Class AAA blog: Time to do a little first-round prognosticating

Let's do a little pick-em thing.

The Class AAA playoff brackets are set, and 16 first-round games will be played this weekend. It won't be an easy task deciding which programs will advance to the second round, but let's give it a shot.

The results of my picks -- and the second round schedule they created -- will be graded in my follow-up blog on Saturday.
So, here we go.

Top-left quadrant

Game: Region 8 No. 3-seed Morgan County at Region 6 No. 2-seed Calhoun

My pick: Calhoun

Why? For the first time in 18 seasons, Calhoun is not the No. 1 seed from Region 6 after it lost to North Murray earlier this season. But since the 31-7 loss Sept. 20, Calhoun has played quality football. A Calhoun loss here would mark the first time since 2000 that the Yellow Jackets did not advance past the first round and would be the last AAA football game for Calhoun before it reclassifies to AAAAA.

Game: Region 2 No. 4 Brantley County at Region 4 No. 1 Peach County

My pick: Peach County

Why? Barring a state-shaking upset, Peach should appear in at least the quarterfinals, where it will likely meet Cedar Grove, the defending champions. The Trojans are playing some of the best football in the class and have been ranked at the top all season. Peach has faltered in the state championship game each of the last two seasons, and if there was a season that the Trojans could win their fourth state title, this is it.

Game: Region 1 No. 3 Monroe at Region 3 No. 2 Benedictine

My pick: Benedictine

Why? Benedictine’s offense will test Monroe’s defense. The Cadets lost to Jenkins in the 3-AAA title game, but Benedictine scored mightily during the season with shutouts of Groves (77-0), Johnson-Savannah (48-0) and Windsor Forest (38-0). It also defeated Islands 37-26, Savannah 58-7, Southeast Bulloch 51-7 and Beach 50-43.

Game: Region 7 No. 4 Fannin County at Region 5 No. 1 Cedar Grove

My pick: Cedar Grove

Why? The Saints enter the playoffs looking for a title defense, and there’s no sign that Fannin County could spoil the party before it starts. The Saints went 2-2 through its non-region schedule before dominating Region 5 at 6-0 with four shutouts. Fannin struggled through Region 7 with a 3-3 record and a 42-21 loss to Greater Atlanta Christian last week.

Bottom-left quadrant

Game: Region 6 No. 3 Haralson County at Region 8 No. 2 Hart County

My pick: Hart County

Why? The Bulldogs climbed up the polls earlier this season and reached as high as No. 5 before back-to-back losses to Jefferson and Monroe Area sent Hart out of the top 10. Since the losses, the Bulldogs won three consecutive games, including a 49-0 victory against East Jackson and a 49-14 victory against Morgan County to take the 8-AAA No. 2 seed. Haralson County went 6-2 through Region 6 and is riding momentum from a 37-13 victory against Murray County last week.

Game: Region 4 No. 4 Central-Macon at Region 2 No. 1 Pierce County

My pick: Pierce County

Why? Pierce is flawless as it enters the playoffs and there isn’t a sign that points to Central-Macon could pull the upset. Central stumbled through six consecutive losses to open the season before winning 41-12 against Kendrick. It added victories against Pike and Rutland to finish the regular season 3-7. Pierce earned the No. 1 seed with a 42-7 victory against Liberty County last week, which capped the Bears’ second consecutive undefeated regular season. 

Game: Region 3 No. 3 Windsor Forest at Region 1 No. 2 Cook

My pick: Windsor Forest

Why? Cook has failed to score more than 35 points in a game this season. Windsor Forest went 5-3 through Region 3 and in consecutive weeks defeated Groves 60-0, Savannah 56-0 and Johnson-Savannah 45-0 before losing to Islands 27-12 last week. If Cook can find a defensive stop or two, it could be a close game.

Region 5 No. 4 Pace Academy at Region 7 No. 1 Greater Atlanta Christian

My pick: Greater Atlanta Christian

Why? If all goes to plan, GAC should advance. The Spartans stumbled out the gate with a 30-29 overtime loss to Lovett in its season opener, but responded with steady, quality football. GAC exited in the second round last year after a loss to Westminster and this postseason could be seen as a redemption tour. Pace has struggled on offense but is coming off a 41-14 victory against Towers last week, which could provide momentum for any chance of an upset.

Top-right quadrant 

Game: Region 4 No. 3 Westside-Macon at Region 2 No. 2 Appling County

My pick: Appling County

Why? This one was difficult, but Appling County should advance. Westside is coming off a 68-21 loss to Peach County which sent the Seminoles down to the No. 3 seed. The Pirates are coming off a 48-0 victory against Tattnall County last week. Appling runs it (261 yards per game), and Westside passes it (244 yards per game).

Game: Region 6 No. 4 Sonoraville at Region 8 No. 1 Jefferson

My pick: Jefferson

Why? The Dragons enter as the favorite after a flawless run through 8-AAA, capped by a 55-0 victory against Jackson County last week. Sonoraville struggled through 6-AAA and is coming off a 45-21 loss to North Murray last week. Jefferson almost exclusively runs the ball, averaging 343 yards rushing and 52 yards passing. That will prove a challenge for Sonoraville.

Game: Region 5 No. 3 Lovett at Region 7 No. 2 North Hall

My pick: Lovett

Why? The Lions are battle-tested out of Region 5 and should advance. But this game could be a close one. Lovett runs a balanced offense, averaging 165 yards passing and 169 rushing. North Hall favors the run, averaging 291 rushing yards and 65 passing. North Hall is carrying momentum from victories against Fannin County (38-0), Lumpkin County (59-0), East Hall (44-6) and Dawson County (40-37) after it lost to GAC 45-21 on Oct. 4. Both programs are 7-3.

Game: Region 3 No. 4 Southeast Bulloch at Region 1 No. 1 Crisp County

My pick: Crisp

Why? Crisp has been resilient this season and has some big victories on the ledger. The Cougars built a preseason schedule full of matchups with higher-classed teams to prepare for the postseason. It beat two AAAAAAA programs – Tift and South Gwinnett – in back-to-back weeks and narrowly lost to Bainbridge, the Class AAAAA defending champs, 14-9. Southeast Bulloch got into the playoffs after Beach was forced to forfeit games.

Bottom-right quadrant

Game: Region 2 No. 3 Liberty County at Region 4 No. 2 Jackson

My pick: Liberty County

Why? Another tough call. Liberty must weather a road trip, but the Panthers should advance to the second round. But Liberty struggled against Pierce County last week, losing 42-7, and Jackson is riding momentum from a 42-6 victory against Rutland. The phrase ‘this is a toss-up’ comes to mind.  

Game: Region 8 No. 4 Monroe Area at Region 6 No. 1 North Murray

My pick: North Murray

Why? The Mountaineers won their first 6-AAA title in historic fashion this season, and the momentum should carry North Murray through. Monroe Area went 4-2 through 8-AAA with losses to Morgan County 27-17 and Jefferson 26-7. But it's riding momentum from a 35-0 victory against Franklin County last week. North Murray lost 38-17 in its season-opener, but reeled off nine consecutive victories, including a 45-21 win against Sonoraville last week. The Mountaineers defeated Calhoun 31-7 on Sept. 13 which all but ended Calhoun’s streak of 18 consecutive region titles.

Game: Region 7 No. 3 Dawson County at Region 5 No. 2 Westminster

My pick: Westminster

Why? The Wildcats find a way to play their best football in November, and regardless of where it stands entering the playoffs, Westminster has been to the quarterfinals in each of the past three seasons. Westminster has not advanced past the quarterfinals since winning the AAA title in 2015, when it entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. Dawson County is coming off a 40-37 loss to North Hall last week.

Game: At Large Adairsville at Region 3 No. 1 Jenkins

My pick: Jenkins

Why? The Warriors, a quarterfinalist the past two years, are playing quality football since losing 29-26 to South Effingham on Aug. 30. There’s no indication that Jenkins should struggle through this matchup. Since its only loss, the Warriors have won eight consecutive games in 3-AAA with three shutouts – Savannah 59-0, Windsor Forest 30-0 and Groves 63-0. Adairsville went 4-4 in 6-AAA, but it is coming off victories against Murray County (22-14) and Ringgold (18-3) which might provide momentum.

Here’s the Class AAA second round schedule based on my picks

R6 #2 Calhoun at R4 #1 Peach County

R3 #2 Benedictine at R5 #1 Cedar Grove

R8 #2 Hart County at R2 #1 Pierce County

R3 #3 Windsor Forest at R7 #1 Greater Atlanta Christian

R2 #2 Appling County at R8 #1 Jefferson

R5 #3 Lovett at R1 #1 Crisp

R2 #3 Liberty County at R6 #1 North Murray

R5 #2 Westminster at R3 #1 Jenkins

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