One of the biggest games in Round 2 of the Class AAA playoffs will take place in Cordele on Friday when No. 8 Lovett (8-3), the No. 3 seed from Region 5, will play an unbeaten No. 5 Crisp County team, the No. 1 seed from Region 1.
The Cougars have a shot of being the only team in the history of the school to go to 12-0. Crisp beat Islands 42-0 last week to tie the best start since 1980, when the team lost in the quarterfinals to Woodward Academy, 12-7.
Coach Shelton Felton, a Crisp alum, is humbled by the thought of setting a school record, but he is more elated for the kids and the town of Cordele.
"To me it means a lot," Felton said. "It is a great opportunity for me to leave my name in the record books as a head coach at Crisp. But it means a lot to my kids. My kids just want to win and continue to go on and be known for something great for this town. It will mean a lot for me as a coach, but it means more for my kids."
A strong Lovett team from Region 5 stands in the way.
Lovett quarterback Brady Tindall, who does not usually pass for big numbers, was 21-of-39 for 305 yards and four touchdowns in the come-from-behind victory against Dawson County last week. Tindall has 147 completions on 254 attempts with nine interceptions. He has a total of 1,709 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
Lovett has had little problem winning playoff games on the road, but it will be facing a proud home crowd in Cordele.
"Reading about Lovett and seeing that they have won many playoff games on the road, I don't think the home-field advantage will have a lot to do against them," Felton said. "But having the crowd cheering for these kids, we believe, will help motivate us to play harder and will give us that edge, possibly, to get this victory."
The key for Lovett, as mentioned by Pace Academy coach Chris Slade in Tuesday's blog, is to avoid four-star recruit Markaviest "Big Cat" Bryant. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound weakside defensive end is the anchor for the Cougars' defense. He has been highly recruited by nearly every Division-1 program. Bryant is arguably AAA's top pass-rushing threat and could be disruptive for Tindall.
"I just think we have to play sound football," Felton said. "We cannot make mistakes and we must match their intensity and play our game. They are a well-coached team and do not make a lot of mistakes. We cannot make mistakes to give them opportunities. And if they make a mistake, we must capitalize on them."
Here are other top games to follow:
-- Worth County (7-3) at No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian (10-1): Top-ranked GAC, the No. 1 seed from Region 7, features a pass-heavy offense led by Stanford commitment Davis Mills. In last week's 35-7 victory against Pace Academy, Mills passed for 276 yards and two touchdowns. He has amassed 1,927 yards on 125-of-177 passing this season. Running back Kyler McMichael has rushed for 1,233 yards. Worth County, the No. 2 seed from Region 1, favors a run-heavy Wing-T offense, led by 1,000-yard rusher Chris McDaniel, who scored two touchdowns last week in the 35-7 victory against Southeast Bulloch. The Rams have only completed 23 passes all season. The winner will face the Sonoraville/Liberty winner.
-- North Murray (8-3) at No. 2 Peach County (10-1): The Trojans handled Tattnall County 42-13 last week. Antonio Gilbert passed for 282 yards and two touchdowns. Gilbert has thrown for 2,233 yards this season. Kearis Jackson, a four-star recruit, has 991 all-purpose yards. North Murray, which opened in 2009, beat Jackson County last week 28-14 to win its first playoff game as a program. Brady Harper has 1,392 rushing yards and has 31 touchdowns on the season. The winner will face the Savannah/Westminster winner.
-- Savannah (9-2) at No. 3 Westminster (9-2): Zay Malcolme rushed for 266 yards and five touchdowns in the 49-18 victory against North Hall last week. He has 1,623 yards rushing this season. The Wildcats lost to No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian 19-16 in overtime earlier in the season, but has won nine consecutive games. Savannah won its first playoff game since 1993 with a 27-3 victory against Cook last week. The winner will play the North Murray/Peach winner
-- No. 10 Jackson (8-3) at No. 4 Calhoun (9-2): Calhoun, the No. 1 seed from Region 6, is led by Clemson commitment Baylon Spector. Playing both sides of the ball, Spector has passed for 294 yards, rushed for 611 yards and made 45 tackles this season. Gavin Gray, the main quarterback, has passed for 1,146 yards and 20 touchdowns on 88-of-130 passiing. The Yellow Jackets are missing preseason all-state RB Olico Dennis, who suffered an ACL injury. Jackson, the No. 2 seed from Region 4, defeated Brantley County 44-7 last week. The winner will face the Cedar Grove/Jenkins winner.
-- No. 6 Cedar Grove (9-2) at Jenkins (10-1): Jenkins, the No. 1 seed from Region 3, won their first region title since 1966 and first playoff game ever with a 31-14 victory against Dougherty last week. The Warriors' defense intercepted six passes, three by free-safety Jordan Stafford. Running back Joe Burke rushed for 192 yards, pushing him past 1,000 yards this season. Cedar Grove, a semifinalist last season, handled Union Grove 63-17 last week. Running back Grant Walker rushed for 178 yards last week and has 1,299 yards this season. Pace's Slade said Tuesday that he believes Cedar Grove is playing the best football in the Class AAA right now. The winner will play the Jackson/Calhoun winner.
-- Sonoraville (8-3) at No. 7 Liberty County (10-1): First-time region champion Liberty County, the No. 1 seed from Region 2, has made it to the second round for the third time since opening in 1993 after beating Pike County 56-10 last week. Jaalon Frazier completed five touchdown passes and has passed for 2,521 yards and 37 touchdowns this season. Five-star recruit and UGA commitment Richard LeCounte caught three of Frazier's passes for touchdowns last week. Sonoraville, the No. 3 seed from Region 6, is seeking its first quarterfinal appearance after winning a first-round games in the last two seasons. The winner will play the Worth/GAC winner.
-- Bremen (7-4) at Pierce County (8-3): Pierce County quarterback Stetson Bennett leads Class AAA in passing with 3,320 and 35 touchdowns. Shyhiem Clark, who has passed 1,000 yards this season, rushed for 154 yards in the 41-34 victory against Westside-Macon last week. Bremen, the only No. 4 seed left in the bracket, will look to carry the momentum from a 24-21 victory against Morgan County last week. The Bulldogs were behind 14-0, but rallied on defense and forced two turnovers for touchdowns. The winner will face the Crisp/Lovett winner.