To Jefferson Memorial Stadium (from Buford): Take I-85 N to Exit 137, US-129 toward Jefferson/Gainesville. Turn right towards Jefferson on US-129/GA-11. Follow US 129 S 4.1 miles to Old Swimming Pool Road. Turn left onto Old Swimming Pool Road. Go .2 miles and the stadium will on the right.
Directions to St. Pius X: From Gainesville, take Interstate-985 South to I-85 and exit at Shallowford Road (Exit No. 93). Take a right on Shallowford Road and make an immediate U-Turn on Shallowford Road. Turn right on Johnson Road. The school is located at 2674 Johnson Road Atlanta, GA 30345.
Buford at Jefferson
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
Coaches: Buford, Jess Simpson; Jefferson, T. McFerrin
Records: Buford (10-1, No. 2 Region 6-AA); Jefferson (11-0, No. 1 Region 8-AA)
Key players: Buford, OL/DL Kolton Houston (6-5, 280 Sr.), DE/FB A.J. Cunningham (6-0, 198, Sr.), FB Jessel Curry (6-2, 217, Sr.). Jefferson, RB/LB Lucas Redd (6-1, 200 Sr.), QB Darius Minor (5-11, 170 Sr.), OL/LB Kyle Mosely (6-2, 240 Jr.).
Outlook: Both Buford and Region 8-AA champion Jefferson enter tonight’s game averaging more than 35 points per game with balanced offensive attacks.
The Dragons have run for 2,623 yards and 38 touchdowns this season while passing for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Wolves, normally known for their stout running attack, has 2,294 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns to 1,346 yards passing and 17 touchdowns.
The difference maker between winning and losing for these two teams tonight, however, will be which defense does the most stopping.
Buford has the clear advantage, giving up only five points per game while allowing only eight touchdowns all season.
The Wolves, led by Auburn commit Curry, as well as Cunningham (64 tackles and six sacks) and Andrew Swope (87 tackles and four sacks) not only recorded a shut out last week in the first round of the playoffs, but has six on the season.
All told, Buford is allowing just 126.9 yards of total offense a game, and Jefferson’s defense is giving up 213 yards per game and 13 points on the season.
Led by Kyle Mosely (107) tackles, the Dragons have allowed only eight points per game in their last six games.
The Dragons were without the services of Redd, who leads the team in rushing and is third in tackles, last week due to illness. He’s expected to return tonight.
Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves’ defense catapults Buford into the state quarterfinals.
Commerce at Darlington
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Chris Hunter Stadium, Rome
Coaches: Commerce, Steve Savage; Darlington, Tommy Atha
Records: Commerce (7-4, No. 2 Region 8-A); Darlington (7-4, No. 1 Region 6-A)
Key players: Commerce, RB Deon Brock (5-9, 170 Sr.), LB Josh Streetman (6-2, 205 Sr.), RB Jon Cash (5-9, 165 Sr.). Darlington, RB Tylon Garrett (Sr.), OT/DE Alex Sentell (Sr.), QB Brad Butler (Fr.).
Outlook: The two Tiger teams in tonight’s second-round matchup share more in common that their mascot.
Both are perennial playoff teams. Both start underclassmen at quarterback and get most of their yards on the ground. And both played challenging schedules in the early part of the season and got off to a slow start before rattling off impressive winning streaks.
Commerce has won six of its last seven, a span interrupted only by a loss to top-ranked Wesleyan. Last week, led by Brock’s 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns, it dropped Landmark Christian 29-19 to advance beyond the first round for the first time since 2006.
Meanwhile, after jumping out to a quick lead, Darlington found itself in a battle, holding off a comeback and defeating Warren County 16-14. Darlington blocked two punts in the game, and has now blocked three punts in the last two weeks.
Garrett led the way with 142 rushing yards on 24 carries, an output Savage said is typical of the hard-running fullback who drives Darlington’s Wing-T offense.
Prediction: COMMERCE. All else appears even, and the visiting team is healthy and rested, while the home team has played in hard-fought bruisers each of the last two weeks.
Flowery Branch vs. Grady
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Lakewood Stadium, Atlanta
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Grady, Ronnie Millen
Records: Flowery Branch (8-3, No. 4 Region 7-AAA); Grady (10-1, No. 2 Region 5-AAA)
Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Connor Shaw (6-2, 200 Sr.);RB Imani Cross (6-1, 215 So.); K/DE Billy Thompson (6-0, 180 Sr.). Grady, QB Treveon Albert; WR/DB Damian Swann (6-1, 170).
Outlook: Coming into tonight’s game, the Falcons are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.
In 2006, a last-second touchdown by Grady put Flowery Branch out of the state playoffs in the second round.
While the personnel on both teams has changed drastically, a few things remain the same.
Flowery Branch is still led by now starting quarterback Connor Shaw (2,442 yards passing and 26 touchdowns), who set a school record with 13 receptions — two for touchdowns — against Grady as a freshman.
And Grady is still athletic and fast.
“When I was a freshman, I was impressed with how athletic they were,” said Connor Shaw. “They’re going to be just as athletic this time around, too.”
Running back Marcus Caffey was the team’s offensive leader in its 26-21 win against Hart County in the first round of the state playoffs, finishing with 116 of the team’s 217 yards on the ground.
The Grey Knights are averaging 30 points a game and giving up just 11, but their leading receiver Swann, who has scholarship offers from Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi State, was held in check as he only had one reception in Round 1.
Flowery Branch’s defense and special teams were the catalysts in its first-round win last Friday night in Chattanooga.
The Falcons held run-first Ridgeland three times inside the 20-yard line to preserve the win, and Thompson and punter Will Monday pinned the Panthers deep in their own territory several times during the game.
The special teams were also responsible for the Falcons first two scores as Monday converted a field goal and Thompson blocked a Ridgeland punt attempt that was recovered in the end zone by senior linebacker Cory Sanderson.
While the offense didn’t put up the gaudy numbers it’s used to (40 point per game average), it used Imani Cross’ running ability to milk the clock in the second half and get the win.
If the Falcons have all of the aforementioned clicking again, they could be looking at a second straight trip to the quarterfinals.
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. Revenge is sweet and best served in the second round.
Dunwoody at Gainesville
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Bobby Gruhn Field
Coaches: Dunwoody, Michael Youngblood; Gainesville, Bruce Miller
Records: Dunwoody (7-4, No. 3 Region 5-AAA); Gainesville (11-0, No. 1 Region 7-AAA)
Key players: Dunwoody, RB Ishmael Adams (5-9, 160 So.), OL/LB Tray Lazenby (5-10, 225 Sr.), RB Tracy White (5-11, 182 Jr.). Gainesville, QB Blake Sims (6-1, 180 Sr.), WR Tai-ler Jones (6-0, 185 Sr.), LB Thomas Sprague (6-0, 215 Sr.).
Outlook: Like it has all year, top-ranked Gainesville started the playoffs with a dominant win against overmatched Lakeview Fort-Oglethorpe. The matchup won’t be as easy tonight, as Gainesville plays host to a Dunwoody team that reached the third round of the Class AAA playoffs in 2008.
The Wildcats are led by a trio of running backs, including Adams and White, who combined for 170 yards on just 18 carries in their first-round win over Elbert County. As a team, Dunwoody averages 222.8 rushing yards and 24 points per game.
But those games weren’t against Gainesville.
The Red Elephants boast the best scoring defense in Class AAA (6.3 points per game), the highest-scoring offense in AAA (46.8 points a game) and the largest scoring differential, with their closest game coming against White County when they won by 22.
Led by one of the state’s best linebacking corps, Gainesville is allowing less than 100 yards rushing a game and held Lakeview to just 33 yards on the ground in Round 1.
The defense isn’t the only dominating aspect of the top-ranked team in Class AAA, as Gainesville’s offense can score quickly and in bunches.
The Sims-led spread attack has given the opposition fits all year, and the Red Elephants have a multitude of weapons, including Jones, Teryan Rucker and Tyson Smith, that can create big plays. That was evident in Round 1, as Gainesville scored on its first three possessions to put Lakeview in an early 21-0 hole.
Prediction: GAINESVILLE. This one won’t be as easy as Round 1. Or will it?
North Hall at St. Pius X
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta
Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; St. Pius X, Paul Standard
Records: North Hall (9-2, No. 2 Region 7-AAA; St. Pius X (11-0, No. 1 Region 5-AAA)
Key players: North Hall, RB/LB Peyton Wilhoite (6-1, 220 Sr.), OL/DL Daniel Blitch (6-5, 320 Sr.), QB/DB Nathan Jones (5-11, 185 Sr.). St. Pius X, RB/LB Robert Lucisano (5-9, 183 Sr.), RB/LB Cole Moon (6-2, 210 Sr.), QB/DB Trey White (5-10, 173 So.).
Outlook: North Hall’s Wing-T attack has its sights set on St. Pius X tonight. The winner of tonight’s game secures a spot in the state quarterfinals against the Peach County/Washington County winner.
The Trojans scored four second-half touchdowns and advanced past the first round with a 39-21 win against Ringgold last Friday at The Brickyard. However, this week there isn’t the security of playing at home, where North Hall is 9-2 in playoff games.
St. Pius advanced in the playoffs with a 34-0 win against Franklin County. The Golden Lions’ last appearance in the state quarterfinals was in 2006, when they eventually lost in the state semifinals against Northside-Warner Robins.
Both North Hall and St. Pius X are going to keep the ball on the ground on offense. The Trojans have rushed for 3,070 yards this season (6.2 yards per carry). Wilhoite (828 yards, 11 TDs) and Jordan Chaffin (544 yards, 10 TDs) are North Hall’s leading rushers.
The Golden Lions had 3,308 rushing yards (7.3) per carry in the regular season, led by Cole Moon (1,037 yards) and George Kennedy (682 yards).
“St. Pius is a lot like us,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “They’re very disciplined, patient and comfortable just trying to grind it out.”
Meanwhile, the Trojans have passed for 785 yards this season, and St. Pius has passed for 561 yards.
On defense, North Hall is led by Jones (102 tackles, nine interceptions) and Wilhoite (92 tackles, six tackles for a loss). St. Pius X is led on defense by senior linebacker Lucisano (102 tackles).
“They are an outstanding team and are very well coached,” St. Pius coach Paul Standard said. “We’re going to have our hands full with North Hall.”
Prediction: NORTH HALL. Trojans play great in the second half and walk away with the school’s first road playoff win.