The expectations surrounding the upcoming Class AAAA semifinals are enormous as four of the season’s most dominant programs get set to compete for spot in this year’s finals. Here’s a look at each of the teams and how they have made it this far.
Woodward Academy is Class AAAA’s only remaining undefeated team at 13-0 and it has been the War Eagles’ balanced offense and outstanding defense that has preserved their perfect 2019 campaign. After allowing 27.92 ppg in 2018, this year’s Woodward Academy defense comes into the semis allowing just 8.54 ppg. The War Eagles have held 10 of their 13 opponents to 10 points or less, including Blessed Trinity, which Woodward defeated 13-10 back on Sept. 6. Woodward Academy’s current playoff run started with a 40-14 win over Upson-Lee and a 38-0 win over St. Pius in the second round. Last Friday, the team rallied past No. 1 ranked Cartersville on the road 31-28. In the victory, quarterback Mike Wright passed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to secure the Woodward comeback after the War Eagles trailed 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-7 at the break. This season, Wright has completed 170-of-266 pass attempts for 2,510 yards and 36 touchdowns with six interceptions while contributing 649 rushing yards and a team-high 12 rushing touchdowns on the ground. It’s this dual-threat ability that makes Woodward’s offense so well-balanced. Also, senior receiver Ambe Cadwell is having a breakout season with his 758 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Two-time defending state champion Blessed Trinity is 12-1 with its only loss coming in its non-region meeting with Woodward Academy in September. The Titans experienced massive turnover following last year’s perfect 15-0 season and the graduation of many key contributors, but there is a new cast of playmakers leading the way this season that has continued to progress and dominate the competition down the stretch. Blessed Trinity opened the postseason with a 40-14 win over Troup and then they have throttled Baldwin (35-3) and West Laurens (31-0) in its two most recent outings. Seeing Blessed Trinity’s defense playing at such a high level is reminiscent of the program’s last two state title runs. Offensively, freshman Justice Haynes has had a remarkable varsity debut, racking up over 1,500 rushing yards and a team-high 17 touchdowns. Haynes is joined by senior Elijah Greene in the backfield, who has found the endzone six times through the first three rounds. Greene was out with an injury when Blessed Trinity and Woodward Academy squared off this season and Haynes took a career-high 23 carries for 153 yards and a score. Having both Haynes and Greene healthy this time around is a major storyline to follow as Blessed Trinity looks to avenge its only loss this Friday.
Across the bracket, Oconee County is in the semifinals for the first time since its 1999 state championship season. The Warriors are 12-1 heading into the matchup and winners of 11-straight games following an early non-region loss to Clarke Central (28-21). Oconee County’s success this season has been greatly impacted by the incredible play and leadership of senior quarterback Max Johnson. The 6-foot-4 LSU commit has thrown for 1,891 yards and 26 touchdowns with just five interceptions this season. Johnson led the Warriors with five passing touchdowns in their 39-7 win over Perry in the second round and then went an efficient 18-of-24 passing (75 percent) for 206 yards and a score in last Friday’s 17-7 win over Marist. Johnson will have to continue to take care of the football and play at a high level if Oconee County is going to be able to outpace Sandy Creek in the semifinals and avoid turning over the football against a Patriots secondary that specializes in creating turnovers.
Sandy Creek is arguably the hottest team entering the semifinals and they are also the highest-scoring offense in Class AAAA this season at 43.69 ppg. Like Oconee County, the Patriots are 12-1 overall heading into the semis. The Patriots’ lone loss came in a 52-42 shootout with Cartersville and they have won their last six games since and also have a 28-10 win over Class AAAAA semifinalists Starr’s Mill on its resume. Sandy Creek has not been tested through the first three rounds and they have produced three blowouts with wins over Denmark (42-7), Americus-Sumter (56-7) and Madison County (41-7) amounting to a 39.3 average margin of victory. In the second-round win over Americus-Sumter, quarterback Matthew Williams became the first player in school history to eclipse 3,000 passing yards in a season. Running back Rashad Amos set the all-time record for career rushing touchdowns last round with his 51st. Also, Alabama-commit and receiver/safety Brian Branch notched his record-setting 15th career interception in the second-round. In the win, Branch had three interceptions and three touchdown catches.
Friday, Dec. 6
R7#1 Blessed Trinity at R4#1 Woodward Academy
R5#2 Sandy Creek at R8#1 Oconee County
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.