Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Class AAAA: First-Round Preview 


This blog takes at the first round of the Class AAAA playoff bracket. To access the brackets CLICK HERE.

R4#3 Woodward Academy @ R1#2 Carver-Columbus

Carver-Columbus is led by first-year head coach Corey Joyner and takes a 9-1 record into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. It is the 13th consecutive playoff berth by the program, but the Tigers have just one playoff victory in the last four combined. The key this year will be the play of senior quarterback and coach’s son Jaylen Joyner. Jaylen took over after earning First-Team All-Region considerations last season at Dougherty. This season, he has tossed 21 touchdowns with just five interceptions and has the Carver offense rolling. For this year’s four-loss Woodward Academy team, stopping Jaylen will be the big test for a defense that has been prone to sporadic performances. Offensively, junior quarterback Mike Wright leads the War Eagles with electric running back Tahj Gary. This season has seen Gary’s role tailored more to running the football, but if Woodward Academy needs help in the passing game, Gary can certainly become the top threat.  

R3#4 Richmond Academy @ R2#1 Mary Persons

Mary Persons enters the postseason 10-0 and on pace to become the best team in school history. This year’s group has lit up the scoreboard with a school-record 46.7 ppg, while taking care of business on defense with a near school-record 11.5 ppg allowed. Quarterback JT Hartage and running back Quen Wilson provide the offense with a balanced perfection that will be hard for any team to stop. Hartage has thrown 21 touchdown passes and Wilson has rushed for 21 of the team’s 39 rushing scores. 

R6#3 Heritage-Catoosa @ R7#2 Marist

The experience, execution and defensive superiority should lift Marist past Heritage Catoosa on Friday. Marist’s two losses came in a 17-0 non-conference matchup with St. Pius and a 10-7 loss to Blessed Trinity in the season finale. A win over the generals could set up an intriguing second-round rematch with St. Pius.

R5#4 Cedartown @ R8#1 St. Pius

St. Pius is on a 9-game winning streak after dropping its opener to Blessed Trinity 35-13. While both sides of the football have been playing well, it is the upward trending St. Pius offense that has really been the difference. After a disappointing 2016 season that saw the program net just 12.45 ppg, St. Pius carried a 30.1 ppg effort to last year’s semis and have posted a decade-high 34.9 ppg so far this season. Cedartown will be a dangerous opponent, however, and could be the toughest No. 4 seed in this year’s bracket. The Bulldogs are 5-5 and all five losses have been decided by a touchdown or less. This game should be highly competitive and both teams are capable of using it to propel the start of a playoff run.  

R1#3 Columbus @ R4#2 Salem

Salem fell 26-14 to Region 4 champion Eastside, but solidified the No. 2 seed the following week with a signature 22-14 road win over Woodward Academy. It was the first time in seven all-time tries that the Seminoles defeated Woodward. Columbus has handled business against middle of the pack teams, but the Blue Devils have been routed this season by their tougher opponents. If Columbus can find the will to compete for 48 minutes, then they should make this interesting. If not, a battle tested Salem team and senior quarterback Donald Wilson will make it a long night for the Blue and Orange. 

R2#4 Perry @ R3#1 Baldwin

Baldwin is led by head coach Jesse Hicks, a former head coach that came back to the program this past season. Under his direction, the Braves earned their first region title since 2009, the year his first stint came to an end. This year’s team struggled out of the gates against a top 10 heavy non-region slate and opened the year 0-5. In the five games since, Baldwin has gone undefeated and has appeared to be improving on a week-by-week basis. The biggest win of the year came on Oct. 19 as Baldwin hammered Burke County 30-7 to clinch the region crown. For an exclamation point, the Braves closed out the year with a 31-0 win over Cross Creek. Perry has faced some tough opponents as well this season, including Mary Persons, which defeated the Panthers 40-3 to seal their fate as the No. 4 seed. Still, this year’s 6-4 record is a positive sign and the program snapped its six-year playoff drought. Now, it will be looking for its first playoff win since reaching the quarterfinals in 2007.  

R7#3 Flowery Branch @ R6#2 Ridgeland

Out of all the Class AAAA first-round matchups, Flowery Branch at Ridgeland may be the best. Flowery Branch came brutally close to defeating defending state champion Blessed Trinity, but a gambled two-point attempt left them a point short in overtime. Then, the Falcons came out flat against Marist the following week and dropped to the No. 3 seed. Ridgeland took an 11-0 record into last year’s second round, but fell 28-21 to Jefferson. Under first-year head coach Cortney Braswell, the program has made a point to set up a more challenging regular season schedule to better prepare them for the postseason. The Panthers opened the year with non-region losses to Calhoun and Troup before closing out wins in seven of the final eight games. This is a tough part of the bracket for either team to be in, however, as a victory is likely to set up a second round matchup with Cartersville 

R8#4 Stephens County @ R5#1 Cartersville

Without superstar and current Clemson starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence under center, there has been far less noise surrounding the Cartersville program this year. Now that the playoffs are here, expect the 10-0 Purple Hurricanes to turn up the volume. Cartersville matched up with Troup last Friday in a winner-take-all region championship game and destroyed the Tigers 43-10. Holding the explosive Troup offense to just 10 points was not the only time that signs of a championship caliber defense have been seen on the Cartersville sideline this year. The group has also posted four shutouts and limited opponents to just 6 ppg this year.

R2#3 Howard @ R3#2 Burke County

Howard reached the postseason for the first time in program history last year, and will take on the Bears for a chance to stamp its first-ever playoff victory. Paul Carroll took over the program after serving as defensive coordinator last year and has led the Huskies to a 6-4 record—which matches last year’s school-record for wins. This will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.

R1#4 Hardaway @ R4#1 Eastside

Eastside rides the momentum of its first-ever perfect 10-0 regular season has plenty of reason to believe that they can compete with any team in the classification. The Eagles are outscoring opponents by 27 points per game and have a reliable quarterback in Noah Cook leading a well-balanced offense. 

R5#3 Sandy Creek @ R8#2 North Oconee

Sandy Creek returns to the playoffs after missing it for the first time since 2001 this past season. North Oconee (8-2) is back in the playoffs after going 1-19 the previous two seasons. North Oconee’s two losses were a 6-point loss to Loganville and a competitive 31-21 loss to St. Pius and the Titans will be a challenge for the Patriots. This will also be the first-ever meeting between the schools. 

R6#4 Northwest Whitfield @ R7#1 Blessed Trinity

Northwest Whitfield is making its fourth-straight playoff appearance, but will have the daunting task of opening this year on the home turf of the defending state champs. Blessed Trinity’s defense is allowing just 9 ppg and the team’s 26.8 average margin of victory is the best in school history. Blessed Trinity has advanced to at least the quarterfinals in each of the last five postseasons. 

R3#3 Thomson @ R2#2 Upson-Lee

Thomson let its chance at the No. 2 seed slip away against rival Burke County and will travel to Upson-Lee, which finished runner-up to a superior Mary Persons team in Region 2. This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs. 

R4#4 Henry County @ R1#1 Cairo

Henry County is in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and takes on a red-hot Cairo team that has been flying under the radar after is slow start to the season. This will be the first meeting between the schools. 

R8#3 Oconee County @ R5#2 Troup

Oconee County and Troup last met in the 2001 quarterfinals, a game that went to Troup 17-14. Both programs have plenty of talent, but have struggled in the big game, so that should boost either’s chances.  

R7#4 White County @ R6#1 Pickens

Pickens is a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history after its perfect 10-0 season. An unstoppable running game and a much-improved defense has made them a dangerous team, and if the Dragons play their game, expect them to dominate this matchup. These teams have met 43 times, with White County leading 22-19-2, but Pickens has won the last three. Despite the 43 all-time meetings, this will be the first time the programs have ever met up in the postseason.  


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