59-3). This will mark the first meeting between Pace and Calhoun.
-- No. 5 Jenkins (10-0, 7-0) took the top seed from Region 3 for the second consecutive season and will play Jackson, the No. 4 seed from Region 4. Jenkins is a heavy favorite in this game. This will mark the first meeting between the two programs.
-- No. 6 Crisp County (8-1, 4-0) will host Appling County, the Region 2 No. 4 seed in Cordele. Crisp is a heavy favorite and has not lost a game since Sept. 29 against Brooks County. The Cougars have faced Appling County eight times since 1960, but this will be the first game between the programs in 20 years . Crisp lost the first game in 1960 (25-19) and the two tied in the second meeting in 1961 (6-6). Appling has not beaten Crisp since a 28-15 victory in 1994.
-- No. 7 Morgan County (9-1, 5-0) will host the Region 7 No. 4 seed East Hall. The Bulldogs will have to silence East Hall’s high-powered offense, led by quarterback Austin Parker. Parker is 196-of-308 passing for 3,563 yards and 38 touchdowns. The Vikings have scored more than 40 points in all but two games this season and at least 60 points twice. Morgan County might take a note from GAC, which shut out East Hall on Oct. 6 (60-0).
-- No. 8 Bremen (9-1, 3-1), the Region 6-North/South No. 3 seed, will travel to No. 9 Lovett (6-4, 5-2), the No. 2 seed from Region 5. Bremen is led by Wade Cartwright who is 94-of-153 passing for 1,191 yards. Lovett’s Blaine McCallister has passed for 16 touchdowns and 1,455 yards on 95-of-153 passing.
-- No. 10 Westminster (5-5, 5-2) took the No. 3 seed from Region 5 after a tiebreaker with Lovett and Pace Academy. The Wildcats will travel to North Murray (7-3, 4-0), the No. 2 seed from Region 6-North/South. Westminster holds the No. 10 ranking despite five losses. This game could be a toss-up.