We'll start with the Douglass Astros going on the road to beat Jefferson County 12-8. That's a big deal. As Todd Holcomb pointed out in his wrapup, this is the Astros' first trip to the quarterfinals since 1995 and the Jamal Lewis era. Further, it's also the first time in a program history that dates back to 1968 that they've posted consecutive double-digit win seasons.
It was easy to overlook the Astros, as they've been in the shadows of Hapeville Charter in a mostly-weak Region 6, with the Hornets dominating them the past two seasons. However, they've been a perennial playoff team the past four seasons, advancing in three of those. They have stability in coach Rodney Cofield, who is in his eight season and was recently named by the Georgia Athletic Directors Association as 6-AA's athletic director of the year. They're led on the field by all-region first team selections Quintavious Lockett, a running back, and defensive lineman Carlos Allen.
Plus, I knew all along the Astros would advance to the quarterfinals. I only picked them to get eliminated in the second round because I knew Allen and the Astros love it when they're counted out. I just wanted to make them happy, that's all.
The other loss I couldn’t have predicted was last year’s finalists, the No. 1, undefeated Rockmart Yellow Jackets, getting blown out at home as 16-point favorites by the No. 7 Brooks County Trojans. I had the Jackets reaching the semifinals, and I declare a mulligan due to the season-ending injury of their starting quarterback, Javin Whatley, who left in the first half of their Round 1 game against Temple and never returned.
Who knows what would have happened if Whatley had played. The Jackets may have still lost — the Trojans are playing their best football of the season — but they may have won. It certainly wouldn’t have been a blow out. Whatley was centerpiece of the offense, leading the team in passing (75-of-111 for 1,221 yards and 11 touchdowns) and rushing (1,006 yards and 21 touchdowns on just 95 carries) and was recently named 7-AA’s player of the year. You just can’t replace that kind of production, and that’s why Rockmart is the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated — not to take anything away from Brooks County.
Aside from Douglass and Brooks County, all my other quarterfinalists — Callaway, Metter, Rabun County, Thomasville, Hapeville Charter and Dublin — made the cut.
I’m starting to wonder if, like with Douglass, I fell asleep on another 6-AA team — the Hapeville Charter Hornets. They are playing like the 2017 Hornets title team, mainly because their quarterback Jeremy Stephens has come into his own after spending last season in a time-share. Stephens is replicating the play of their last championship-winning quarterback, Hajj-Malik Williams, as demonstrated last week in their blowout win over Swainsboro when he accounted for five touchdowns and nearly 400 yards. Their stalwart defense, which has always been a staple of Winston Gordon-coached teams, is as dominant as its ever been.
It’s not like I totally slept on the Hornets — I have them reaching the semifinals. But it’s clear now, more so than before the playoffs started, that they’re a favorite to go all the way.
Now, onto the quarterfinals previews. For GHSF Daily's previews, go here.
Douglass Astros at Callaway Cavaliers
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Callaway Stadium, Hogansville
Records, seedings, rankings: Douglass is 11-1, the No. 2 seed from Region 6 and unranked; Callaway is 11-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 5 and No. 3.
Last meeting: Callaway won 28-8 in the first round of the 2017 AA playoffs.
Maxwell's projection: Callaway by 16
Notes: As stated above, the Astros have posted double-digit wins in back to back seasons for the first time in program history, and they're in the quarterfinals for the first time in 24 years. All-Region 6-AA first team selection Quantavious Lockett leads the offense with more 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Astros are almost exclusively a run team, attempting just 58 passes all season. All-region first team defensive lineman Carlos Allen has seven sacks and 30 tackles. The Astros are on a six-game win streak after losing 43-6 to Hapeville Charter on Oct. 4. The Cavs haven't lost since their opener at Opelika on Aug. 22. They're in the quarters for the fourth season in a row. They've put up at least 50 points in their first two playoff games. In last week's 50-31 win over once-ranked Fitzgerald, AJC Super 11 selection, Auburn commit and senior running back Tank Bigsby had 151 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries according to Andrew Caraway. Both teams are looking for their first state title in program history.
Brooks County Trojans at Metter Tigers
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, The Jungle, Metter
Records, seedings, rankings: Brooks County is 8-4, the No. 2 seed from 1 and No. 7; Metter is 11-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 2 and No. 9.
Last meeting: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
Maxwell's projection: Brooks County by 12
Notes: The Trojans may have caught a break by playing a shell of Rockmart with the Jackets' absence of Javin Whatley, but that doesn't mean they're not playing their best football of the season. Before their 41-3 blowout of Rocmart, they dominated a once-ranked Washington County 42-14 in Round 1. They're on a five-game win streak since being stunned in a 30-21 loss to Thomasville on Oct. 11. Under long-time coach Maurice Freeman, the Trojans are playoff veterans. They've now reached the quarters eight times in the last 12 seasons and are seeking their first state title since 1994, which came in Freeman's first stint with the program. The Trojans are led by sophomore running back Omari Arnold (1,379 yards and 18 touchdowns on 162 carries) and junior linebacker Camron Priest (91 tackles). The Tigers are in the quarters for the first time since 2003 and are seeking their first state title in a program history that dates back to at least 1925. A win would put them in the semifinals for the first time since 2002. They have't lost since Oct. 4, when Swainsboro edged them 14-7. They're led by second-year coach Rodney Garvin.
Rabun County Wildcats at Thomasville Bulldogs
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Veterans Memorial Stadium, Thomasville
Records, seedings, rankings: Rabun County is 12-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 8 and ranked No. 2; the Thomasville is 8-4, the No. 1 seed from Region 1 and No. 6.
Last meeting: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
Maxwell's projection: Rabun County by 17
Notes: The universal coin toss landed on tails, meaning the team from the lower portion of the bracket hosts in the event two equal-seeded teams meet. That means the Wildcats will drive from one end of the state to the other, or five hours and 333 miles. The Wildcats are in the quarters for a fifth straight season and the first time under first-year coach Jaybo Shaw. They have the country's top dual-threat quarterback for his class in sophomore Gunner Stockton, who stands at 6-foot-1, 196 pounds and holds eight offers including Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Penn State and West Virginia. On the season, Stockton is 223-of-310 passing (72 percent) for 41 touchdowns to five interceptions, and he's rushed for 1,019 yards and 19 touchdowns on 141 carries. Braxton Hicks, who intends to walk on at Georgia next season, is the team's leading receiver with 1,103 yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 catches. In their first two playoff games against B.E.S.T. Academy and Toombs County, they outscored them 72-14. The Bulldogs started the season 2-4 but come in on a six-game win streak. They spent the first half of the season adapting to the loss of Chad Moscoe, the No. 1 pro-style quarterback for the class of '22, who transferred to national powerhouse IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) in the offseason. Junior Ronnie Baker (167-of-282 passing for 1,980 yards and 15 touchdowns to seven interceptions; 564 yards and eight touchdowns on 91 carries) has stepped up in Moscoe's place.
Hapeville Charter Hornets at Dublin Fighting Irish
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Shamrock Bowl, Dublin
Records, seedings, rankings: Hapeville Charter is 10-1-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 6 and ranked No. 4; Dublin is 11-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 3 and No. 5.
Last meeting: This is the first meeting between the two teams.
Maxwell's projection: Hapeville Charter by 7
Notes: Hey, look — the Hornets lost a coin toss! Shocker. For them, it's nothing new. As you may recall, in the 2017 playoffs they lost every coin toss — including when weather wiped out the championship games at Mercedes-Benz. As you also may recall, that season worked out quite well for them. This season is working out great for them too. In fact, there may not be a hotter playoff team right now. They hung 70 on Swainsboro last week, coming within a point of the program record they set earlier this season in a shutout of McNair. They won their first-round matchup over Putnam County 56-0. Now, they face their toughest challenge since their season opening loss against Cedar Grove (or perhaps Oct. 18 when they tied Allatoona). For that, they'll take a two-hour bus ride southwest. The Fighting Irish wiped the bad taste in their mouths of the season-ending loss to Washington County, which cost them their first undefeated regular season since 2006. After beating Early County 32-9 and Bremen 45-26, they're a win away from their first semifinals appearance since 2007.
- It's reached a comical point, but the universal coin toss for the semifinals came up heads, which means that if Hapeville Charter beats Dublin, it will have lost a playoffs coin toss five times in a row dating back to 2017.
- Last Tuesday, the GHSA reclassification committee heard appeals for the upcoming reclassifications, with a lot of decisions made on which schools could enter AA, and which could make lateral moves within AA. Minutes from the meeting can be viewed here.
- Elbert County receiver-defensive back Mekhi Davenport has accepted his invitation to play in the Georgia Elite Classic.
- Check out this acrobatic catch from Union County's Sawyer Drake in the Panthers' first-round win over South Atlanta.
- Vidalia lineman Jaylin Burns was named 2-AA player of the year. Here's the 2-AA all-region team.
- Here's the All-Region 7 team, led by Rockmart quarterback Javin Whatley.
- Hapeville Charter dominated the All-Region 6 team.
- Demetrius Coleman headlines the All-Region 5 team.
- Check out Douglass' hype video ahead of its Round 2 win over Jefferson County.
- Coosa coach Todd Wheeler has resigned after leading the Eagles to a 31-43 record over seven seasons, including three state playoffs appearances and one playoff win. The Eagles finished this season 1-9. Jeremy Stewart has the story for the Rome News-Tribune.
- Social Circle coach Chad Estes resigned after six seasons and a 16-44 record, including no playoff appearances. The Redskins finished 2-8.
- Here's a nice jump-ball catch from Thomasville receiver Rico Johnson, which came in the Bulldogs' Round 1 win over Dodge County. Here's another nice catch a week later against Pepperell.
- The community rallied around Toombs County for an awesome sendoff ahead of the Bulldogs' game against Rabun County.
- Highlights from Callaway's Round 2 win over Fitzgerald include a 60-yard run from Tank Bigsby, a 70-yard touchdown pass from Demetrius Coleman to Jacob Freeman and last-but-not-least, here's an incredible hook-and-lateral touchdown at the end of the first half that put the Cavaliers in control.
- Here's Coleman's numbers on the season.
- The West Georgia Podcast previews Callaway's quarterfinal matchup in its latest episode.
- Hapeville Charter's Robert Lee broke the Hornets' single-season sack record in their Round 2 win over Swainsboro collecting sack No. 20.5, which bests former Hornety Kingsley Enagbare (now at South Carolina) and his 19.5 sacks in 2017.
- Also in Hapeville's win over Swainsboro, Jeremy Stephens connected with Timothy Taylor on this 45-yard touchdown. Here's Stephens turning on the jets for a big run. Stephens finished 11-of-18 passing for 243 yards and three touchdowns and 111 yards and two touchdowns on just four carries.
- Here's coverage from Blitz of Rabun County's win over Toombs County, including video highlights.
- DJ Mincey's punt return touchdown for Toombs County was nominated for play of the week by WTOC.
- Here's ToombsNow's full coverage of the game.
- Former Hapeville Charter receiver Rory Starkey continues to light it up at Penn. The sophomore leads the Quakers with seven touchdown receptions. In case you were wondering, the last player from Penn drafted in the NFL was also a receiver — Justin Watson by Tampa in 2018.
- As Hapeville is in the midst of its second title run in two seasons, Hornets assistant S. Williams paid homage to a fallen assistant who helped guide them to their first championship. Lowry Green passed away in January.
- Here's the go-ahead touchdown for Douglass that propelled the Astros into the quarters over Jefferson County.
- Douglass coach Rodney Cofield was recently featured in GHSF Daily's "Four questions with..."
- Former Rabun County quarterback Bailey Fisher, now at Tennessee Tech, was named to the All-Ohio Valley Conference second team offense.
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