Though a game has yet to be played in the AA state playoffs, one matchup has already been decided. As my colleague Todd Holcomb reported on Wednesday, The K.I.P.P. Atlanta Collegiate Warriors have forfeited their first round playoff game, which was to be played Friday at Banks County. It's the first-ever GHSA state playoff game to be forfeited.
The Warriors, a No. 3 seed from Region 6, end their season with a 7-4 record in just their fourth year in existence. It was their first winning season after going 1-9 in 2014 and '15 and 1-2 in '13. The Banks County Leopards (7-4) move on to the second round as a No. 2 seed from Region 8. They'll play the winner of the Josey at No. 1-ranked Benedictine game, meaning they will most likely travel to Savannah next week to play the Cadets.
In Holcomb's report is a brief statement from KAC states that the Warriors, in partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, forfeited because of students violating the school's code of conduct.
I reached out to both Atlanta Public Schools and KAC for further clarification.
An official for APS said the school system reached out to the GHSA on KAC's behalf to relay the school's decision to forfeit. The GHSA then explained to APS that there could be further penalties assessed to KAC for forfeiting, including fines. The APS relayed that information back to KAC and the school maintained its stance to forfeit. The APS official also said there was a disagreement amongst KAC's administration over whether to forfeit before the school's executive director, Kinnari Patel-Smyth, made the decision final.
Callie Hudak, director of marketing and communications for KAC, provided the following statement:
After the game last Friday against Hapeville Charter, our football team returned to the locker room to discover that some of their belongings had been stolen. Out of frustration, some students proceeded to damage the Hapeville facility. In addition, after the game our students and families were confronted by a number of Hapeville fans and several fights broke out. Thankfully there were not any serious injuries.
In partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, we decided to forfeit this Friday's football game against Banks County as a result of the code of conduct violations. This was a very difficult decision and not one we take lightly. We are also working with the team to repair the physical damage that was done to the facility. We look forward to resuming football again next season.
Hudak also provided the AJC with a letter KAC sent to parents, signed by Patel-Smyth and principal Dave Howland, which reads:
KIPP Atlanta Collegiate Families,
As you may know, there were several incidents after last Friday's varsity football game during which a number of players violated the student code of conduct. In partnership with Atlanta Public Schools, we have decided to forfeit this Friday's football game against Banks County as a result.
Please know that we did not make this decision lightly or easily. We are proud of the incredible work our scholar athletes have done in the classroom and on the field this year. However, we hold our scholars to high standards. We are proud of them for taking responsibility for their actions and we will be working with individual scholars as well as the team to restore relationships and repair damage that was done.
This morning, a number of our students peacefully protested the decision to forfeit the game. Principal Howland spoke with the group as a whole and then the students returned to class. We also had more in-depth conversations with the students directly impacted by this decision and will continue to do so.
While Consequences are necessary, we hope you will also take time to celebrate these scholars and their accomplishments. We look forward to finishing this school year strong and resuming football again next season.
Thank you for your ongoing support of your scholars and KIPP Atlanta Collegiate. Please reach out to us if you have any questions.
Based only on this information provided by KAC, the decision to forfeit comes across to many as extreme and deserving of intense criticism and scrutiny. It's no surprise that KAC students protested the decision. Why not just suspend the players directly involved? Hudak confirmed that the number of suspended players didn't interfere with the Warriors' ability to field a team, so lack of players wasn't an issue.
Those who weren't involved in the incident are robbed of playing in what would have been the program's first-ever playoff game. For the seniors, some who may have been on the first team fielded in 2013, this decision ends their varsity career.
And KAC's decision to forfeit doesn't just affect the Warriors' community. The Leopards are in the state tournament for the first time since 2011, where they're 0-9. They have been robbed of the chance to host a playoff game, the community experience that comes with that and the opportunity to earn their first-ever playoff win on the field.
Leopards coach Josh Shoemaker, in his first season as a head coach, has a highly optimistic outlook of the predicament he and his program find themselves in.
"This is history," he said. "This is the first time we've been to the second round. Looking at it from that perspective, we're excited as a community. The forfeit is a part of it, but we're the first team in the state to win a playoff game (this season). ...This was a great life lesson that you can't control things that are out of your control. We're excited to move on to the next round."
With the first playoff matchup already in the books courtesy of KAC's forfeit to Banks County, let's take a look at what are supposed to be the three closest games according to this week's Maxwell Projections.
The closest game according to the projections is the Chattooga Indians (6-4, No. 3 seed, Region 7) at the Lamar County Trojans (6-4, No. 2 seed, Region 5). Projections have the Trojans as a three-point favorite. In my AA playoff predictions, I have Lamar County winning and traveling to Washington County for the second round. This will be the first time these two programs have met.
The Indians are in the playoffs for the second consecutive season after missing the postseason five straight years. They're 0-7 in the state playoffs dating back to 2000, with their last postseason win coming in 1980.
The Trojans are just four seasons removed from a state title game appearance, meaning freshman on that team are now seniors. Their coach, Franklin Stephens, left for Ware County the following year and the program has had three coaches since 2014. As a result, they've seen their record drop each year from 14-1, to 8-3-1, to 7-4 in 2015. They have a chance to top last year's record with a second round win.
The Heard County Braves (8-2, No. 3, R5) travel to play the Rockmart Yellow Jackets (No. 2, R7) and while the Jackets are a six-point favorite, I have predicted a Heard County win. This is another matchup of two teams meeting for the first time.
For me, the Braves have looked like the better team to this point. They narrowly lost to Lamar County 14-11 two weeks ago, which ultimately resulted in a third-place finish in the region for them, and they were competitive in all of their losses. That includes a 24-14 defeat to No. 3 Callaway. They closed the season with an impressive 16-13 road win over Spencer. I also like the Braves because of history. They've won at least one playoff game every season dating back to 2005 under coach Tim Barron, who took over in 2002 and has missed the playoffs just once since then.
Rockmart can put up points in large chunks, twice scoring more than 60 points and once scoring more than 50 points. The reached the 40-point plateau two times as well before closing the season with a 39-28 win over Model. This could very well be a high-scoring game. The Jackets will look for their first playoff win since 2012 when they advanced to the second round.
The Spencer Greenwave Owls (6-4, No. 4, R5) play at the Peperrell Dragons (8-1, No. 1, R7) in a game where the Dragons are 13-point favorites, but I think the game will be even closer. I have the Dragons winning this game before exiting the second round with a loss to Thomasville.
While the Dragons have looked impressive all season long, they come from one of AA's weakest regions. In fact, they rolled to a 7-0 record over Region 7 opponents, winning by an average of 44.9-7. To me, that speaks more to the level of competition the Dragons faced. Their season opener against Ridgeland was canceled, which robbed us of a great chance to evaluate them against a team outside of the region, given Ridgeland finished 8-1 in AAAA. The Dragons' lone loss came to another AAAA school, Cedartown, which finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs. The Dragons are a perennial playoff team, having reached the postseason in 12 of the past 13 seasons. Their last postseason win came in 2008.
The Owls have faced tougher competition this season, including AAA's No. 5 Crisp County, No. 3 Callaway, Heard County and Lamar County. Granted, they only won one of those games - Lamar County - but they have demonstrated the ability to keep this first round game competitive. They reached the playoffs last year for the first time since 1993 and reached the second round. That was Pierre Coffey's first year as coach of the Owls and he clearly has the program trending in an upward direction. Last season was Spencer's first winning season since 1977, which was the last time the Owls enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons.
For what it's worth, KAC was a seven-point favorite to beat Banks County, though I had the Warriors losing to the Leopards.
More AA playoff game previews:
- Glenn Hills (4-6, No. 4, R4) at No. 1 Benedictine (10-0, No. 1, R2) - David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle
- Dublin (8-2, No. 4, R3) at No. 2 Fitzgerald (9-1, No. 1, R1) - GHSF Daily and Becky Taylor of The Tifton Gazette
- Model (7-3, No. 4, R7) at No. 3 Callaway (10-0, No. 1, R5) - Kevin Eckleberry of the LaGrange Daily News
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