The Class AAAAA semifinals offer two interesting options.
On one side you’ve got a rematch of last year’s state championship game, much to no one’s surprise. Many pundits probably picked both Buford and Rome to return to the semifinals before the season began.
On the other side you’ve got the only remaining unranked team against a club that went 3-8 a year ago. Few truthful fans can likely admit the foresight of picking both teams to reach the semifinals when the season began in August.
Here’s a look at Friday’s semifinals. The winners will play for the state championship on Dec. 8 at 4:30 p.m. at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
No. 2 Buford at No. 1 Rome
What Buford must do: The Wolves can’t afford to get behind like they did a week ago, when they spotted Stockbridge a pick-six on the first play of the game. Stockbridge didn’t have the offensive punch to use that mistake to its advantage, while a similar play would likely fuel a Rome offense that’s the best in the state. Buford’s defense, one of the best around, needs to create some three-and-outs or at least force the Wolves to punt a handful of times.
Best Buford players: QB Aaron McLaughlin, RB/LB Anthony Grant, RB Christian Turner, RB Derrian Brown, OL Henry Miller, DL Quentin Skinner, DL Mike McMorris.
What Rome must do: On offense, the Wolves must creatively mix things up – just as they’ve done all year. There’s nary a weakness to be found here and understated quarterback Knox Kadum is playing at a high level. On defense the Wolves are more susceptible against the run. Starr’s Mill rolled up some yardage in the quarterfinals. But Rome always seems to come up with a fumble or interception when it’s needed the most.
Best Rome players: QB Knox Kadum, RB Jamious Griffin, RB Jalynn Sykes, WR Xavier Roberts, LB Adam Anderson, DL DeMarcus Chatman, LB Montrel Millsap, DB Trai Hodges.
The burning question: Most people expected this matchup when the brackets were released. It’s a rematch of last year’s state championship game, which saw Rome stuff Buford’s running game and end up with a 14-7 win. Rome puts its 25-game winning streak on the line.
Unranked Carver at No. 4 Warner Robins
What Carver must do: On offense the Panthers must play a mistake-free game – no fumbles, no interceptions, no bad punts – that will rob them of a chance. If Carver misses a turn on offense, that will put additional pressure on the defense, which held up well against the Jones County spread attack a week ago. A similar effort on defense will give Carver a legitimate chance.
Best Carver players: QB Octavious Battle, RB Jo’Quavious Marks, RB Tony Jones, WR Quinadarious Monday, WR Deanthony Ball, DB Isaiah Mitchell, LB Solomon Mosley, LB Contravious Wise, LB Jatavius Ponder.
What Warner Robins must do: The Demons must be focused and produce the sort of game they did last week against Carrollton rather than the previous week against Eagle’s Landing, when they needed overtime to beat a four-loss club. The Warner Robins offense is really humming and features plenty of weapons at the skill positions. On defense, the Demons need another effort like they got in the second half against Carrollton.
Best Warner Robins players: QB Dylan Fromm, RB Jarius Burnett, RB/KR Jaeven West, WR Julius Cobbs, WR Tyler Fromm, MLB Jerquan Parrish, DL Bobby Kelly, DB C.J.Harris.
The burning question: How will Carver handle the hostile environment at McConnell-Talbert Stadium? Warner Robins has a serious home-field advantage this week. Carver has to travel and isn’t likely to have a big group in its traveling party. If the Panthers can’t handle the moment, the game could get away. If they can handle the atmosphere, it could be an entertaining game.