Game of the week: Gainesville at Whitewater
North Hall at St. Pius X
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta
Radio: 102.9 FM, 1330 AM
Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; St. Pius X, Paul Standard
Records: North Hall (11-2, No. 2 Region 7-AAA); St. Pius X (11-2, No. 1 Region 6-AAA)
Winner plays: Buford/Cartersville winner
Key players: North Hall, QB/DB Andrew Smith (5-8, 145 Jr.), OL Avery Easton (6-3, 260 Sr.), RB/DB T.J. Tate (5-8, 165 Sr.). St. Pius X, RB/DB Nicholas Ruffin (6-1, 185 Jr.); RB Ryan Braswell (5-11, 205 Sr.); QB Jack Spear (6-3, 187 Sr.).
Outlook: North Hall and St. Pius will meet tonight for the fourth time in four years. The Golden Lions won each of the previous three meetings, but never with this much on the line.
North Hall is trying to reach the state championship for the first time in program history, and after the Trojans blasted favored Peach County 52-10 last week, a trip to the Georgia Dome looks like a very real possibility.
Against Peach County, the Trojans ran for 430 yards and scored twice as many points as any Peach County opponent had scored previously. Halfbacks Tate and Kevin Christmas were equally effective, rushing for 182 and 172 yards, respectively, each at 10 yards per carry.
Smith, Bradley Brown and Zac Little complete the rushing attack, and each have run from more than 500 yards on the season. Brown, the starter at quarterback, leads the team with 15 rushing scores.
All that offense has overshadowed a defense that has done more than hold its own. Led by Smith and linebacker Destin Bennett, the Trojans are surrendering just 228 yards (114 rushing, 114 passing) and less than nine points per contest in the playoffs.
Against St. Pius, they’ll be faced with a potent triple-option ground attack that averages 309 rushing yards per game. Braswell leads the team in rushing, and Spear has also put up big yards in his first season at the helm of the offense.
Defensively, the Golden Lions feature a high-level college prospect in Ruffin, but they’re also coping with a high-profile defection. Nick Glass, a Georgia recruit with offers from elite schools across the country, has left the school, according to a report this week on ESPN.com’s recruiting site.
Even without Glass, there’s no shortage of talent for St. Pius. Bob Christmas said linebacker David Crochet looked like one of the team’s best defenders on film.
Prediction: NORTH HALL. After a 42-point win over one of the favorites to win state, there’s no goal out of the Trojans’ reach.
Buford at Cartersville
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Weinman Stadium, Cartersville
Coaches: Buford, Jess Simpson; Cartersville, Frank Barden
Records: Buford (10-3, No. 2 Region 7-AAA); Cartersville (13-0, No. 1 Region 5-AAA)
Winner plays: North Hall/St. Pius X winner
Key players: Buford, RB Dontravious Wilson (5-11, 215 Sr.), TE/LB Korie Rogers (6-2, 210 Sr.), RB/DB Thomas Wilson (5-11, 180 Jr.). Cartersville, QB Brooks Barden (6-3, 205 Jr.); WR/S Hayes Lin (6-1, 175 Sr.); WR TL Ford (6-3, 175 Jr.).
Outlook: So much for a rebuilding year.
Buford entered this season with an almost all-new cast of starters and stepping up in classification from AA, but that hasn’t slowed the Wolves. Other than a pair of forfeits brought on by the use of an ineligible player, Buford’s has lost only once this season on the field and is back in the state semifinals for the sixth straight year, looking for its sixth straight berth in the state title game.
The Wolves’ success shows that some things never change. They’ve reloaded with a stout offensive line clearing holes for a ground game that averages 254 yards per game. Dontravious Wilson is the leading rusher with 1,052 yards and 13 touchdowns. He’s bounced back well after a late-season injury and ran for 134 yards last week as the Wolves pulled away from Carver-Columbus in the second half for a 31-7 win.
Buford has also passed well with quarterbacks Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder splitting time and combining to throw for 1,496 yards, 17 touchdowns and just one interception.
Defensively, the Wolves have stars at every level and have been equally stingy against all types of attacks. They’re giving up 174 yards of total offense per game, have held opposing rushers to 3.4 yards per carry and have only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 42 percent of attempts. They’ll get a test this week from one of the state’s most efficient passers. Brooks Barden is at the center of the Purple Hurricanes offense, passing for 38 touchdowns and just two interceptions with 2,672 yards this season. Lin and Ford are his primary targets, while Brandon Long and Kalin Heath have combined to rush for more than 1,000 yards.
On defense, Cartersville hasn’t given up more than 23 points in any game this season and has helped the team survive a pair of close calls in recent weeks. The Purple Hurricanes edged Blessed Trinity 24-23 in the second round, then knocked off previously unbeaten Thomson 21-13 last week.
Prediction: BUFORD. It’s hard to call any aspect of Buford’s team a weakness, but when tested the season, the pass defense has certainly been a strength.
Greater Atlanta Christian at Jefferson
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
Coaches: Greater Atlanta Christian, Tim Hardy; Jefferson, T McFerrin
Records: Greater Atlanta Christian (10-3, No. 2 Region 6-AA), Jefferson (12-1, No. 1 Region 8-AA)
Winner plays: Calhoun/Lamar County winner
Key players: Greater Atlanta Christian, QB Rafe Chapple (6-1, 190 Jr.); RB Kyle Scales (5-10, 193 Sr.); OL/DL Andrew Bartolomei (6-4, 248 Sr.); Jefferson, QB Bryant Shirreffs (6-2, 215 Sr.), LB Wesley Simonton (6-0, 205 Sr.), WR/RB Sammy Williams (5-5, 155 So.)
Outlook: Jefferson narrowly escaped elimination last Friday with a 53-51 double-overtime win against Fitzgerald, but Greater Atlanta Christian won by just a field goal as time expired against Early County last week. Both teams have the ability to fight back in the face of adversity, but Jefferson hasn’t had to do so often this season, with the quarterfinal game being their closest win all year.
The Dragons have a talented core of players leading the their versatile offense with Shirreffs at the helm. This season he has 1,099 yards and 16 touchdowns on 133 carries along with 2,036 yards and 15 more scores on 149 completions through the air. He is accompanied by fullback Tristen Jackson, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass and the two-point conversion in last week’s game. Jackson has 524 yards and 15 touchdowns on 101 carries and another score with 252 yards on 21 catches. Williams is third on the team in scoring with 12 scores and 811 yards on 116 attempts.
When passing, Shirreffs’ main targets are McKay Dickens and Donnie Hatfield, who have combined for 11 scores. Simonton has 161 tackles, five sacks and 25 tackles for loss for a defense that has allowed just 12.3 points against per game.
The Spartans have scored over 30 points in every game but three this season, but the defense allows an average of 20 points per game.
Scales and Chapple are the main threats for the Spartans. Chapple is 144-of-236 passing with 2,279 yards and 25 touchdowns so far, and Scales has 1,311 yards rushing with 21 touchdowns. Peter Whiteneck is another force on the Spartans offense with 53 catches for 906 yards and 12 scores. On special teams, Punter Ross Wood averages 42 yards and place-kicker Brandon Holzgrefe is 10-for-10 on field goals this season, including the game-winner against Early County. Jefferson will make their third trip to the state finals if they win, while Greater Atlanta Christian would be heading to the dome for the second time.
Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons offense is more potent than the Greater Atlanta Christian defense and will find a way to win once again.