Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Quarterfinal preview: Only contenders need apply

The luck of the draw have created some incredible third-round matches for the Class AAAAA playoffs. There’s not a rotten game among the four quarterfinal matches, which features six region champions and seven ranked teams – including the top five -- among the eight remaining contenders.

It’s setting up to be a great Friday.

No. 2 Buford (10-1) at No. 3 Stockbridge (12-0): This may be the spotlight game in the semifinals, which matches Buford’s powerful offense against the immovable Stockbridge defense. Buford averages 42.4 points per game and Stockbridge allows only 5.9 points – best in the classification. So something’s got to give.

Lost in the haze of the Buford offense – which features three game-breaking backs (Tennessee commit Anthony Grant, Michigan commit Christian Turner and Derrian Brown) and perhaps the best freshman quarterback in the state in Aaron McLaughlin – is the efficiency of the Wolves’ defense. Led by two-way standout Grant, they allow just 9.4 points and have posted five shutouts.

Stockbridge must find a way to avoid mistakes and give Buford any sort of cheap points or easy scoring opportunities. The Tigers will need to get wide receiver Marquez Ezzard involved in the game, as they did a week ago in the second-round win over Ware County. He has caught 43 passes for 994 yards and 13 touchdowns and run for three scores. Ezzard is a touchdown waiting to happen.

First-year Stockbridge quarterback Gabe McKenzie has done a good job, throwing for 1,492 yards and seven touchdowns and rushing for 626 yards and three scores. B.J. Riley leads the Tigers with 859 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.

The two teams have never met. Both reached the semifinals a year ago.

No. 1 Rome (12-0) at No. 8 Starr’s Mill (11-1): Starr’s Mill averages 30.5 points and has won games by outscoring the opposition. That will be more difficult this week against the defending state champions, who have some of the best defensive players in the state. Rome’s defense allows an average of 10.4 points, but many of those points have come against the second-team defense.

The Starr’s Mill defense will be tested like it hasn’t been all season. The Panthers were able to limit the damage against Bainbridge’s Dameon Pierce last week, but Rome has more weapons and is much more diverse on offense. Plus, the Wolves are the masters of the trick play.

Rome’s offense is run by Knox Kadum, who has thrown for 1,630 yards and 18 touchdowns, and run for 449 yards and seven touchdowns. The skill players are outstanding: Jamious Griffin has rushed for 1,051 yards and 24 touchdowns, and Jalynn Sykes has rushed for 906 yards and 14 touchdowns. Sykes has been dealing with a shoulder issue and didn’t play in the second-round game.

The Starr’s Mill option attack is directed by quarterback Joey Deluca, who has thrown for 792 yards and rushed for 414. The deep pool of running backs features Kalen Sims (851 yards, 11 touchdowns), Cole Gilley (718 yards, 14 touchdowns), Mitchell Prowant (796 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Nick Brown (768 yards, 11 touchdowns).

The two teams have never played. Starr’s Mill is trying to return to the semifinals for the first time since 2010, when it reached the championship game.

No. 10 Carrollton (10-2) at No. 4 Warner Robins (12-0): Two of Georgia’s iconic football programs meet for the first time. It could be a wild one, with both teams loaded with offensive firepower and neither noted for their defense this season.

The game features two excellent quarterbacks in Warner Robins’ Dylan Fromm and Carrollton’s Mark Wright. Fromm has thrown for 2,649 yards and 30 touchdowns. Wright, who missed time with an upper-body injury, has thrown for 1,327 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards and four touchdowns in seven games.

Carrollton running back Jaylen Thomas has run for 1,556 yards (a 10.4 yard average) and scored 20 touchdowns. Kodee Brewer has added 425 yards and seven touchdowns. Isaiah Lancaster (36 catches) and Dalton Benefield (34 catches, seven touchdowns) are the top receivers.

A question mark could be the health of Warner Robins running back Jarius Burnett, who left last week’s semifinal win early against Eagle’s Landing with a thigh injury. Burnett has rushed for 1,071 yards and 12 touchdowns. Backup Jaeven West has rushed for 356 yards and six touchdowns and is a breakaway kick returner.

Carrollton hasn’t reached the semifinals since 2013, when it got to the state final. Warner Robins hasn’t been there since 2011.

No. 5 Jones County (11-1) vs. Carver (11-1):  The offenses will take center stage in this game, too. Jones County comes in averaging 36.5 points and Carver averages 33.4, although both teams are above-average on defense.

Carver has some big-time skill players in quarterback Octavious Battle (2,755 yards passing, 21 touchdowns), sophomore running back Jo’Quavious Marks (1,874 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns) and receivers Quindarious Monday (887 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Deanthony Ball (803 yards, five touchdowns).

Jones County quarterback Teldrick Ross has thrown for 1,095 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 1,026 yards and 14 touchdowns. Running back Drake Bolus has run for 1,196 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 22 passes, four of them for touchdowns.

Jones County will be trying to get to the semifinals for the first time. Carver’s last trip came in 1968.



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