Class 2A Blog: No surprise quarter-finals
As for this week, here is where we are:
On the top corner left
The Yellow Jackets have just beaten North Cobb Christian 63-10, a callback to their 65-7 victory over East Jackson in the first round. No team scored more points in the first two rounds. Also, it’s the third game in a row, and fourth in the last five, that they’ve scored more than 60 points.
That’s what makes their clash with defending champions Fitzgerald, who edged a very tough Putnam County team 28-20, so intriguing. On paper, this game looks even. Both teams use a stable of more than five running backs to control the ball in the ground game. Both have championship level defenses. Both are used to the playoffs.
My gut tells me to stick with Fitzgerald, and I will since, duh, they’re my pick to win it all. But with the Jackets having to play 3A for the past two seasons, it might have been appropriate to drop out from a competitive balance standpoint, and the break they needed to get back to the title game, which they achieved in 2018 – the final season of their final 2A stint.
At the bottom left
The Bears look very much like a state champion, and they’re only two seasons away from that accolade, earning much less of a top 3A ranking. Against the only remaining No. 4 seed in the tournament, Berrien, the Bears posted the only shutout of the second round, winning 52-0.
They will face the Paladins, who ended ELCA’s remarkable 12-game quarterfinal streak with a 26-15 win in a game they controlled from start to finish. The Paladins have grown rapidly since the arrival of coach Tim McFarlin last season, and while championship expectations have been a tall order until very recently, they are realistic for the second year in a row.
If the Paladins are going to win this game, it will likely be a close, low-to-mid score. The Bears had 41.5 points and the Paladins averaged 29.83. If the Bears score at will, it would require a shootout for the Paladins to call, and that’s not a good situation for them. However, they have a strong enough defense to keep the score in the 28-24 range.
If the Paladins do it, I give them a 50/50 chance of winning. And with home advantage, it’s an achievable goal. If the Bears score at least 35 points, that should be enough for their defense to hold the lead, and they will advance. That’s what I’ll choose, since the Bears are advancing anyway.
Appling County once again looked great in the second round, this time against Northeast in a 35-13 victory. This follows a 65-13 hit from Washington County. The Pirates are yet another team with a solid defense, giving up an average of 11.18 points. They beat Pierce County 28-17, keeping the Bears at their lowest score of the season.
Now comes a Callaway team that is apparently still in the 2A quarterfinals. The Cavaliers outlasted Fannin County 20-13 at home in a game they trailed late and held with a defensive stance. It wasn’t a pretty win, but the Cavs were never one to go for style points. As always, they played an ultra-competitive out-of-region schedule, but this time they came out 0-3 for their worst start in 17 years. Again, no style points – just athletes, coaches and championship aspirations, every season.
Just move forward. It’s the only goal so far this season, and the Cavs have done it. And as I said in last week’s preview, they showed a tendency to play level with their competitors and shut down any game. I expect the same this week at home, but I’m not sure at this stage it’s enough to beat the Pirates.
I picked Callaway to win, so I’ll stick with that. Although last week’s game was a little tighter than expected — the Cavs were 13-point favorites — perhaps it was a reflection of the quality of a Fannin County team.
Which leads me to say that Fannin County was a much better team than the 6-4 record they took in the playoffs suggested. Despite the losses, the Rebels still showed flashes of last year’s quarterfinal team, with highlights including a 68-42 win over North Murray and the program’s first playoff victory over road, 28-13 against perennial playoff contender Athens Academy. They almost won second place in the playoffs.
At the bottom right
Thomson looked dominant in their 42-10 win over Cook. In fact, outside of their season-opening loss and a 15-14 victory over Laney in a game that was called off before four quarters could be completed, the Bulldogs have dominated the entire season. Averaging 42.25 points while giving up 7.5, they’ll head to undefeated South Atlanta in what might be the best and most exciting game of the quarterfinals.
The Hornets outscored Union County 42-14. Keyjuan Brown, chasing a second straight state rushing title, had 177 yards and touchdowns on 21 carries. He also threw for a 34-yard touchdown on his lone pass attempt.
The Bulldogs defense hasn’t seen a running back of Brown’s caliber this season, but to be fair, most 2A teams won’t. How they contain it will dictate what type of game it is. The Bulldogs will likely try to get everyone but Brown to beat them and they might have the talent on defense to execute. One would assume that this works to the Bulldogs’ advantage, and it can.
However, the Hornets have athletes aside from Brown who can wreak all kinds of havoc, even in the rematch. The question is whether those other offensive playmakers — quarterback Jontez Adams, TJ Summerall, Steven Moore and Nick Brown, among others — can step up enough for the Hornets to advance if Brown is choked out.
As mentioned earlier, the Hornets don’t use a placekicker for field goals and extra points, so there’s always a chance they’ll leave game-breaking points on the table.
If the Bulldogs can contain Brown — let’s define that as holding him within 100 yards on the ground and no more than two rushing touchdowns — that, coupled with the Hornets’ lack of kicking game, should be enough for them to win. However, if Brown breaks through the Bulldogs’ defense like he has against just about every other defense he’s faced over the past two seasons, I see the Hornets rallying around him and moving forward.
I think this game will be tight, and I think both teams will be able to score. I see something in the direction of a 42-35 game, but maybe that doesn’t give the defenses enough credit. I’m going to stick with the Hornets to advance to the next round, because it was my choice and because they have the talent to do it, with the home advantage on their side.