Class AAAAA blog: Preview of this week’s quarterfinals

Buford coach Bryant Appling addresses the team after a win.
Buford coach Bryant Appling addresses the team after a win.

For much of the season, Buford was ranked No. 1 and Carrollton was ranked No. 2. It seemed for a couple of months the two teams were headed for a possible showdown in the state championship.

But Buford was upset by surging Clarke Central in the final week of the regular season, which means the showdown was moved up a couple of weeks and the two clubs will play in the quarterfinals. Regardless of when the game occurs, the stakes are high and it is the highlight of a great week of semifinal games in Class AAAAA

No. 1 Carrollton (12-0) is the only unbeaten team left in the classification. The Trojans have been a model of consistency all season. Other than a close call against Region 7 rival Rome in September, a game Carrollton won 24-20, the Trojans have methodically turned back all challengers.

No. 5 Buford (11-1) survived a brutal early schedule and defeated 2018 Class AAAAAAA champion Milton, an excellent Life Christian team from Virginia and Class AAAAAAA playoff participants Archer and Newton. In the loss to Clarke, the Gladiators used a kickoff return, blitzed the Wolves early and were able to hang on.

Buford and Carrollton have played only once, that in the 2016 quarterfinals. Buford held on that night for a 34-27 win and went on to play Rome in the state final.

Carrollton coach Sean Calhoun
Carrollton coach Sean Calhoun

Both teams are loaded with playmakers. Carrollton quarterback Myles “MJ” Morris has thrown for 1,908 yards and 20 touchdowns, with receiver Terrell Carmicheal (29 catches, seven TDs) a potential game-breaker. The running backs group is deep and led by Brandon Marenco (740 yards, six TDs) and Mecose Todd (541 yards, 11 TDs). The defense is fast and disruptive, led by Jared Need (58 total tackles, 12 for loss, three sacks) and Clemson commit Kevin Swint (59 total tackles, 12 for loss, one sack, one interception, two forced fumbles).

Buford averages 36.8 points and has scored on nearly half of its offensive possessions. The Wolves like to run the ball behind their college-sized offensive line and feature a game-breaker in Gabe Ervin, who had 144 yards last week against Ware County and has 1,085 yards this season. Ervin rolled an ankle late in that game but is expected to play. Quarterback Jarvis Evans has grown in his first season as starter and has thrown for 1,300 yards.

The other three quarterfinal games drop the spotlight on outstanding quarterbacks who could be the difference in the game. 

Griffin at Jones County: No. 9 Griffin (11-1) features Darshaveious Foster and No. 7 Jones County (11-1) features Hunter Costlow. Both of the seniors bring eye-popping numbers to the table. Foster has thrown for 2,543 yards and 26 touchdowns; he went for 300 yards and three touchdowns in the second-round win over Hiram. Costlow has thrown for 2,706 yards and 26 touchdowns; he passed for 211 yards in a second-round win over Cedar Shoals, but had two interceptions.

This game has the potential to be a real shootout. Griffin has scored 40-plus points in eight games this year. The Bears’ only loss came in a 38-35 score-fest against Starr’s Mill, which cost them the region championship. The Jones County offense was slowed last week in a 17-6 win over Cedar Shoals, the second time in three games the Hounds have failed to score 20 points.

Both teams have first-year coaches. Mike Chastain took over Jones County after directing Warner Robins to two straight appearances in the final. Kareem Reid came from Westlake, where he guided the Lions to the state semifinals in 2016 and won 27 games in three seasons there.

Clarke Central at Warner Robins: Clarke Central's signal caller is Isaac Ward, who has thrown for 2,380 yards and 32 touchdowns; he threw four touchdown passes last week against Wayne County. No. 2 Warner Robins features junior Jalen Addie, who has thrown for 1,881 yards and 20 touchdowns and run for 426 yards.

There have been some classic games played between these two iconic programs. Warner Robins leads the series 9-4 and won 21-14 last year in the quarterfinals. They played for the state championship in 1985, with Clarke Central and coach Billy Henderson toppling Warner Robins and coach Robert Davis 21-7. It was the final state title in Henderson’s remarkable career and the last won by Clarke Central. Davis won his final title in 1988 and the Demons added another one in 2004 under coach Brian Way.

Dutchtown at Starr's Mill: No. 8 Dutchtown features second-year starter Arendez Fedd, who has developed into an all-around pro-style quarterback who can beat you with his feet (17 TDs) or his arm (1,578 yards). His growth on offense, combined with the team's dangerous defense, has helped push the Bulldogs into the Elite Eight. Starr's Mill quarterback Hunter Lawson is a two-year starter in the Panthers' option attack and knows how to pull all the triggers. Lawson is only asked to throw the ball around six times per game, but has tossed seven touchdowns. The spotlight also incudes a pair of good running backs: Kalen Sims of Starr's Mill (1,194 yards, 10 TDs) and Nate McColllum of Dutchtown, who has committed to Georgia Tech.

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