The high school football season has reached the quarterfinals with 32 playoff games scheduled for Friday. Here are some facts, figures and story lines entering the third round.
*Didn’t see that coming: There were two whopper-sized upsets in the second round last week as No. 1 Lowndes (Class AAAAAAA) and No. 1 Cartersville (AAAA) lost in dramatic finishes. Blessed Trinity – a 31-point underdog according to the computer Maxwell Ratings – ended Cartersville’s 41-game winning streak with a 21-17 victory. Jake Smith threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Davis with 12 seconds remaining. McEachern – a 24-point underdog – beat Lowndes 36-31 after trailing 21-0 late in the first half and 31-14 in the final four minutes. Carlos Del Rio, a freshman who was told he would start just before the game, threw a 31-yard TD pass to Genuine Potts for the game-winner with 54 seconds left.
*More wild arrivals: Allatoona beat Dacula 14-13 after blocking a late extra point. Jenkins beat Cook 35-34 and Mitchell County beat Schley County 22-21, each by stopping two-point conversions in the final seconds. Warner Robins beat Eagle’s Landing by scoring on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the last play of overtime.
*Best games ahead: No. 1 Benedictine is host to No. 2 Hapeville Charter in a Class AA game that will be the first No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup ever played in Savannah. No. 2 Marist plays at No. 3 Burke County in a game between the highest-ranked teams remaining in AAAA. Mays at Lee County (AAAAAA) and Buford at Stockbridge (AAAAA) also match teams ranked No. 2 and No. 3. But the most followed game is probably going to be No. 8 Colquitt County’s visit to No. 2 Archer in AAAAAAA. Archer (12-0) is the highest-ranked and lone unbeaten team in the highest class. Colquitt County has a history of 10 playoff road victories over No. 1-seeded teams under coach Rush Propst since 2009.
*Best story line: With Lowndes out, the highest classification is without clear favorites at this point for the first time since probably 2010. The highest-ranked teams remaining – No. 2 Archer and No. 4 North Gwinnett – have never won state titles. No. 6 Tift County hasn’t won one in 34 years. Archer and Marietta had losing records last season. Tift and North Gwinnett were just 6-5.
*New to the quarters: Lee County and Pike County are in the quarterfinals for the first time. Both started varsity football in 1971. Alpharetta, opened in 2004, also is in its first. Jenkins has made it this far for the first time since 1966 and is the first Savannah public school in the quarters since 1979. Marietta last made it in 1994. Others that haven’t been in an elite-eight game in the past 10 years are Mitchell County (1999), Harrison (2002), Savannah Country Day (2005), Tift County (2006) and Carver-Atlanta (2007). Of the 64 quarterfinal teams, 35 were in last season.
*Old to the quarters: Buford has made its 18th consecutive quarterfinal, a state record, and has won the last 10 of them. Calhoun is in the quarterfinals for the 10th consecutive year. Colquitt County has made it nine straight times, a state record for the highest classification.
*Top players: The state player-of-the-year is taking new applications now that Cartersville’s Trevor Lawrence and Lowndes’ Michael Barrett are finished playing. That leaves a crack for defensive standouts such as Adam Anderson of Rome, Otis Reese of Lee County and Brenton Cox of Stockbridge. All are major college recruits on highly ranked teams. Bailey Fisher of undefeated Rabun County has thrown for 105 career touchdowns. Pike County running back C’Bo Flemister has rushed for 2,348 yards this season. Two-way starters Anthony Grant of Buford, Kyler McMichael of Greater Atlanta Christian and Jadon Haselwood of Cedar Grove, all blue-chip prospects, are factors on almost every play.
*Underdogs: Marietta is the first No. 4 seed (technically an at-large qualifier) to reach the quarterfinals of the highest classification since Colquitt County in 2012. The Blue Devils (8-4) are a 24-point underdog against fifth-ranked North Gwinnett. Colquitt County (AAAAAAA), Westminster (AAA) and Pike County (AAA) have made it as No. 3 seeds, although only Pike among those is surprising. The Pirates had never won a playoff game until this season. Then last week, Pike got its first win against a ranked opponent. Pike had been 0-38 all-time against the Top 10.
*Unranked: Nine unranked teams made the quarterfinals. They are Parkview, McEachern and Marietta in AAAAAAA, Allatoona in AAAAAA, Jefferson in AAAA, Pike County in AAA and Darlington, Savannah Country Day and Mitchell County in A. Only Marietta, Pike County, Savannah County Day and Mitchell County have not been ranked at any point this season.
*Highly ranked: Six No. 1-ranked teams are still alive. They are Tucker (AAAAAA), Rome (AAAAA), Cedar Grove (AAA), Benedictine (AA), Eagle’s Landing Christian (A public) and Manchester (A public).
*What’s next: The semifinals are next week. The eight state finals are Dec. 8-9 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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