7:30 p.m., A.J. McClung Memorial Stadium
Directions: Take Interstate 985 South and merge onto Interstate 85. Take Exit 21 (Interstate 185 South) toward Columbus. Take Exit 7 for US 27/GA-85 toward Columbus. Turn right at 45th Street/GA-85/Manchester Road. Turn left at Beallwood Connector Road/Veterans Parkway. make a U-Turn at 6th Street and stadium will be on the right at 600 4th Avenue.
Records: Gainesville (12-0); Carver (10-2)
Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Cartersville, Dell McGee
When Gainesville has the ball: Spread vs. 3-3
Gainesville’s high-powered offense really took shape in last week’s 42-28 win over Cartersville. Blake Sims (6-1, 185) had one of his most efficient games all year, throwing for 222 yards and three touchdowns and leading the Red Elephants on a scoring drive in all but two possessions in the first half. The passing game was helped by a strong night running the ball, as junior Teryan Rucker rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore Devon Pierce chipped in with 62 yards rushing on 14 carries. Rucker also aided in the passing game, as the 5-9, 170-pound running back took a screen pass 94 yards for a touchdown. Rucker, wide receiver Tai-ler Jones (6-1, 175 Jr.) and Juwon Jeffries (6-3, 170 Sr.) all caught touchdown passes for Gainesville last week.
For the Red Elephants to win this week they will need just as much of a balanced attack on offense.
While Carver will be playing without its All-American Jarvis Jones, who broke his hand and is out for the season, the Tigers boast a strong defensive front seven that has recorded four shutouts and has only allowed more than 10 points once, a 22-0 loss to Baldwin. The loss of Jones is huge for the Tigers, but Carver still has senior LeRon Furr (6-2, 226) to man the middle of the field.
Gainesville will be the biggest test of the year for the Tigers, as the Red Elephants run a style of offense that Carver has yet to face. Powered by Sims, Jones, Rucker et all, Gainesville comes into tonight’s game averaging more than 39 points per game and has scored more than 35 in seven of its last eight games.
Carver has shown that it can shut down some of the state’s top teams, but not one that is averaging 41 points a game in the playoffs like Gainesville.
When Carver has the ball: Spread vs. 3-4
Running the football is Carver’s game plan, and running the football is what the Tigers do best. Led by the duo of Jarkuis Morgan (5-10, 200 Sr.) and Isiah Crowell (6-0, 190 So.), Carver has rushed for more than 2,500 yards this year, including a 180-yard two-touchdown performance from Morgan in last week’s 21-6 win over Woodward Academy. Morgan and Crowell aren’t the only two threats in the backfield for Carver, as quarterback Devin Burns has a good arm and is a big running threat.
Burns may have to use his arm, and not his legs to beat Gainesville because the Red Elephants have been able to shut-down the run game all year.
They held Cartersville to 155 yards rushing last week, including the highly-touted Morgan Alexander to minus-9 and no one had more than 60 yards on the ground. The week before, Gainesville held Oconee County to 32 yards rushing, and against the run-first offense of North Hall, Gainesville limited the Trojans to 118 yards on the ground.
Stopping the run and preventing the big plays will be a key for the Gainesville defense that is anchored by lineman Josh Jackson (6-2, 260 Sr.) and linebackers A.J. Johnson (6-3, 208 So.) and Phillip Gaines (5-10, 210 Sr.).
"Some teams don’t want to drive the ball, they want to big play you," Miller said. "If you don’t let them big play you, they get frustrated."
Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The way to score against Gainesville is through the air not on the ground and Carver hasn’t proven that it can do that this year. Gainesville on the other hand can score at will, and despite facing a tough defense, nothing can slow down the high-octane offense of Big Red.
7:30 p.m., Tom Riden Stadium
Radio: WDUN 550-AM
Directions: From Interstate 985 South take Exit 8; Take a right on Friendship Road and go through two red lights. Take a left on Buford Hwy. Turn right onto Sawnee Road and the school is approximately 1/4-mile ahead on the right.
Records: Dublin (11-1); Buford (12-0)
Coaches: Dublin, Roger Holmes; Buford, Jess Simpson
When Buford has the ball: Multiple I vs. 4-3
The Wolves numbers on offense show why they’ve been so successful this season. Buford can run the ball all the way down field, and then when the defense least expects it, senior quarterback Michael May will hit the opposition with the passing game.
Buford’s offensive play numbers show how much it likes the running game. The Wolves have run the ball 390 times and passed 82 this season.
What is slightly unusual from years past is that the Wolves don’t have a single go-to running back. Instead, it’s a 1-2 punch with junior Storm Johnson (950 yards and 16 touchdowns) and senior Cody Getz (874 yards, 19 touchdowns).
The running back by committee approach is working just fine for Buford. The Wolves are averaging 312 yards of offense per game (219.5 rushing).
And May does just fine with his passing opportunities, completing 75-of-113 passes for 1,060 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Just because Buford grinds it out on the ground, doesn’t mean they don’t put up a lot of points on the scoreboard. The Wolves are averaging just a fraction under 40 points per game this season.
Last week, the Wolves had one of its best offensive nights all season with a 44-7 win against North Oconee in the second round of the playoffs. Buford finished with 232 yards rushing and averaged a lofty 7.7 yards per carry.
With the win, the Wolves secured its ninth straight trip to the state quarterfinals.
Dublin’s defense may provide a rare challenge to Buford’s offense. The Fighting Irish’s defense has only allowed 11 points per game this season. It only allowed six points in a first round win against Central-Macon. Dublin’s only loss this season was 21-11 to Laney in week two of the regular season.
Tonight’s game is a rematch of Buford’s 48-0 win against Dublin last season in the state semifinals at the Georgia Dome. The Wolves also knocked off the Fighting Irish 28-24 in the 2004 state semifinals.
"There’s definitely a level of familiarity playing against one another," Buford coach Jess Simpson said.
When Dublin has the ball: Wing-T vs. 4-3
The Fighting Irish have a unique weapon on offense with senior quarterback Rashard Smith. He earned the nickname "Bullet" by his teammates with his strong pocket presence, ability to run with the football and also the threat Smith presents as a kick and punt returner.
Smith, who led Dublin to 180 yards of offense, returned a kick 89 yards for a what turned out to be a game-winning touchdown last week against Thomasville in the second round at the Shamrock Bowl. Smith also returned a kick for a touchdown against Southeast Bulloch during the regular season.
"He’s the best playmaker we’ve seen all season," Simpson said. "We know not to kick the ball anywhere near him."
Buford’s defense should be ready to see the kind of speed the Fighting Irish bring to the field. Buford’s goal should be to hold Dublin under 9 points. Since 2000, the Wolves are 83-0 when allowing 9 points or less.
The Wolves’ defensive strength rests with a big line, led by Dallas Lee (88 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, five sacks), Trevor Warbington (85 tackles, 14 quarterback pressures, nine tackles for a loss), Andrew Sachais (64 tackles, 20 quarterback pressures, six sacks) and A.J. Cunningham (58 tackles, 20 quarterback pressures and 9 1/2 sacks).
The Wolves have only allowed 8 points per game this season, and 75.5 rushing yards per game. Last week, Buford’s defense completely shut down North Oconee, allowing only 96 rushing yards (3.3 per carry) and only 151 yards of total offense.
Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves can contain one big playmaker from Dublin’s side. The Fight ing Irish’s lack of another big playmaker leaves Buford licking its chops.
Flowery Branch at Baldwin
7:30 p.m., Braves Stadium, Milledgeville
Directions: Take US-129 to the US-29/GA-8 ramp, merge onto Paul Broun Parkway. Take US-129 S towards Watkinsville/Madison turning right onto US-129 S/US-441 S. US-129 S/US-441 S will become Brooks Pennington Memorial Parkway/US-129 BYP W. Take a slight left onto Eatonton Road/US-129 and the take a right onto Roberson Mill Road NW/US-441 following it until turning right onto GA-49 W/GA-49 SW. The school is ahead on GA-49.
Records: Flowery Branch (10-2), Baldwin (12-0)
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Baldwin, Jesse Hicks
Players to watch: Flowery Branch, QB Connor Shaw (6-1, 185 Jr.), RB/DE Daniel Drummond (6-3, 230 Sr.), DE Izaan Cross (6-4, 250 Sr.). Baldwin, RB Jerrico Ford (5-9, 185 Sr.), LB Corico Hawkins (6-2, 235 Sr.), DL Javarius Exum (6-3, 240 Sr.)
When Flowery Branch has the ball: Multiple spread option vs. 4-4
Led by 6-foot, 220-pound all-state middle linebacker, and Clemson verbal commit, Corico Hawkins (11 tackles and one sack in last week’s 29-19 win over Shaw), the speedy Braves defense, which is allowing only four points per game, is the team’s strength.
It has, on the season, five shutouts and has given up more than a touchdown only twice.
On top of that, the Braves have allowed just two touchdown drives of more than 50 yards.
The much-heralded defense also has the ability to put up points as evidenced by the Braves first-round, 28-3 win over Eagles Landing, in which it accounted for three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Working in Flowery Branch’s favor, however, is the ability to throw the ball.
The Braves have seen teams that predominately run out of an I formation or work out of the spread in an effort to get the quarterback space to run.
A stark contrast to the spread run by quarterback Connor Shaw (1,764 yards passing and 20 touchdowns on the season) who was 12-of-17 passing for 173 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 21-14 win over Ridgeland.
Over the last two games, both playoff wins, Flowery Branch has scored only one rushing touchdown, but only because it hasn’t had to run the ball.
Shaw has, with his arm, accounted for seven of the Falcons nine postseason touchdowns.
Flowery Branch comes into tonight’s game averaging 33.5 points per game.
When Baldwin has the ball: I-formation vs.
Speed is the name of the game when it comes to Baldwin’s offense.
Led by Jerrico Ford and freshman quarterback Roshaun Miline, the Braves are averaging 23 points per game out of the I.
The key for Flowery Branch’s defense (giving up 13 points per game), led by Greg Palmer, Cory Sanderson, Izaan Cross, Daniel Drummond and David DeLeon, is to not let Baldwin get to the corners.
"We’ve just got to swarm to the ball," Shaw said. "We’ve got to play that style of defense. There’s nothing tricky about their offense, but they have speed."
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. Despite not having near the speed of their opponent, the Falcons get it done through the air and make the stops necessary to move on.