A Peach County Facebook page probably best describes the history of this week's matchup between the top-ranked Trojans and No. 2 Cedar Grove, the defending state champions, which defeated Peach in last year’s Class AAA title game.
“Next up is Cedar Grove,” the post read. “Not a heated rivalry, not much trash-talking going on. Just two outstanding programs that have a ton of respect for each other.”
But, as the post concluded: “CEDAR GROVE, WE ARE BACK and WE OWE YOU ONE.”
Peach enters Friday's quarterfinal road game after pitching shutouts against Brantley County (19-0) and Calhoun (35-0) in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Cedar Grove defeated Fannin County (36-7) and Benedictine( 49-13). The programs have only met once, in last year’s state title game. Cedar Grove wide receiver Jadon Haselwood caught the game-winning touchdown with seconds left to lift the Saints to a 14-13 victory.
Cedar Grove quarterback Austin Smith rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown and passed for two touchdowns in the Saints’ victory against Benedictine. Smith throws to numerous receivers. Janiran Bonner has caught 29 passes for 499 yards and nine touchdowns. Coreyon Cone has 16 receptions for 306 yards and three touchdowns. Bernard Mack has 14 catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns.
The Saints also run the ball, primarily with Chavon Wright, who is averaging 123.8 rushing yards per game (178 carries for 1,486 yards) and 19 touchdowns.
Peach quarterback Jaydon Gibson is 96-of-145 passing for 1,762 yards and 20 touchdowns and has rushed for six touchdowns. Running back Noah Whittington has 80 carries for 824 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tijah Woolfolk has rushed for 586 yards and eight touchdowns. Gibson’s key receivers have been Dorrian Smith (21 receptions for 522 yards and seven touchdowns) and Justin Harris (36 receptions for 460 yards and three touchdowns).
The Peach County defense is anchored by linebacker Sergio Allen, a Clemson commitment, who has 74 tackles, including 14 for losses and three sacks. Defensive end Jaqualin McGhee has 65 tackles, including 19 for losses and eight sacks. Quentel James, a defensive tackle, has 59 tackles, incluidng 19 for losses and four sacks.
R8 #2 Hart County at R7 #1 Greater Atlanta Christian: Hart County owns victories in the only two meetings against Greater Atlanta Christian, but that was more than 10 years ago when the Bulldogs won 17-14 in 2008 and 55-21 in 2009. Greater Atlanta Christian is not the same team it was a decade ago.
But Hart enters the quarterfinals with momentum from a bracket-busting 32-29 victory against No. 3 Pierce County in overtime last week. Hart was considered a sleeper in the classification, but then lost in sloppy fashion in back-to-back weeks to Jefferson (28-23) and Monroe Area (28-21) to drop out of the top 10 rankings. But the Bulldogs have bounced back in the playoffs. In the first round, Hart beat Haralson County 56-27, scoring the second-most points by a team in the AAA playoffs. (Benedictine’s scored 58 against Monroe in the first round.) The Bulldogs can score, but can they stop GAC?
GAC has playoff victories against Pace Academy (35-14) and Cook (38-0). Quarterback Jackson Hardy is 142-of-221 passing for 2,369 yards and 25 touchdowns to lead an offense that averages 208 passing yards and 190 rushing yards per game. Hardy has rushed 29 times for 149 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Tyler Bride has 138 carries for 1,152 yards and 15 touchdowns. Tre Henry has 69 carries for 418 yards and 10 touchdowns. Montae Bailey has 66 carries for 391 yards and four touchdowns. Receiver Christian Thomas has 26 catches for 427 yards and nine touchdowns. Jake Hicks and Thomas Lowman each have four touchdown receptions. Six other players have at least one touchdown catch for the Spartans.
R8 #1 Jefferson at R1 #1 Crisp County: Crisp County enters the quarterfinals after playoff victories against Southeast Bulloch (46-0) and North Hall (41-3). Jefferson has victories against Sonoraville (49-17) and Appling County (28-7). The programs have never met. Crisp averages 205 rushing yards and 120 passing yards per game. Jefferson averages 337 rushing and 48 passing yards per game. A solid Crisp County defensive line could be detrimental to the Dragons’ running game.
Two quarterbacks – sophomore Jack Carter (47-of-89, 675, three TDs) and junior A.J. Lofton (50-of-80, 672, 5 TDs) -- split duties for quarterback. Sophomore Marquise Palmer has 188 carries for 1,259 yards and 16 touchdowns. Lofton has 135 carries for 878 yards and nine touchdowns. Christopher Paul Jr., Palmer and Sirad Bryant each have two touchdown receptions.
Jefferson quarterback Colby Clark leads the rushing attack with 178 carries for 1,007 yards and 23 touchdowns. Jefferson has gotten touchdown runs from 11 players. Kade McNally, Kolton Jones and Malaki Starks each have five rushing touchdowns. Josh Cochran, Dawson Crawley and Starks each have two touchdown receptions from Clark, who is 28-of-51 passing for nine touchdowns.
R6 #1 North Murray at R3 #1 Jenkins: North Murray enters the quarterfinals for the first time in the 10-year history of the program. It captured its first-ever region title after beating Calhoun 31-7 earlier in this season, then winning out in the region. Its best appearance in the playoffs was a second-round exit in 2016. The historic season for the Mountaineers was extended after its 28-14 victory against Monroe Area in the first round and a 24-14 victory against Jackson last week.
Jenkins earned its quarterfinal berth after beating Adairsville (41-0) and Dawson County (42-9). The Warriors average 209 rushing and 135 passing yards per game. They are led by quarterback Patrick Blake, who is 113-of-177 passing for 1,650 yards and 21 touchdowns. Damozzio Harris leads the rushing attack with 156 carries for 1,460 yards and 25 touchdowns. Donavin Hall has 44 carries for 311 yards and seven touchdowns. Kyree McClean has 24 receptions for 413 yards and eight touchdowns. Ronald Cooper III has 12 receptions for 202 yards and four touchdowns. Darius Bush has three touchdown receptions; Kian Gary and Jameal Smith each have two.
From the picking and grinning department: Last week I went 7-1 in my picks and things won't get easier here. Below is the schedule and the projected outcomes:
Class AAA quarterfinal schedule
R4 #1 Peach County at R5 #1 Cedar Grove
My pick: Cedar Grove
R8 #2 Hart County at R7 #1 Greater Atlanta Christian
My pick: GAC
R8 #1 Jefferson at R1 #1 Crisp
My pick: Crisp
R6 #1 North Murray at R3 #1 Jenkins
My pick: Jenkins
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