Calhoun is confident his team can remain focused – even with the winner of Veterans-Riverdale waiting next week and possible game with Ware County or Buford lurking in two weeks.
“The effort our kids have given is outstanding,” Calhoun said. “They play so hard and they’ve been so goal-oriented since we got beat last year by Stockbridge. We had two goals this year – not five or six goals, just two – win the region and win the state championship. We’ve accomplished the first goal. Now we can accomplish the second one if we just keep going 1-0 each week.”
This-and-that about the other first-round games. (All games 7:30 on Friday)
Stockbridge (8-2) at Wayne County (7-2): Stockbridge was one loss away from falling into a mini-game but found a way to overpower Jones County and secure third place in Region 4. Wayne County was steamrolled in the showdown with Ware County that determined the Region 2 title. This game shapes up to be Wayne County's offense, which averaged 35.6 points, against the Stockbridge defense, which limited the prolific Jones County attack to 14 points last week.
Kell (8-2) vs. Columbia (4-6) at Avondale Stadium: A pair of good quarterbacks will be on display – Kell's Corbin LaFrance and Columbia's Octavious Griffin. LaFrance is considered to be a better passer, but Griffin is a two-way threat. Through nine games, Griffin had thrown for 2036 yards and 21 touchdowns and run for 414 yards.
Harris County (5-5) at Starr's Mill (7-3): Region 3 champion Starr's Mill has won five straight since its shaky start. The Panthers are a run-oriented team led by quarterback Hunter Lawson and backs Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne. Harris County is a scrappy group that handed Class AAAAA Carver Columbus its only loss. Harris County didn't play last week, giving the Tigers an extra week to prepare for Starr's Mill's option offense.
Cedar Shoals (7-3) vs. Carver (7-3) at Grady Stadium: This could be one of the most competitive games on the first-round schedule. Carver features Mississippi State signee Jo'Quavious Marks, who has rushed for 1,783 yards and 23 touchdowns, despite missing two games. Cedar Shoals revolves around quarterback Jaylen Rusher, who has thrown for 892 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for 523 yards and six touchdowns. Sophomore tailback Jerdavian Colbert has 1,157 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns for the Jags.
South Effingham (6-4) at Jones County (9-1): No. 7 Jones County failed in its attempt to secure the school's first unbeaten regular season, but still claimed the Region 4 title. South Effingham has been a good offensive team all season, scoring no fewer than 28 points in any game, but the Mustangs have not played as well on defense and have lost their last three games.
Hiram (5-5) vs. Southwest DeKalb (9-1) at Godfrey Stadium: Southwest DeKalb rose to the challenge last week against Columbia in their Region 5 showdown game. The Panthers aren't likely to overlook No. 4 seeded Hiram, since they faltered a year ago under the same circumstances. Hiram has been a solid defensive team all season and feature Jalen Townser, who switch from linebacker to running back and has responded with 832 rushing yards.
Decatur (7-3) at Buford (9-1): Decatur qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The reward for the Bulldogs? An angry Buford team that was deprived of a region championship last Friday by Clarke Central.
Ola (7-3) at Ware County (7-3): Ola went from 1-9 in 2018 to a school-record seven wins this year, earning its second-ever playoff spot. Ware County behind quarterback Thomas Castellanos has won four straight and beat Wayne County head-to-head for the Region 2 championship last week.
Riverdale (7-3) at Veterans (8-2): This could be one of the more engaging first-round games. Veterans has an outstanding defense, while Riverdale had been scoring buckets of points until last week's loss to Griffin. The Raiders went to Carrollton early in the season and put up 35 against the state's No. 1 team.
Lithia Spring (4-6) at Clarke Central (7-3): Both teams are coming in on a emotional high. Clarke Central is ecstatic after beating then No. 1 Buford to win the Region 8 title and Lithia is thrilled about surviving a mini-game on Monday to make the postseason for the first time since 1981. Clarke quarterback Isaac Ward is close to becoming a household name for high school fans.
Lithonia (4-6) at Rome (8-2): Rome has played as well as anyone in the state since it lost to Carrollton in late September. Since then the Wolves are 6-0 and have outscored the opposition 276-30. Ahijah Blackwell and E.J. Burks make up one of the top running back tandems in the state. Lithonia quarterback Savion Lawson (966 yards passing, 12 TDs) and running back Devont'e Slaton (103 yards rushing per game) face their biggest challenge of the season against a ferocious Rome defense.
Jonesboro (5-5) at Warner Robins (9-1): Jonesboro hasn't faced a ranked team since it was beaten 41-0 by Buford in the second game. No. 2-ranked Warner Robins has one of the top offensive attacks the the state behind quarterback Jalen Addie. The Demons put up 42 points last week against a good Veterans' defense.
Statesboro (5-4) at Dutchtown (9-1): Statesboro posted its first winning season since 2013 and earned the reputation as a tough, physical football team. Dutchtown is equally intimidating on defense and has taken steps forward on offense this season behind the direction of quarterback Arendez Fedd.
Loganville (3-7) at Riverwood (10-0): Riverwood just won the first region championship in school history and finished undefeated for the first time. Loganville's record is less than inspiring, but the Red Devils were in a similar situation last year and stunned undefeated Southwest DeKalb in the opening round. Riverwood is led by sophomore quarterback Avery Smith (1,402 yards, 15 TDs passing) and freshman tailback Quinterio Lawson (603 yards, six TDs rushing).