Gainesville's Sosebee a leading force for stout defense.
Gainesville at Allatoona
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Buccaneers Stadium, Acworth
Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Acworth, Gary Varner
Records: Region 8-AAAAA No. 2 Gainesville (10-2); Region 5-AAAAA No. 1 Allatoona (12-0)
Key players: Gainesville, LB J.D. Sosebee (6-0, 225 Sr.); QB Mikey Gonzalez (5-8, 165 Sr.); RB Michael Byrd (5-7, 170 Sr.). Allatoona, LB Will Kemp (5-10, 180 Sr.); RB Russell Halimon (5-11, 185 Jr.); DB Juanyea Tarver (5-10, 170 Jr.).
Outlook: Gainesville is a program steeped in football tradition, while Allatoona is a new program that isn’t to be taken lightly. The Red Elephants, who are coming off a 49-40 win in the second round against Harris County, are in the state quarterfinals for the sixth time since 2008.
Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are making their third state quarterfinal appearance, even though the varsity program didn’t start until 2008.
Gainesville is in the midst of its 15th straight postseason run, while Allatoona is in the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
In this quarterfinal matchup, the Red Elephants and Bucs have quite the opposite mode of offensive attack. Led by Gonzalez (2,940 yards, 36 touchdowns), Gainesville has produced about 75 percent of its offense through the air.
Meanwhile, Allatoona boasts Halimon, who is Class AAAAA’s top rusher with 2,116 yards and 23 touchdowns. The Buccaneers are seeking their first state semifinal appearance since beginning region play in 2010.
Messiah Dorsey is Gainesville’s leading receiving threat with 866 yards and 10 touchdowns. He had his third touchdown throw of the season last week against Harris County in Round 2. Chris Williamson (865 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Rodney Lackey (751 yards, 12 touchdowns) are the Red Elephants’ other top receiving targets.
Byrd has produced five consecutive 100-plus yard games running. He’s rushed for 866 of Gainesville’s 1,328 yards on the ground.
On defense, Sosebee is coming off a 21-tackle performance against the Tigers, and stands at 166 stops for the year.
Kash Jones, a senior, has 101 tackles and seven sacks on the season for the Red Elephants.
Allatoona moves the ball primarily on the ground. The Bucs have rushed for 3,504 yards and accounted for 1,825 through the passing game. Halimon has gone over 200 yards in both postseason wins for Allatoona. His season high was 320 yards against North Paulding on Sept. 5.
Halimon has gone over 200 yards rushing five times this season and averages 7 yards per touch. Running back/wide receiver Joshua Bettistea is second rushing for the Bucs rushing with 709 yards, while catching passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
Allatoona quarterback Conner Larsen has completed 65 percent of his throws for 1,765 yards, 20 touchdowns and only one interception.
“Allatoona is a running team but they also are efficient passing the ball,” Miller said.
On defense, the Buccanneers are led by a pair of players. Kemp has 144 tackles (84 solo), while Tarver has 93 tackles and seven sacks.
The winner faces the Northside (Warner Robins)/Glynn Academy winner in the state semifinals.
Marist at Buford
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
Coaches: Marist, Alan Chadwick; Buford, Jess Simpson
Records: Region No. 2 6-AAAA Marist (11-1); Region 8-AAAA No. 1 Buford (12-0)
Key players: Marist, WR/RB/CB Griffin King (5-10, 175 Sr.); FB/OLB Ian Gipson (5-9, 200 Sr.); LB Adam Smith (6-0, 175 Sr.). Buford, FB/ILB Joshua Thomas (6-1, 210 Sr.); RB Evyn Cooper (6-2, 185 Sr.); SS/WR David Curry (6-1, 195 Sr.).
Outlook: Don’t expect to see any Odell Beckham Jr.-esque leaping grabs or Peyton Manning-worthy quarterback performances when Buford takes on Marist in the Class AAAA quarterfinals tonight. The Wolves and War Eagles will enter Tom Riden Stadium as two of the most lethal rushing threats in the state.
Marist has scored 47 touchdowns on the ground, including 20 between two senior backs, Griffin King and Ian Gipson. Gipson leads the War Eagles in rushing yards (871), while King scored twice in last week’s win over defending AAAA champion Griffin.
Head coach Alan Chadwick’s double-wing offense has allowed for Marist to pick up 11 wins this season, with the one blemish of a 10-9 loss to region foe St. Pius X. The War Eagles have never scored less than two touchdowns in a win this season.
Meanwhile, the defense has held steady for the majority of the fall. Behind senior linebackers Adam Smith (54 solo tackles) and Jack Kratzenberg (43), Marist recorded four shutouts against region opponents.
But Buford has slammed the door shut on its opponents this season, allowing less than a touchdown per game. The undefeated Wolves have given up only one rushing touchdown in 2014 while holding opposing rushers to an average of 1.4 yards per carry.
Nationally ranked tight end prospect Isaac Nauta has recorded five sacks, tied for best on the team with Jordan Perlotte.
Thirteen different defenders have made at least 15 tackles this season, including three forced fumbles by Nauta.
Simpson’s team gave up 14 points in last week’s win over Mary Persons, but the final fourth-quarter score was against Buford’s second-string defense in garbage time of a comprehensive 35-14 victory.
Offensively, there’s no reason to believe Buford won’t extend its 37-game win streak tonight against the Region 6-AAAA runners-up. Four different running backs have gone for at least 300 yards this season, while 14 different backs have combined for Buford’s 56 rushing touchdowns.
Junior Xavier Gantt (671 yards, 10 touchdowns) was out for the second-round game with a hamstring injury, but may be able to return for tonight’s matchup. Senior Evyn Cooper (442 yards, 2 touchdowns) coolly stepped up as Gantt’s replacement, rushing for a game-high 141 yards to set up two second-half touchdowns.
As a unit, Buford is at its most impressive. The Wolves have averaged 267.2 yards per game while allowing less than 40.
Jefferson vs. Blessed Trinity
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
Coaches: Blessed Trinity, Tim McFarlin; Jefferson, Ben Hall
Records: Blessed Trinity (12-0); Jefferson (12-0)
Key players: Blessed Trinity, RB Milton Shelton (5-9, 180 Jr.); QB Conor Davis (6-3, 215 Jr.); WR Matthew Higgins (Jr.). Jefferson, RB Sammy Williams (5-7, 170 Sr.); QB Evan Shirreffs (6-5, 195 Sr.); WR/P Dalton Hill (6-1, 175 Sr.).
Outlook: This matchup features plenty of similarities for the opponents. Not only are both undefeated with mostly lopsided victories, but each team also won by a touchdown in its regular-season finale. Both have won decisively in the first two weeks of the playoffs.
In fact, the Dragons have scored 481 points and allowed 105, and the Titans have totaled 467 while surrendering 114.
Shirreffs leads the Jefferson offense with 2,466 yards and 21 touchdowns passing. Hill is his top target with 44 receptions for 1,016 yards and nine touchdowns, and T.J. Skelton has 43 catches for 845 yards and eight scores.
Williams paces the rushing attack with 1,294 yards and 21 touchdowns, and freshman Colby Wood has 789 yards and 16 scores.
Shelton has 1,112 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing for Blessed Trinity.
Davis, the Titans’ quarterback, has 1,585 yards and 16 touchdowns passing and four rushing touchdowns. Higgins is his leading receiver with 34 receptions for 450 yards and five touchdowns.
The Dragons are 12-0 for the first time in program history. Jefferson won the Class AA state title in 2012.
The Titans’ program began in 2001, and this marks the first season in their history they will lose fewer than three games.
Commerce vs. Calhoun County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Ray Lamb Stadium, Commerce
Coaches: Calhoun County, John Williams; Commerce, Mike Brown
Records: Calhoun County (8-3); Commerce (9-2)
Key players: Calhoun County, FB/OLB Anthony Johnson (5-7, 173 Sr.); WR/MLB Sherrod Williams (6-2, 190 Sr.); SS/QB Dajohn Williams (6-3, 190 Sr.). Commerce, FB/OLB Will Thomas (6-0, 210); RB/S Cole Chancey (5-10, 175 So.); RB/CB Grant Mayberry (Sr.).
Outlook: The Tigers are coming off their first playoff victory since 2009, a 37-7 first-round Class A Public win against Clinch County. Now they face the Cougars, who avenged a region loss to Mitchell County with a 13-12 win last week.
Thomas paced Commerce with 162 yards and four touchdowns rushing in the playoff opener. He leads the Tigers with 834 rushing yards and is second with 10 touchdowns on the ground, while Mayberry (776 yards, 7 TDs) and Chancey (761 yards, 7 TDs) have also rushed for more than 700 yards.
Quarterback Caleb Brooks has totaled 556 yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns rushing.
Commerce has outscored opponents 251-97 in the first half this season.
Calhoun County has hit the 30-point mark four times and only allowed opponents to do so twice.
The Tigers, meanwhile, have point totals of 49, 58, 42, 55 and 37 in their current five-game winning streak, while prevailing by an average of 39.2 points in those contests.