Records: Cartersville (8-3); Gainesville (11-0)
Coaches: Cartersville, Frank Barden; Gainesville, Bruce Miller
Key players: Cartersville, QB Donavan Tate (6-2, 195 Sr.), RB Morgan Alexander (5-10, 180 Sr.), DB/RB Tyler Blackwell (5-11, 171 Sr.). Gainesville, QB Blake Sims (6-0, 185 Jr.), WR T.J. Jones (6-0, 175 Jr.), LB A.J. Johnson (6-3, 208 So.)
When Cartersville has the ball: Spread/Wing T vs. 3-4
Take one look at Cartersville’s 34-31 win against St. Pius X in the first round and the game plan behind the Purple Hurricanes offense is simple: Get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and let them make plays. Last week against Class AAA’s No. 6 ranked team, Tate accounted for 284 yards and three touchdowns, while his backfield partner Alexander had 107 total yards and two scores. Both players, who are considered high-level Division I prospects, along with Blackwell, Justin Cooper and Jamie Jackson have tremendous speed and can make things happen in the open field.
That speed could cause Gainesville’s defense some problems, as the Red Elephants have not faced an offense containing this much speed all year ... during games. Gainesville’s vaunted defense, which comes in averaging less than 10 points per game, has to go head-to-head with its own offense every day in practice, so the players are used to facing a large number of athletes. According to Miller, when the team participates in its “Passing under pressure” drill, the first-team defense usually wins the battle. Seeing the type of speed Gainesville sees every day should help tonight.
When Gainesville has the ball: Spread vs. 4-3
Like their second-round opponents, the Red Elephants are focused on getting the ball to their playmakers, who had their most evenly balanced performance last week against Oconee County. Despite playing with an injured back, Sims had season highs in both passing yards (336) and touchdowns (4). His injury limited his effectiveness running the ball, but it paved the way for sophomore Devon Pierce to showcase his talent. The 5-foot-6 speedster rushed for a career-high 138 yards on 24 carries (5.75 yards per attempt) and a touchdown in the win.
When not getting it done on the ground, Gainesville, which rushed for 204 yards, assaulted the Warriors with its passing game. Jones had a career day with personal bests in yards (146 on 14 catches) and touchdowns (3), while tight end Nick Williams had 123 yards and two touchdowns, including one 80-yard score at the end of the first quarter.
Like Gainesville’s defense, Cartersville, which is giving up 23.54 points per game and has held opponents to less than 10 only twice, has experience playing a highly-athletic offense. Not only do the Purple Hurricanes see it every day in practice, but they have also played teams like St. Pius, Carrollton and Westminster.
Cartersville’s defense also has some experience facing a Sims-led offense, as the junior quarterback was the signal caller at Cass High (Cartersville’s rival) prior to coming to Gainesville. Good news for the Red Elephants, last year Sims and the Colonels defeated Cartersville 34-7, and his knowledge of what the Purple Hurricanes can do on defense should help the Gainesville game plan.
Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants’ defense has done an excellent job all year when faced with tough opponents and tonight will be its toughest test yet. It’ll be close, but after adjusting to Cartersville’s team speed, the defense will step up and Gainesville celebrates another home win.
7:30 p.m., North DeKalb Stadium
Directions: Follow Interstate 985 South to Interstate 85 South toward Atlanta. Take Interstate 285 West for three miles to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Turn left on Peachtree Industrial, then turn right on Ivy Lane and then right on Chamblee Dunwoody Road. The stadium is located on the left at 3688 Chamblee Dunwoody Road.
Records: North Hall (8-3); Dunwoody (11-0)
Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; Dunwoody, James Teter
Key players: North Hall, OL/DL Daniel Blitch (6-6, 330 Jr.), LB Thomas Sprague (6-1, 200 Jr.), DB Nathan Jones (5-10, 180 Jr.). Dunwoody, DE Malcolm Mitchell (6-2, 220 Sr.), LB Jerry King (6-0, 230 Sr.), RB Treaver Scales (5-10, 190 Sr.).
When North Hall has the ball: Wing-T vs. Multiple 50
The Trojans clearly want to improve on the offensive numbers from last Friday’s opening round win against Hart County where all of North Hall’s 154 yards came on the ground. The Trojans would like to get closer to its season average of 296 yards to have a shot at knocking off third-ranked Dunwoody. North Hall has run the ball effectively this season with 209 yards per game (5.4 per carry). Avery Nix, a senior, is North Hall’s leading rusher with 810 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Matt Christmas (538 yards) and Peyton Wilhoite (399 yards) also see plenty of carries.
Dunwoody’s opponents have averaged 221 yards of offense this season, and three yards per carry. Mitchell — who holds scholarship offers from South Carolina, West Virginia, Central Florida and Louisville, among others — leads the Wildcats on defense with 60 tackles (16 for a loss) and nine sacks. Blake Adams, a senior, has 102 tackles (four for a loss) for Dunwoody. Dunwoody’s coach believes this game could be the biggest challenge for his team this season. “It’s going to be a tough game for both teams,” Teter said. “This could be the toughest game for our team all season.”
When Dunwoody has the ball: Wing-T vs. 4-4
Dunwoody’s coach says that his offense is very similar to that of North Hall. The Wildcats have run the ball on 432 of 522 plays from scrimmage this season. Dunwoody has averaged 370 yards per game (8 yards per play) and 24 points per game. Scales is the Wildcats’ leading running back (1,271 yards 20 touchdowns), along with LeFloyd Phillips (608 yards, seven touchdowns).
Dunwoody senior quarterback Erick Cooper is 47-for-90 passing for 926 yards and eight touchdowns.
North Hall is coming off a first round win against the Bulldogs, in which it didn’t allow an offensive touchdown. The Trojans’ defense is allowing 283 yards per game (185 rushing). North Hall junior linebacker Thomas Sprague is the area’s leading tackler with 153 tackles and nine tackles for a loss. Nathan Jones (97 tackles), Sam Weaver (81 tackles) and Peyton Wilhoite (74 tackles) are also a big part of the Trojans’ defensive unit.
Prediction: NORTH HALL. It’s not a big secret that DeKalb County public schools — with the exception of Tucker — fail to consistently achieve a high level of playoff success. Dunwoody’s 11-0 record really isn’t that amazing when you examine who it beat. North Hall can find a way to win another close one on the road.
7:30 p.m., Tom Riden Stadium
Records: North Oconee (9-2); Buford (11-0)
Coaches: North Oconee, Terry Tuley; Buford, Jess Simpson
Key players: North Oconee, QB Sean Zornig (6-0, 160 Sr.); RB Brandon Whitlock (5-7, 165 Jr.); DE Ryan Smith (6-2, 175 Jr.). Buford, RB Cody Getz (5-7, 157 Sr.); OL/DL Dallas Lee (6-4, 295 Sr.); DE A.J. Cunningham (6-0 190 Jr.)
When North Oconee has the ball: Multiple vs. 4-3
The Titans opened the season planning to bring a balanced offensive attack into its first season of Region 8-AA football. To an extent, that plan had to be scrapped when starting quarterback Jamey Fullington went down with season-ending injury — not that anybody from North Oconee is complaining.
Zornig, a transfer from Cedar Shoals, has filled in ably in Fullington’s absence, leading the team to six wins in seven starts, including a 28-21 win over Rockmart last week, the first playoff game in the school’s history.
To suit Zorning’s skills, the Titans have added some wing-T concepts to the offense and now focus almost exclusively on the running game. Whitlock leads the team with 900 rushing yards (6.5 per carry), while Zornig has 415 yards on the ground and a team-high seven touchdowns. For the season, the Titans are averaging 235 rushing yards and 59 passing yards per game.
This week they’ll face a physical Wolves defense that thrives on toe-to-toe football.
Opposing rushers this season are gaining only 2.4 yards per carry against Buford, which hasn’t lost a game since the 2006 quarterfinals.
Led up front by Lee, who’s verbally committed to the University of Georgia, and linebacker Landon Anderson (team-high 113 tackles) the Wolves are surrendering 7.8 points per game. Forty-eight of the 86 points they’ve allowed have come in the fourth quarter.
When Buford has the ball: Multiple I vs. 4-4
Thanks to strong defensive and special teams efforts, the offense hasn’t been asked to do that much this season.
The Wolves’ average starting field position is their own 46-yard line and the defense forces nearly three turnovers per game.
Nonetheless, the Wolves haven’t had much trouble moving the ball. They average nearly 7 yards per play on first down, have converted 43 of their 44 opportunities inside the 20, and on the rare occasion that they’ve been put in a hole, they’ve responded. Of the 10 times the Wolves have started a drive inside their own 20-yard line, they’ve moved the chains at least once on eight of them.
They’ve done it (6.7 yards per carry and 39 points per game) in their usual Buford fashion: line up in the I formation, run it right at you and sprinkle in a few play action passes to keep opposing defenses honest.
Getz (853 rushing yards, 18 TDs) and junior Storm Johnson (867 rushing yards, 15 TDs) carry the bulk of the offensive load, but quarterback Michael May has also been effective, completing 68 percent of his passes for 958 yards.
It’s been the North Oconee defense that has lifted the Titans to the heights they’ve achieved this season, especially during a four-week, midseason winning streak when they surrendered only two touchdowns. They’ve proven their ability to shut down potent offenses, limiting the high-scoring attacks of Banks County, Riverside and Jefferson.
The Titans’ pass rush has been especially strong, racking up 49 sacks and harassing opposing passers more than 12 times per game.
Prediction: BUFORD. It’s been a good season for North Oconee, but it ends tonight. Buford exists in a higher class of AA football.
7:30 p.m., Jefferson Memorial Stadium
Records: Lovett (8-3); Jefferson (11-0)
Coaches: Lovett, Mike Muschamp; Jefferson, Bill Navas
Key players: Lovett, WR/DB Max Williams (6-1, 178 Jr.), RB/DB Taylor Mack (5-9, 147 Jr.), QB Jonathan Carkhuff (5-11 182 Jr.). Jefferson, QB Darius Minor (6-1, 180 Jr.), WR/DB Tab Martin (5-8, 170 Sr.), WR/DB Zac Crosby (5-9, 175 Sr.).
When Jefferson has the ball: Spread vs. 3-3-5
Jefferson places big emphasis on its spread offense, and because of that, it’s hard to predict what it’s going to do next. When it comes to scoring, the Dragons favor rushing, with 30 touchdowns coming on the ground this year, but not by much; another 24 touchdowns were earned passing.
Much of their versatility comes from the dual-threat capabilities of quarterback Darius Minor, who has not only completed 64 percent of his passes, but has also thrown 23 for touchdowns and is also averaging 9.8 yards per carry (nine rushing touchdowns).
Minor has an extensive and experienced supporting cast. Virgil Appleby (151 carries, 876 yards, 10 TD) has handled the majority of rushing duties this year. Receivers Zac Crosby (39 catches, 433 yards, seven TD), Tab Martin (39 catches, 582 yards, six TD) and tight end Hoytez Damons (14 catches, 259 yards, two TD) have been Minor’s top targets this season and were difference makers in last week’s win against Coosa.
Lovett’s defensive scheme keeps five players in the secondary, which allows it to double up on receivers. The Lions will likely assign corners Taylor Mack and Max Williams to cover Crosby and Martin. If they can keep the Dragons from passing, they’ll look to linebackers Bo Anderson and Zach Wolfe and nose guard Jameel Stokes to keep Appleby and Minor from breaking open with a run.
When Lovett has the ball: Multiple vs. 4-4
Like Jefferson, Lovett likes to do a little bit of everything on offense. According to Muschamp, the Lions have a 60-40 run-to-pass ratio, led by their junior quarterback. The Lions have their own two-way starters, as Mack is also the team’s starting running back and Williams is Carkhuff’s primary receiver.
But like on defense, Lovett will have to look out for everything, as Jefferson boasts strength everywhere on the field.
The Dragons’ defensive line is anchored by senior tackle Steven Zeigler (38 tackles) and defensive end Zack Allen (60 tackles, 13 tackles for loss). Jefferson linebackers Lucas Redd, Patrick Allen, Kyle Mosley and Jay Fowler are big and physical stoppers, and each have over 70 tackles this season.
Martin and Crosby patrol the secondary and will need plenty of rest when they get can get it, as Williams and Mack are among Lovett’s fastest players and can do serious damage with an open field in front of them.
Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons haven’t lost a game this season, and with their fans supporting them at home, there’s no reason to lose this one. Jefferson’s explosive offense will lead them into the quarterfinals.
7:30 p.m., Rossville
Directions: Take Interstate 985 South to Interstate 85. Take Exit 95-B on to Interstate 285 West. Take Exit 20 on to Interstate 75 North. Stay on I-75 N for 90 miles. Take Exit 350 toward Fort Oglethorpe. Turn left at GA-2 (Battlefield Pkwy.) and stay on that for 10 miles. Turn left on GA-349 (Happy Valley Road). Stadium is on right at 2478 Happy Valley Rd.
Records: Flowery Branch (9-2); Ridgeland (9-2)
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Ridgeland, Mark Mariakis
Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Connor Shaw (6-1, 185 Jr.); WR/DB Chris Lipscomb (6-1, 180 Sr.); DE Izaan Cross (6-4, 250 Sr.). Ridgeland, QB Carlin Bowman (6-0, 190 Sr.), WR Michael Bowman (6-4, 215, Sr.), RB Terryl Freeman (5-10, 185 Sr.)
When Flowery Branch has the ball: Multiple spread option vs. 4-4
After the program’s first road playoff win, 42-21 over Stephens County last Friday night, one thing is clear about the Falcons’ offensive objectives: Take what the defense gives you and get the ball in the hands of playmakers.
Falcons’ quarterback Connor Shaw had his best passing outing of the season against the Indians throwing for 302 yards and five touchdowns to four different receivers.
But he wasn’t the only one who decided playoff time was the right time to shine offensively.
Greg Palmer showed his prowess catching and running the ball with two receiving touchdowns and 140 yards.
What’s scary, however, is that the Shaw to Palmer hookup hasn’t been the most productive of the season.
For Flowery Branch to come out of Rossville with a win, Rodriquez Frazier (52 yards receiving and one touchdown last week), and Shaw’s two favorite targets Chris Lipscomb (20.5 yards per catch and four touchdowns on the season) and Rodney Young (242 yards receiving and two touchdowns on the season) will all have to play as well as Palmer did last week.
Region 6-AAA champion Ridgeland is giving up, on average, 13 points per game and coming off a first-round game in which it held Carver-Atlanta scoreless in its 4-4 defense. Over the last five games, however, the Panthers are giving up a touchdown per game.
The good news for the Flowery Branch offense? It put up 35 points against a 4-4 earlier in the season when the Falcons faced North Hall.
When Ridgeland has the ball: Wing-T vs. Multiple
Ridgeland has all the components in place to run an effective wing-T: A quarterback in Carlan Bowman who has passed for over 1,100 yards and has 13 touchdowns against just three interceptions, a running back in Terryl Freeman who has over 1,000 yards on the season, and a wide receiver in Alabama verbal commit Mike Bowman who has 827 yards on 28 receptions (a 29.5 per-catch average).
The Panthers as a team have amassed 3,664 yards and average 8.3 yards per play with speed and size.
For Flowery Branch to stop, or simply contain, the Panthers, the secondary will have to bring its “A” game.
There isn’t a player in the secondary who has the size to matchup with the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Bowman.
However, if the Falcons can produce the kind of effort they did in holding Gainesville’s leading receiver Tai-ler Jones (802 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season) to 35 yards receiving and Blake Sims (1,989 yards passing and 19 touchdowns on the season) to 69 yards passing they can win.
Pressuring the Panthers quarterback will be a must, however, and that falls on the shoulders of the Falcons front seven including Drummond and Cross. For Flowery Branch to be successful, those two will have to be in the backfield moreso than not.
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH: The offense is clicking on all cylinders, the defense hasn’t stopped clicking and with the momentum built after last week’s road playoff win, Flowery Branch gets out of Rossville with another one.