Class 2A Blog: Round 1 Preview
NCC enters the game as a 3-point favorite against Columbia. According to team stats on MaxPreps, NCC is 82 of 144 passes for 1,263 yards and 16 touchdowns on four interceptions, mostly with two quarterbacks, and they have 1,592 yards on 296 carries spread across a stable of rushers. On defense, they have 12 interceptions from nine players. Senior Sam Ayegunle leads the team with eight sacks, and junior Jacob Cruz has a team-high 84 tackles, 14.5 for loss.
The Columbia Eagles have the toughest schedule and, at 7-3, the pieces to show for it. They rushed for 2,395 yards on 291 carries, with senior Royce Tolbert being the team’s workhorse. He has 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns on 116 carries. Senior quarterback Elijah Morgan has 69 of 114 assists with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He rushed for six touchdowns and 291 yards on 40 carries. His leading receivers are Jadan Baugh (24 receptions, 390 yards, five touchdowns) and senior Abdoul Diallo (10-177-4).
The Eagles have already proven that the moment won’t be too big for them. As well as being ranked third last year with a 26-14 win over Elbert County, they started this season with a 13-10 victory at Camden County in front of a packed house of 10,000 fans.
Putnam County is a 10-point favorite over Toombs County. Both teams run the ball and rely on defense, so a 14-10 type game wouldn’t be surprising.
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ELCA, Fellowship Christian and Pierce County should all win by at least three points. However, the Laney Wildcats, as 28-point underdogs, have played against some good teams this season and should, at the very least, cover that gap.
Region 2 champions Spencer are a 13-point underdog to the No. 4 seeded Region 1 Berrien Rebels (6-4). The rebels’ losses came to quality opponents. On August 19, they lost 19-18 to #6 Clinch County of 1A-DII. they lost 56-46 to No. 8 Worth County on September 23. On October 14, they lost 45-28 to No. 3 Cook and they closed the season last week with a 34-20 loss to No. 1 Fitzgerald.
The Greenwave Owls have the advantage of defense and home court to draw the so-called upset, although they probably shouldn’t be considered underdogs. They are on a seven-game winning streak and are allowing an average of 9.1 points this season against 1A and 2A competitions.
North Murray, seeded fourth, could make his game with Fellowship Christian much closer than the 19-point margin the Paladins are favored to win. The Mountaineers are averaging 41.4 points per game; the Paladins giving up an average of 15.7 points.
Worth County are a 2-point favorite over North East in what could be the best game of all Round 1. No other game should be closer – Model, as a 7-point favorite over Worth County ‘Union, is the closest.
The Raiders’ home field advantage, size on both lines, solid running game and defense will be tough for the Rams to overcome. The Rams are averaging 33 points per game but were shut out 42-0 by Fitzgerald and closed the season with a 36-12 loss to Cook which knocked them out of the standings.
Washington County is a 39-point underdog at Appling County, but the Golden Hawks closed the season 3-1 to qualify for the playoffs and may have turned a corner under first-year coach Robert Edwards. Still, even a close game here should count as a surprise. 8-1 Pirates play like a championship contender.
Fannin County are 15-point underdogs at Athens Academy, and they have a common opponent in Union County. The Spartans defeated Union 38-7 on October 28. Union defeated the Rebels 14-7 in the August 19 season opener.
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ACE Charter is a 36-point underdog at No. 10 Cook. The Gryphons have a punching chance to keep the game close, but will need to score in range of their 42.6-point average. There is precedent for a Gryphon upset. Although the Hornets have allowed more than 42 points only once this season, it ended in a surprise 47-37 loss to 29-point underdog Dodge County on October 21.
Model hosts Union County in what should be another great first-round game, though it probably doesn’t have the same implications as the Columbia-NCC and Worth-Northeast games. That’s because the winner gets South Atlanta in Round 2. Still, the advancement would be notable for either program, which has combined for two playoff wins since 2015.
For more analysis, see Ep. 56 from Class 2A Blog.