The biggest shock waves of the season came on the final week and was provided by Clarke Central.
The iconic Athens program stared down the No. 1-ranked Wolves, coming away with a 31-28 victory at Billy Henderson Stadium. It was the first loss of the season for the Wolves and gave coach David Perno’s Gladiators their first region championship since 2011.
Clarke Central ended Buford’s 47-game region winning streak. It was the first on-the-field loss by Buford since 2009 against Lovett to start the Region 6-AA season. They had two wins taken away via forfeits in 2012, but it had been 62 games since the Wolves finished a region contest with fewer points than their opponents.
It was the first time Clarke Central had come close to Buford. The Wolves had slammed the Gladiators in three previous meetings, winning each by at least 31 points.
Clarke Central quarterback Isaac Ward threw for three touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to A.J. Jewell, a 43-yarder to Nono Mack, and another 2-yarder to Mack. O’Brien Barnett scored what turned out to be the game-winner on a 2-yard run with 4:44 remaining.
But the outcome wasn’t determined until Sidney Barnett intercepted a pass in the end zone in the waning seconds to secure the victory.
Buford got 144 yards and two touchdowns from Gabe Ervin Jr. and 125 yards and one touchdown from Elijah Turner.
Here’s a look at how the rest of the regions shake out for the playoffs.
Region 1: Warner Robins smacked Veterans 47-17 to win the championship and defending state champion Bainbridge clobbered Thomas County Central 42-7. That leaves the top four as: Warner Robins, Veterans, Bainbridge and Harris County.
Region 2: Ware County overwhelmed Wayne County 48-14 to win the regular-season title. It broke Wayne’s two-year reign as region champion. Statesboro nailed down third place with its win over New Hampstead. The top four are: Ware County, Wayne County, Statesboro and South Effingham.
Region 3: Starr’s Mill hammered rival Fayette County 49-7 to secure first place. Griffin overpowered Riverdale to clinch the No. 2 seed. Jonesboro earned the final spot when McIntosh upended Whitewater 27-21. The top four are: Starr’s Mill, Griffin, Riverdale and Jonesboro.
Region 4: Jones County had already clinched first place and was routed by Stockbridge 44-14. That solved a potential mini-game scenario and allowed Ola to guarantee itself fourth place by beating Eagle’s Landing 27-26. The top four finisher are: Jones County, Dutchtown, Stockbridge and Ola.
Region 5: Southwest DeKalb beat Columbia in a showdown for first place and Lithonia beat Arabia Mountain in the faceoff for third place. That leaves the top four spots as: SWD, Columbia, Lithonia and Arabia Mountain.
Region 6: Riverwood finished with the first unbeaten record in school history. Carver beat Decatur head-to-head and will be the No. 2 seed. The final playoff spot will be impacted by Saturday’s game between Banneker and Grady, with the loser eliminated and the winner joining Maynard Jackson and Lithia Springs in a tie at 3-4 in league play. The top four spots are: Riverwood, Carver, Decatur and TBA.
Region 7: This already determined a week ago. The top four are: Carrollton, Rome, Kell and Hiram.
Region 8: Cedar Shoals whacked Walnut Grove and Loganville took care of business against Johnson. That leaves the top four: Clarke Central, Buford, Cedar Shoals and Loganville.
Here are the first-round matchups for Class AAAAA:
Upper left bracket: Cedar Shoals (7-3) at Carver (7-3); South Effingham (6-4) at Jones County (9-1); Bainbridge (7-3) at Griffin (9-1); Hiram (5-5) at Southwest DeKalb (9-1).
Bottom left bracket: Decatur (7-3) at Buford (9-1); Ola (7-3) at Ware County (7-3), Riverdale (7-3) at Weterans (8-2); Arabia Mountain (2-8) at Carrollton (10-0).
Upper right bracket: Stockbridge (8-2) at Wayne County (7-2); TBA at Clarke Central (7-3); Lithonia (4-6) at Rome (8-2); Jonesboro (5-5) at Warner Robins (9-1).
Lower right bracket: Statesboro (5-4) at Dutchtown (9-1); Loganville (3-7) at Riverwood (10-0); Kell (8-2) at Columbia (4-6); Harris County (5-5) at Starr’s Mil. (7-3).
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