Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Playoff preview: Semifinals


Etowah at Archer

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Archer Community Stadium, Lawrenceville

Records, rankings: Etowah is 11-2, the No. 2 seed from Region 5-AAAAAA and unranked; Archer is 10-3, the No. 1 seed from 8-AAAAAA and unranked.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Both teams are playing in the semifinals for the first time. Etowah is the first Cherokee County team to reach the semis. Archer, which opened in 2009, is the 10th public or private school from Gwinnett County to get this far in just the past 10 seasons. Neither is ranked, but Archer is not a surprise to be here. The Tigers were ranked No. 3 in preseason and were the No. 1 seed out of Region 8 despite an 0-3 start. Etowah has not been ranked this season. 2. Tyray Devezin has rushed for at least 135 yards in all seven games since becoming the feature back. He has 1,487 yards rushing on the season. QB Robbie Knox is 89-of-168 passing for 1,338 yards, but Etowah has struggled in the passing game the past two rounds (8-of-24, 65 yards). DL Scott Morgan and OL Brad Morgan are committed to Georgia Tech. Scott Morgan has a team-leading 13.5 tackles for losses. DE Blaine Miller has 10 sacks. DB Stuart Head is the leading tackler. 3. Archer's passing game has been remarkably efficient in the playoffs. Gabe Tiller is 48-of-62 (77.4 percent) for 709 yards and eight touchdowns. He has thrown for 2,663 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season. WR Kyle Davis (committed to South Carolina) has 56 receptions for 1,030 yards and nine touchdowns. FS Dylan Singleton has 110 tackles, three interceptions and 11 touchdowns on offense and punt returns. Archer's most underrated player might be sophomore linebacker Quinn Miller. He has more than 100 tackles. He is a nationally ranked wrestler, although major college football is his future.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Archer by 10

McEachern at Colquitt County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Mack Tharpe Memorial Stadium, Moultrie

Records, rankings: McEachern is 10-3, the No. 2 seed from Region 4-AAAAAA and unranked; Colquitt County is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from 1-AAAAAA and No. 1.

Last meeting: Colquitt County won 30-28 in the first round of the 2012 Class AAAAAA playoffs.

Three things to know: 1. McEachern and Colquitt County, perennial state contenders in the 1990s, first met in 1996 in the Georgia Dome in the Corky Kell Classic. Colquitt won 28-7. In 1998, in the Georgia Dome again, McEachern beat Colquitt 35-14 in the Class AAAA semifinals. That was the last time that McEachern made a state final (losing to Valdosta). In the 2012 meeting, Colquitt County's Bull Barge, then a sophomore, made an interception in Colquitt territory in the final seconds to seal a two-point victory. 2. Barge, now a senior, is the Region 1-AAAAAA co-defensive player of the year. Barge, Quintin Hampton (committed to Central Florida) and DL T.J. Smith (Vanderbilt) are ones to watch on defense. On offense, Sihiem King (1,790 yards rushing), QB Chase Parrish (2,534 passing) and WR Kiel Pollard (764 receiving, two punt-return TDs) are the chief weapons. LT Alfred Brown (committed to Samford) is an all-state candidate on the line. Rush Propst calls Luis Martinez (10 field goals) "one of the most prolific kickers I have ever coached." 3. McEachern has the best pair of wide receivers remaining in the playoffs. T.J. Rahming has 61 catches for 1,387 yards and 18 touchdowns, plus three punt-return touchdowns. Tyler Smith has 58 catches for 1,131 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has also returned a punt for a score. Bailey Hockman has thrown for 3,223 yards and 40 touchdowns. McEachern has three all-state lineman candidates - tackles Chuma Edoga and Tremanye Anchrum and defensive end Julian Rochester.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Colquitt County by 19


Mays at Stockbridge

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Tiger Stadium, Stockbridge

Records, rankings: Mays is 11-2, the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AAAAA and No. 7; Stockbridge is 11-2, the No. 1 seed from 4-AAAAA and unranked.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Stockbridge, which opened in 1964, is the first Henry County public school ever to reach the semifinals. Mays, which opened in 1981 essentially as a replacement for Southwest Atlanta, is in the semifinals for the first time. The Raiders are the first city of Atlanta school to reach the semis since Grady in 2005. 2. Mays had a season-high 537 yards of total offense in its 44-41 victory against Jones County last week. QB Asahnia Aderhold, who has passed for more than 1,600 yards this season, was 25-for-39 in the quarterfinals for 352 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winning 17-yarder to Julius Whitehead on the game's final play. Rowmartis Bell and Charlie Patrick lead the running game, which provides about 54 percent of the Raiders' total yardage. 3. Stockbridge is primarily a running team (255.8 yards per game), although QB Malachi Brown is a capable passer who has thrown for 1,300 yards, including 153 and three touchdowns in a 42-22 victory against Houston County last week. Artemus Mitchell, who ran for 113 yards in the quarterfinals, is the team's leading rusher with 1,278 yards. Brown is second with 899. Marquez Ezzard has 42 receptions for 506 yards.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Mays by 4

Allatoona at Northside (Warner Robins)

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Mercer University Stadium, Macon

Records, rankings: Allatoona is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 5-AAAAA and No. 4; Northside is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from 2-AAAAA and No. 8.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Northside is the only team remaining in the Class AAAAA field that has ever made the semifinals. The Eagles won state titles in 2006 and 2007 and are making their fourth semifinal appearance since then. Allatoona, which began playing football in 2008, lost in its first two trips to the quarterfinals. 2. These are two of the top rushing offenses in AAAAA. Northside averages 333.3 yards per game rushing, led by Willie Jordan, who ran for 218 yards in a 31-7 victory against Glynn Academy last week and has 1,939 yards for the season. Allatoona's Russell Halimon is the leading rusher in AAAAA with 2,215 yards. Josh Bettistea, who ran for 1,938 yards in 2013, has 813 yards this season, including 104 and two TDs in a 24-17 victory over Gainesville last week. Allatoona averages 285.8 yards rushing, but QB Conner Larson has passed for 1,864 yards with 20 TDs and one interception. 3. Both teams also have good defenses. Northside is giving up 13.9 points per game and has held seven opponents to seven points on less. The Eagles held Glynn Academy to 94 yards and eight first downs last week, and the only points against them came on a kickoff return. Allatoona has given up 16.2 points per game for the year but 12.7 in the playoffs. The Buccaneers allowed only 38 points in the playoffs against three teams (Carver-Atlanta, Coffee and Gainesville) that averaged a combined 97 per game in the regular season.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Allatoona by 7

Class AAAA

Buford at Cartersville

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Weinman Stadium, Cartersville

Records, rankings: Buford is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAA and No. 1; Cartersville is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from 7-AAAA and No. 3.

Last meeting: Buford won 21-10 in the 2012 Class AAA semifinals.

Three things to know: 1. Buford has played Cartersville three other times, winning in 2012, 2007 and 2006. Cartersville is trying to get back in the finals for the first time since 1999. 2. Buford allows only 41.8 yards rushing and 68.5 passing per game. Buford has given up one rushing touchdown while scoring 59. Some of the reasons for that are LB Austin Smith (committed to Tennessee), DT Quay Picou (Tennessee) and DB David Curry (Virginia). Buford is primarily a running team. Joshua Thomas has 698 yards and 16 touchdowns on 82 carries. 3. Cartersville freshman QB Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 2,908 yards and 26 touchdowns. The 305 yards passing against Sandy Creek last week (a 35-31 victory) was the second-best effort of his season. Cartersville overcame four turnovers in that victory. Miller Forristall had six catches for 105 yards, and Terrius Callahan had four catches for 90 yards. Tyler Reed, a 230-pound linebacker, had 18 tackles.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Buford by 19

Woodward Academy at St. Pius

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Woodward Academy is 11-2, the No. 1 seed from Region 5-AAAA and No. 6; St. Pius is 11-2, the No. 1 seed from 6-AAAA and No. 7.

Last meeting: Woodward Academy won 42-21 on Sept. 5.

Three things to know: 1. Woodward leads the all-time series between these teams 14-3-2. That includes wins in each of the past three seasons. In the Sept. 5 game, Woodward led 28-7 at halftime and 35-7 in the fourth quarter. Elijah Holyfield rushed for 156 yards. 2. Holyfield has 1,549 yards rushing and has scored 30 touchdowns on the season. Jes Sutherland has completed 55 of 74 passes (74.3 percent) over the past four games. He has thrown for 1,937 yards and 21 touchdowns. Woodward's leading tackler is a freshman, K.J. Phillips. DB Arrington Farrar has committed to Stanford. 3. St. Pius averages 289.7 yards rushing and 60.1 passing per game. Backs Dalton Wilson (789 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) is the top back, but Joey Connors (669), Ransom Klinger (487) and Grant Hollomon (406) get plenty of carries. St. Pius' defense is senior-laden. Only sophomore Hollomon and junior Chris Benjamin among the top 10 tacklers are underclassmen.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Woodward Academy by 1

Class AAA

Blessed Trinity at Washington County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, House of Pain, Sandersville

Records, rankings: Blessed Trinity is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAA and No. 3; Washington County is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from 3-AAA and No. 1.

Last meeting: Washington County won 46-17 in the 2013 Class AAA quarterfinals.

Three things to know: 1. Blessed Trinity, which started football in 2001, has set a school record for victories and is in the semifinals for the first time. Washington County is in the semifinals for the second consecutive season and 11th time since 1992. The Golden Hawks lost to Buford in the Class AAA final last year. 2. Blessed Trinity was held to a season-low 271 yards of total offense last week in its 28-21 overtime victory against previously unbeaten Jefferson. QB Conor Davis has passed for 1,705 yards and 19 touchdowns, but the Titans get 214.5 yards per game rushing, led by Milton Shelton (1,243 yards, 16 TDs). LB Pat Jasinski, the co-defensive player of the year in 4-AAA, leads the team in tackles and has 441 yards receiving. 3. Washington County needs 18 points to break Buford's record for points in a season, set last year with 707. The Golden Hawks are averaging 52.5 points and have scored 50 or more eight times this season. The offense revolves around QB A.J. Gray, who rushed for 1,161 yards and passed for 1,278 in the regular season. In a 62-35 victory against Pierce County last week, he ran for 442 yards and eight touchdowns, both of which are single-game state records for a quarterback.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Blessed Trinity by 5

Westminster at Calhoun

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Phil Reeve Stadium, Calhoun

Records, rankings: Westminster is 12-1, the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AAA and No. 6; Calhoun is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from 6-AAA and No. 2.

Last meeting: Calhoun won 36-19 in the second round of the 2010 Class AA playoffs.

Three things to know: 1. Westminster is in the semifinals for the first time since 1996 and has its most victories since its 1978 state-championship team went 13-2. Calhoun is in the semifinals for the sixth time in seven seasons and trying to win its second state title during that stretch. 2. Calhoun was held to its lowest point total of the season in its 19-17 victory last week against Elbert County and got the winning points on a safety in the closing minutes. The Yellow Jackets average about 200 yards both rushing and passing. QB Kaelan Riley has passed for 2,020 yards and rushed for 670. Cole Jackson and Olico Dennis also have rushed for more than 600 yards.3. Westminster played without a quarterback in its 14-0 victory against Hart County last week after injuries to starter Rankin Woley and backup Keller Harper, who had combined to pass for 697 yards this season. Their status for this week is uncertain. Their absence put RB Isaiah Malcome even more in the spotlight. Malcome took most of the snaps out of the Wildcat formation against Hart County and rushed fo 150 yards, giving him a school single-season record of 1,537 yards for the year.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Calhoun by 1

Class AA

Benedictine at Brooks County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Veterans Stadium, Quitman

Records, rankings: Benedictine is 11-2, the No. 2 seed from Region 2-AA and No. 4; Brooks County is 10-3, the No. 2 seed from 1-AA and No. 8.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Brooks County is trying to make the state finals for the first time since its championship season in 1994. Benedictine has lost in all three of its previous semifinals (1957, 1978, 2013). Both teams have lost to teams in the other semifinal. Fitzgerald beat Brooks County 57-29, and Greater Atlanta Christian beat Benedictine 24-21. 2. Benedictine sophomore John Kennedy has had a big postseason, rushing for 406 yards and catching nine passes for 125 in three rounds. But Benedictine's most outstanding feature remains its success throwing the ball. Stevie Powers has passed for 2,993 yards and 29 touchdowns. Brad Stewart has 64 catches for 1,244 yards and 17 touchdowns. Stewart also has five interceptions on defense. 3. Brooks County QB Demontay Jones has passed for 238 yards in playoff victories over Heard County and Bacon County. Those are his best totals of the season. He is 111-of-191 for 1,932 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season. WR Exavius Medlock has 50 receptions for 1,109 yards and 15 touchdowns. Leading rusher Ahmad Brown (1,243 yards) has been held to 40 yards or less in all three rounds.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Benedictine by 16

Greater Atlanta Christian at Fitzgerald

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jaycee Stadium, Fitzgerald

Records, rankings: Greater Atlanta Christian is 13-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 6-AA and No. 1; Fitzgerald is 12-1, the No. 1 seed from 1-AA and No. 5.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. GAC and Fitzgerald arguably are Class AA's best programs that haven't seen a state title in ages. Fitzgerald has made five semifinals and averaged 10.3 wins since 2000, but the school's only state title came in 1948. This is GAC's fourth semifinal since 1998, but the school has not won a state title in its 24 seasons of varsity football. 2. Darius Slayton is probably GAC's best player. A four-star recruit, Slayton has 46 receptions for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also intercepted five passes, returning two for touchdowns, and has a punt-return TD. Micah Abernathy has rushed for 1,072 yards and 17 touchdowns on just 106 carries. Slayton and Abernathy start in the secondary. Davis Mills has thrown for 1,976 yards. ILB Paul Carothers (committed to Navy) has been GAC's leading tackler for three seasons (335 tackles in his career). ILB Tyler Cooksey (Georgia Tech) has 68 tackles this season despite missing four games with an injury. Both are 220 pounds. 3. Fitzgerald QB Gerald Morgan has rushed for at least 200 yards in all three playoff games. He has 2,125 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns on the season. FB J.D. King has rushed for at least 100 yards in all three playoff games. He has 1,425 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Fitzgerald isn't known for its passing game (59-of-129 for 1,244 yards), but has little trouble scoring points. Fitzgerald averages 42.8 points per game and allows 20.1.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Greater Atlanta Christian by 15

Class A (public)

Hawkinsville at Marion County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Eagle Stadium, Buena Vista

Records, rankings: Hawkinsville is 11-1, the No. 4 seed and No. 5; Marion County is 12-0, the No. 1 seed and No. 2.

Last meeting: Marion County won 13-6 on Oct. 17.

Three things to know: 1. This will be the fourth meeting between these Region 4-A rivals since the start of the 2013 season. Hawkinsville won 14-10 in the regular season last year, handing Marion County its only loss in a championship season. Marion County won the rematch 40-7 in the state semifinals and won this year's regular-season game that determined the region champion. 2. Hawkinsville has one of the state's top defenses. The Red Devils are allowing just 6.9 points per game and have not given up more than 14 in any game this season. NG Devin Adams, DE Royce Owens and DE Keshun Wright have at least six sacks and 20 tackles for losses, and Warren Singletary Jr. is outstanding at linebacker. 3. Marion County averages 235.8 yards rushing and 103.5 passing led by a 1,000-yard passer (Dustin Eckert, 1,242 yards) and 1,000-yard rusher (Johnny Royal, 1,057). Lorenzo Smothers has 837 rushing yards, 802 receiving yards and 33 total TDs. The Eagles were held to a season-low 192 yards in the regular-season game against Hawkinsville.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Marion County by 7

Commerce at Irwin County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Indian Field, Ocilla

Records, rankings: Commerce is 10-2, the No. 6 seed and unranked; Irwin County is 10-1-1, the No. 2 seed and No. 6.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Three things to know: 1. Both teams have experienced success under relatively new coaches. First-year coach Buddy Nobles has Irwin County in the semifinals for the second consecutive season and seeking its first trip to a final since 1997. Commerce, in its second season under Michael Brown, is in the semifinals for the first time since 2006. The Tigers haven't reached a final since winning Class A in 2000. 2. Commerce was held to less than 200 yards rushing for only the second time this season in its 10-0 victory against Calhoun County last week. QB Caleb Brooks led the Tigers with 62 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He is one of four Tigers (Will Thomas, Cole Chancey and Grant Mayberry are the others) with at least 600 yards rushing. Commerce attempts only about four passes per game. 3. Irwin County runs a Wing-T offense that is led by two all-region players who have rushed for more than 1,300 yards each this season. Jakyron Young, the player of the year in 2-A, scored two touchdowns in a 40-29 victory against Dooly County last week and has rushed for 1,314 yards for the season. Young also has 31 tackles and three interceptions on defense. First-team all-region FB Robert Moore has rushed for 258 yards in two playoff games and has 1,344 yards this season.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Irwin County by 16

Class A (private)

Eagle's Landing Christian at Calvary Day

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, M.C. Anderson Field, Savannah

Records, rankings: Eagle's Landing Christian is 6-6, the No. 5 seed and unranked; Calvary Day is 12-0, the No. 1 seed and No. 4.

Last meeting: Calvary Day won 35-34 in overtime in the 2013 Class A private-school semifinals.

Three things to know: 1. This is a rematch of a 2013 semifinal. ELCA went for a two-point conversion and the win in the first overtime but was stopped. In the final minutes of regulation, ELCA lost a fumble at the Calvary 6-yard line with the game tied 28-28. ELCA entered the game 11-0 and ranked No. 1. The victory put Calvary in its first state final. 2. This ELCA team doesn't have multiple Division I prospects like its recent editions, although junior OL Chandler Reeves (6-6, 250) is one to watch. QB D.J. Hammond took over as the starter in the fourth game and has thrown for 867 yards and eight touchdowns. He's also a good runner. WR Aaron Powell Bright has 32 catches for 525 yards. The leading rusher is a freshman, Josh Mays, with 751 yards. Trevor Gear has 659. MLB Chase Burdette has 118 tackles, and DB Davis Reynolds has five interceptions. 3. Calvary Day two-way starter Robert Heyward has rushed for 1,348 yards, 189 of that with three touchdowns in a 35-21 victory over Mount Pisgah Christian last week. He also is his team's leading tackler. DL Tyrone Riley (6-7) had two sacks and blocked a punt. Riley has committed to Kentucky. QB Sal Calderon was lost to a season-ending injury in the final game of the regular season. Brent Sanders has started and rarely throws but got his first TD pass last week.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Calvary Day by 7

Mount Paran Christian at Aquinas

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aquinas Stadium, Augusta

Records, rankings: Mount Paran Christian is 12-0, the No. 3 seed and No. 3; Aquinas is 12-0, the No. 2 seed and No. 1.

Last meeting: Aquinas won 35-32 in the 2013 Class A private-school quarterfinals.

Three things to know: 1. Aquinas has won 26 consecutive games. Mount Paran had won only 26 games in its history entering the 2013 season but is 21-3 since and looking for its first state finals berth. 2. Mount Paran's Dorian Walker has rushed for 1,783 yards and 27 touchdowns, but the offense is becoming more well-rounded recently. Preseason all-state WR Emoni Williams has 18 catches for 508 yards and seven touchdowns, and he has been getting more rushing attempts lately. Taylor Trammell has rushed for 703 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 68 carries. Few quarterbacks have a higher passer rating than Jake Allen (58-of-77, 1,145 yards, 16 touchdowns, one interception). 3. Aquinas RB Ruben Garnett has 2,000 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns on 253 carries. Daniel Lindsey has 656 yards rushing and 513 receiving. Liam Welch is 86-of-134 passing for 1,722 yards and 21 touchdowns. DL William Evans has 21.5 sacks.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Mount Paran Christian by 14

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