Class AAAA Blog: Breaking down each first round matchup

The first round of the state playoffs begin this Friday and there are intriguing storylines throughout it, including a ton of first-ever matchups. Here is a quick glance at each of the games on the opening round slate: 

R8#3 St. Pius at R6#2 Heritage-Catoosa

This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs. Heritage-Catoosa is making its fourth-straight playoff appearance and at 8-2, the Patriots are one win away from matching the school-record 9-2 record they achieved in 2017. St. Pius comes into this matchup with 2-straight victories and a 5-5 overall record. The Golden Lions have been outscored a combined 165-31, however, in their five losses (26.8 ppg) and have not been able to keep pace with the classification’s top tier this season. 

R2#4 Upson-Lee at R4#1 Woodward Academy

Woodward Academy is taking a perfect 10-0 record into this year’s playoffs and a whopping 31-point average margin of victory along the way. The War Eagles are 2-1 all-time against Upson-Lee, including their 42-0 win over the Knights’ in the opening round of the 2016 state playoffs. Woodward Academy has advanced past the first round in each of the last six years. Upson-Lee has not made it to the second round since 2005. 

R1#3 Hardaway at R3#2 Thomson

Hardaway overcame a 1-3 start in Region 1-AAAA by stringing together a 4-game winning streak to close out the season and earn the No. 3 seed out. The Hawks have a talented defense that limited Westover to just 3 points in last week’s must-win season finale. Thomson fell 37-21 in a disappointing loss to rival Burke County to earn this year’s No. 2 seed in Region 3-AAAA. The Bulldogs have made it past the first round in each of the last four postseasons. This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs. 

R7#4 Flowery Branch at R5#1 Cartersville

Flowery Branch opened the year 6-0, but dropped three of its final four games and now must visit No. 1 ranked Cartersville in the first round. The Falcons took two-time defending state champion Blessed Trinity to overtime, but fell 20-17. Marist scored a 27-0 win the following week and then Flowery Branch dropped its finale 34-14 to Denmark to give them the No. 4 seed out of Region 7-AAAA. While, Flowery Branch is probably the most talented No. 4 seed in this year’s bracket, Cartersville has earned its status as the classification’s No. 1 ranked team and will be heavily favorited. Led by first-year head coach Conor Foster, Cartersville is taking a perfect record into the playoffs for the fifth-straight year and the seventh time in its last eight seasons. This is the first-ever meeting between the programs. 

R6#3 Pickens at R8#2 North Oconee

Pickens is making its sixth-straight playoff appearance and first under its first-year head coach Jeff Nelson. The Dragons took a 10-0 record into last year’s playoffs and a 42-0 win over White County gave them the first playoff win in program history. Troup ended their 11-1 season in the second round with a 53-14 win. As for North Oconee, the Titans are coming off a bye after seeing their perfect regular season spoiled in a disappointing 35-7 loss to Oconee County the previous week. North Oconee is one win away from achieving its third double-digit wins season in program history. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools. 

R4#4 Luella at R2#1 West Laurens

West Laurens’ only loss this season was a 31-30 defeat to Class AAAAA’s South Effingham and the Raiders’ have since won six straight. Last year, West Laurens failed to make the playoffs, but this year they captured the Region 2-AAAA title and obliterated the competition along the way. In their five region games, West Laurens outscored its opponents 210-22 (37.6 ppg). West Laurens faced Luella for the first time in its history in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs and scored a 35-14 win. 

R3#3 Baldwin at R1#2 Cairo

Cairo’s 52-46 loss to Carver-Columbus ultimately determined the Syrupmakers’ runner-up finish in Region 1-AAAA and their only other loss this season came in a 14-10 battle with defending Class AAAAA state champion Bainbridge on Aug. 30. Cairo followed its loss to the Tigers with a 39-19 win over Americus-Sumter, a 31-0 win over Shaw and a 41-0 win over Dougherty last Friday. Baldwin finished in a three-way tie with Thomson and Burke County in Region 3-AAAA, but the point differential used to break the tie led to the Braves’ No. 3 seed. Baldwin has taken on Cairo twice in its history; the Braves were defeated 43-2 in the opening round of the 2016 playoffs and 9-7 in the second round of the 2009 postseason. 

R5#4 Troup at R7#1 Blessed Trinity

The two-time defending champion Titans got a tough first-round draw with fourth-seeded Troup. Blessed Trinity brings a 9-1 record into the matchup that includes a clutch 6-0 finish in Region 7-AAAA. This year’s team lacked experience compared to the last two seasons, but the Titans’ same formula of great defense and disciplined football have allowed them to maintain their consistency and prowess despite the turnover. Troup on the other hand has struggled with consistency this season and their three region losses (44-7 Sandy Creek, 15-8 Cedartown, 45-335 Cartersville) led them to the No. 4 seed out of Region 5. These teams met for the first time in their history last year in the semifinals and Blessed Trinity scored a 51-35 victory. 

R4#3 Hampton at R2#2 Perry

Perry is going to be trying to earn its first playoff victory since the 2007 season on Friday as it hosts Hampton. The Panthers snapped an 8-game losing streak to Mary Persons and defeated the Bulldogs 21-17 to earn the No. 2 seed behind West Laurens in Region 2-AAAA this year. Hampton has only been around as a school since 2014 and this will be the Hornets’ first-ever playoff appearance. Hampton’s 5-5 finish in the regular season is the highest win total in the program’s history. 

R6#4 NW Whitfield at R8#1 Oconee County

Northwest Whitfield defeated Region 6-AAAA champion Ridgeland 27-16, but losses to Pickens (35-10) and Heritage-Catoosa (30-22) this past week ultimately led to the Bruins’ taking a No. 4 seed into this year’s playoffs. Northwest Whitfield will be paired up with Region 8-AAAA champion Oconee County, which has won eight straight games and swept its four region opponents with a 24.5 average margin of victory. The two teams met for the first time in the opening round of the 2016 state playoffs and Northwest Whitfield scored a 30-21 win—starting a streak of four-straight Oconee County seasons that have ended in the first round heading into this matchup.  

R5#3 Cedartown at R7#2 Marist

Marist had its perfect regular season spoiled in a 33-30 loss to rival Blessed Trinity two weeks ago, but the War Eagles are still one of the strongest contenders to take this year’s title. Their 9-1 regular season included four shutouts. Cedartown nearly earned a No. 2 seed out of Region 5-AAAA, but its 34-30 loss to Sandy Creek led to them finishing behind the Patriots and No. 1 seed Cartersville. The Bulldogs held Troup to just eight points in a 15-8 victory and are coming off a 29-7 win over Chapel Hill in their regular season finale. Marist won the last meeting 31-18 in the second round of the 2017 state playoffs and holds a 6-4 all-time record in the series.  

R3#4 Richmond Academy at R1#1 Carver-Columbus

Carver-Columbus is led by the classification’s top rusher this season, Khiari McCoy, and is also home to the classification’s highest-scoring offense at 42.9 ppg (tied with Sandy Creek). Richmond Academy has scored just 11 ppg this year and keeping pace is going to be a challenge for the Musketeers in their first-ever meeting with Carver-Columbus. 

R2#3 Mary Persons at R4#2 Eastside

Both teams were undefeated when last year’s playoffs started, but they have had their ups and downs this year. Eastside opened up this season with a disappointing 0-2 start, but has won seven of its last eight games. Mary Persons suffered a 52-7 loss to West Laurens and a 21-17 loss to Perry in Region 2-AAAA and earned the No. 3 seed. The loss to West Laurens was the program’s worst defeat since its 1961 season. This is the first-ever meeting between the two schools. 

R8#4 Madison County at R6#1 Ridgeland

Ridgeland bounced back from a 1-4 start with five-straight wins and a Region 6-AAAA title. The Panthers have reached the playoffs each of the last five seasons and have advanced past the first round in each of their last three appearances. This is just Madison County’s second playoff appearance since 2007 and the program has never reached the second round in its history. This year’s Red Raiders’ played St. Pius incredibly close in a 14-7 loss and have been battle tested after playing teams like Hart County, Commerce and region opponents Oconee County and North Oconee. 

R7#3 Denmark at R5#2 Sandy Creek

Denmark closed out its regular season with an emphatic 34-14 win over Flowery Branch and is in the playoffs for the first time in its young two-year history. The Danes were not given any favors with the pairings, and will now have to travel to Sandy Creek to make their playoff debut. Sandy Creek’s only loss this season came in a 52-42 battle at Cartersville. The Patriots have an explosive offense that tied with Carver-Columbus at a classification-high 42.9 ppg during the regular season. On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots give up 15.4 ppg. Demark’s offense put up 38.2 ppg during the regular season and its defense allowed just 12.9 ppg. 

R1#4 Americus-Sumter at R3#1 Burke County

Americus-Sumter suffered three close losses in Region 1-AAAA to earn the No. 4 seed, but the Panthers are going to be a challenging matchup for top seed Burke County. The Bears have reached the second round of the playoffs in each of its last three appearances and have reached the quarterfinals or better on five occasions since 2010. Americus-Sumter is led by first-year head coach Ross Couch, who took over for Larry Harold after last year’s 3-7 finish kept them out of the playoffs. This is the first-ever meeting between the schools. 

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