Region 3 is Class AAAA’s smallest with just five teams, but the stakes will be massive this Friday night as its two front-runners [Burke County at Baldwin] square off. The magnitude of this game has just recently come into full scope. Baldwin opened its season 0-5 and was 1-5 heading into region play just a few short weeks ago. Burke County’s season started with back-to-back losses and they quietly reeled off four straight wins to start region competition at 4-2. Baldwin defeated a 6-0 Richmond Academy squad 28-21 to open its region schedule, and then cruised past Thomson 27-6 last week. Burke County topped Cross Creek 41-7, and then scored a 32-7 win over Richmond Academy. So now both teams are 2-0 in region action, Richmond Academy is 0-2 and on a bye this week, and Cross Creek and Thomson will square off Friday night, each with 0-1 records. So here’s what’s at stake:
If Baldwin wins on Friday and Thomson defeats Cross Creek, then Baldwin will be guaranteed region champs for the first time since 2009. If Burke County wins on Friday and Cross Creek defeats Thomson, then Burke County will capture its second-straight region title. Richmond Academy will close out its season against Cross Creek and Thomson, respectively. That means that despite the 0-2 start to region play, the Musketeers still have full control of the destiny of the No. 3 seed, regardless what happens this weekend.
As for predictions for Burke County at Baldwin, history will tell you that Burke County has won the last four head-to-head matchups—including last year’s 32-14 win. Baldwin coach head coach Jesse Hicks, however, is in Year 2 of his second stint with the Braves. And that defeat last year brought his all-time record against Burke County from 4-0 all-time to 4-1.
Burke County junior Leon McGee will be the player to watch. In last week’s win over Richmond Academy, McGee finished with 188 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Bears closed out the 32-7 victory with 32 unanswered points.
“I thought the biggest thing we wanted to do was be physical,” Burke County head coach Eric Parker told The Augusta Chronicle following the game . “I felt like that’s the calling card for any good team heading into the playoffs. When it was all said and done, we ended up playing the type of football we like to play, and I thought we did it on both sides of the ball.”
“This was a great matchup last year,” stated Hicks “We had a good game plan and we’ll have another one this year. I don’t think there’s an area where they’re superior to us or we’re superior to them. I think we’re pretty evenly-matched. It’s going to come down to special teams and who wants to finish the game strong.”
Pickens is hosting Ridgeland this Friday in what I consider the other top Class AAAA matchup. And there’s historic implications packed into this Region 6-AAAA showdown. Pickens is currently 8-0, with a 4-0 record in the 7-team region. A win over Ridgeland would mathematically guarantee the program its first region title in school history. A win would also put Pickens one game away from clinching the first undefeated regular season in the program’s 62-year history.
Ridgeland has followed its 0-2 start to the season with five straight wins entering this matchup. The Panthers demolished LaFayette 69-7 last Friday night, and dominated this matchup 55-21 a year ago to even the all-time series with Pickens to 3-3.
Ridgeland will need to use their speed advantage play after play after play to take command of this game. Jordan and Azavier Blackwell are the two most explosive playmakers on the Ridgeland roster and they’ll need to have an impact in all three phases. Quarterback Tanner Hill struggled in this matchup last year, completing just 3-of-13 passes for 22 yards. It was Ridgeland’s ground game that carved up 493 yards off 40 carries (12.3 ypc) and reached the end zone seven times that propelled the Panthers to the 55-21 win.
As for Pickens, the defensive improvements that have been made this season is the biggest factor to this hot start. The Dragons need to sustain it and continue this newfound defensive success to get the win. Through eight games, the Pickens defense has combined for 63 tackles for loss. They are also allowing just 11.63 ppg, a dramatic difference from the 34.55 ppg given up this past season. Offensively, Pickens is averaging 334.9 rushing yards per game and has rushed in 37 touchdowns. The Dragons game plan needs to be heavy doses of the run game on offense, and defense by committee to prevent Ridgeland from the big plays.