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Class AAAAAAA blog: Marietta-Lowndes is classic matchup

Marietta cheerleaders lead their team on to the field to take on Parkview during the semifinals last week Marietta won 42-31 to advance to the state finals for the first time since 1967. Photo by John Amis / Special
Marietta cheerleaders lead their team on to the field to take on Parkview during the semifinals last week Marietta won 42-31 to advance to the state finals for the first time since 1967. Photo by John Amis / Special

Marietta-Lowndes might be the best state finals matchup in the highest class this century.

Another that comes to mind is Grayson vs. Roswell in 2016. Those teams were undefeated and fielded more major Division I players than any other state final in history.

But Marietta-Lowndes, slated for Saturday at 8 p.m. at Georgia State Stadium, has more intangibles.

Marietta was the preseason No. 1 team and made the top 10 of several national polls. Lowndes is the current No. 1 and now ranked nationally, as high as No. 3 by Prep Nation.

Marietta has six of Georgia’s top-100 senior prospects but no state title appearances since its 1967 Class AAA championship. Lowndes has no top-100 players but five state titles since 1980, the most of any current Class AAAAAAA school.

Add the north-south thing – Marietta is metro Atlanta’s oldest football program, Lowndes the flag bearer for storied Region 1 – and this game has the makings for a classic.

Marietta has won seven straight games, four against top-10 teams, since losing to McEachern in October. Only one team this century, Peachtree Ridge in 2006, has won a state title in the highest class after losing a game in October or later.

The Blue Devils’ list of blue chips include QB Harrison Bailey (4,000 yards passing, committed to Tennessee), WR Arik Gilbert (1,614 yards receiving, committed to LSU), WR Ricky White (1,246 receiving, Michigan State) and RB Kimani Vidal (1,511 rushing, Troy), DE B.J. Ojulari (LSU) and DB Rashad Torrence (Florida).

Lowndes’ best player, LB/RB Gary Osby, has not played since the first round, but it is hoped he will return Saturday.

Lowndes’ offense is built around sophomore QB Jacurri Brown, who has rushed for 1,508 yards and passed for 1,253 yards.

Marietta and Lowndes have four common opponents, one more conspicuous than the others. Lowndes beat Grayson 28-20 in the quarterfinals. Grayson beat Marietta 28-14 on Sept. 13.

School history lesson

Here’s some background on each school that you might find interesting:

*Lowndes opened in 1966 with the merger of Hahira and Lowndes County high schools. The old Lowndes County was known as the Golden Eagles. The local city school, Valdosta, had won 15 state titles by the time Lowndes beat Valdosta for the first time in 1976. Lowndes' coach then was Joe Wilson, a former Valdosta star player and long-time assistant who felt slighted when he didn't get the Valdosta job in 1972 when the legendary Wright Bazemore retired. Wilson got more satisfaction when Lowndes won a state title in 1980. The stadium at Lowndes' Martin Stadium was named after Wilson in 2017. But it wasn't under Milt Miller came along in the 1990s that Lowndes was a consistent winner. Miller, who had won a state title at Worth County in 1987, got Lowndes its second state title in 1999, and Lowndes was rolling. Over the past quarter decade, Lowndes is 251-63. That's the most wins in that time for a school in the highest class. (Camden is second at 238-67.) Current coach Randy McPherson was hired in 2002 and built on that foundation with eight region titles and state championships in 2003, 2004 and 2007.

*Marietta fielded its first high school football in 1902, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. The Blue Devils have played at Northcutt Stadium since 1940. That's two miles from the high school. Under coach French Johnson, Marietta won its lone state title in 1967 with a 14-7 victory over Columbus in the rain at Grant Field. A player well-remembered in Marietta named Eddie Woody returned a punt 61 yards on the wet turf for the game-winner. The previous year, another Marietta school won a state title. That was Lemon Street, the high school for African-Americans. The school closed and merged with Marietta prior to that 1967 season. Most of Lemon Street's top players had graduated, so it would be a stretch to call the '67 season a true ''Remember the Titans'' moment, but Lemon Street's coach, Ben Wilkins, became a beloved long-time assistant at Marietta. Wilkins passed away in 1984, but his motto ''Be Somebody'' and legacy still live at the school and community. Marietta had good teams for years, but some of the best seasons came under coach Dexter Wood, who won four region titles, two with Eric Zeier as quarterback. Now, coach Richard Morgan has taken things a step further. The 2017 quarterfinal finish was the best playoff run since 1994, and the current team is the first finalist since '67.

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