The state high school football semifinals have arrived, and we learned last week that the defending champion Saints of Cedar Grove are dominant in all facets of the game. Clearly the program has not skipped a beat in coach Miguel Patrick's first season after taking over for Jimmy Smith, now an assistant at Georgia State.
Cedar Grove's 36-3 thrashing of Peach County proved that the Saints seem to be head-and-shoulders above the other three teams that remain in the playoffs. And that's no offense to Crisp County, Greater Atlanta Christian and Jenkins. They field excellent programs.
But at this point, you have to pick Cedar Grove to win it all.
GAC's Spartans will have the first shot at an upset when they travel to Ellenwood to face the Saints in a rematch of the 2016 championship game that Cedar Grove won 30-19. If GAC is looking for a scheme in the matchup, it might want to take notes from Calhoun's effort in 2017, when the Yellow Jackets silenced Cedar Grove 14-6 in the semis. It was the lowest point total by Cedar Grove since 2014, when the Saints lost to Columbia 22-0.
This season, Cedar Grove lost to Central-Phenix City (Ala.) 24-20 on Aug. 31 and to McEachern 29-7 on Sept. 14. But it has outscored Class AAA opponents 371-50 since entering Region 5 play on Sept. 27 with a 41-17 victory against Lovett through last week's 33-point victory against Peach County, then the top-ranked team in the classification.
Long story short, the Saints are playing hard, physical and with apparent program-sized chips on their shoulders that was fueled by a news story that didn't sit well with the Saints' players and coaches.
"Someone sent us a video from the news where they were saying that we were a team that didn't like to tackle," Cedar Grove head coach Miquel Patrick told AJC reporter S. Thomas Coleman after the Saints dismantled Peach in the quarterfinals. "We wanted to show that we don't shy away from contact at all. We pride ourselves on being physical."
How far that chip can carry Cedar Grove remains to be seen, but GAC is next in line to test the Saints' physicality.
"I think a lot of people underestimated the depth and quality of our program. We graduated a lot of really good players from last year, and we have a new coach," Patrick told Coleman. "But we have a lot of hungry kids in this program, even some sophomores and freshman who are stepping up and making plays for us."
GAC, which defeated Hart County 17-16 at home in the quarterfinals, enters the game outscoring opponents 450-182. It is worth noting that the last time GAC won a semifinal game on the road was in 2016, when Davis Mills, who plays at Stanford, led the Spartans to a 13-7 victory against Peach County in Fort Valley.