If you are looking for interesting scenarios in the second round of the Class AAA state high school playoffs, you probably should start with Region 7 No. 4-seed East Hall (7-4, 3-3) against Region 5 No. 3-seed Westminster (6-5, 5-2) at Westminster.
What you'll find is one of the highest-powered offenses in the classification going against a Westminster team decimated with injuries. How bad is it? The Wildcats currently have 17 players sidelined and are “piecing together a team,” according to coach Gerry Romberg.
Westminster has been a bit of a conundrum this season. They’ve been ranked as high as No. 5 in the preseason before falling to No. 6 in Week 2’s rankings. After losing to Greater Atlanta Christian on Aug. 25 , Westminster fell from No. 6 to No. 9 before falling out of the rankings following a loss to Woodward Academy in Week 3. The Wildcats regained a top-10 spot (No. 9) on Sept. 22 after defeating Redan, 44-0, before facing Cedar Grove.
Following the loss to Cedar Grove, Westminster again fell to unranked, and two weeks later it regained a spot in the top-10 (No. 10) where it would stay until the end of the regular season.
East Hall, you could say, has had a similarly strange season. The Vikings are 7-4, but they never reached top 10. Quarterback Austin Parker, who has passed for 4,026 yards and 44 touchdowns on 217-of-344 passing, leads the potent offense that can score fast and often. Parker also has rushed for five touchdowns and 590 yards on 70 carries.
“I have no idea how to slow them,” Romberg said. “If you know how, let me know. I have never seen a team that can score as much as they can score and how quickly they can score. That quarterback is a good man; he is the real deal. He finds a way to make plays. It’s basketball on turf; that’s what I call it. You know how in basketball, you’ll score and then let the other team score just to get the ball back? That’s almost what they do. They just want the ball back, so they can score again.”
The Wildcats will rely on two-way wide receiver/defensive back Joe Egan, who had a huge game in Westminster’s first-round victory against North Murray. Egan had seven catches for 121 yards and added six tackles on defense.
“Joe has really been our offensive go-to guy,” Romberg said. “We have tried to use him at running back in the ' wildcat' because we haven’t been able to generate a lot of offense running the ball ,and he is our best runner. The problem is, he is also our best defensive back. It’s tough because he gets so tired on offense and has to turn around and play defense. He is going to have to hang in there tomorrow and play as many snaps as he can.”
Here are some other top second-round games:
Region 2 No. 2-seed Pierce County (5-5, 3-2) at Region 4 No. 1-seed Peach County (10-1, 6-0): The Trojans are looking for the second consecutive appearance in the quarterfinals, and the Pierce County Bears are in their way. Peach has only met Pierce once, in 2012, when the Trojans won 43-15, coincidentally, in the second round of the playoffs.
Peach County has been one of the steadiest postseason programs in the last 25 years and have made it to the playoffs each season since 1991. Since then the Trojans have been led to the playoffs by five different coaches: Neal Rumble (1991-93), Rodney Walker (1994-97), Alan Rodemaker (1999-00), Rance Gillespie (2001-06) and Chad Campbell (2007-17). The program won state championships in 2005, 2006 and 2009.
Pierce County moved past Monroe in the opening round, 28-21. Last season, the Bears fell to Crisp County, 56-21, in the quarterfinals. If Pierce wins, it would mark the third quarterfinal appearance in four seasons. The Bears have made a playoff appearance every year since 2011.
Region 5 No. 2 Lovett (7-4, 5-2) at Region 7 No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian (10-1, 6-0): Greater Atlanta Christian holds an 8-6 margin and has won the last four meetings in the series that dates to 1999. For Lovett, this game presents an opportunity to upset one of the most productive programs in the classification.
The Spartans have outscored opponents 274-30 in the last five games and are led by quarterbacks Josh Rose and Jackson Hardy. Rose has passed for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns on 74-of-128 passing. Hardy has added 11 touchdowns and 580 yards on 36-of-53 passing. Clemson commitment Kyler McMichael has rushed for 1,124 yards and 23 touchdowns on 86 carries through 11 games. The run-heavy Spartans average 251.6 rushing yards per game.
Lovett featured a more balanced attack with 174.9 yards passing and 123.8 yards rushing per game. Quarterback Blaine McCallister has passed for 1,609 yards and 18 touchdowns on 107-of-174 passing and has rushed for seven touchdowns on 80 carries. Crawford Schweiger leads the run game with 253 yards on 64 carries.