The Class AA playoffs are upon us and that means it’s time for my predictions, which I make every year for the AA football and basketball seasons, and for all classifications of the Lacrosse season.
Before I get into my predictions, let me give an excuse in the event that I’m wrong. Truthfully, I don’t believe there’s a more competitive classification with more parity than AA. There hasn’t been a back-to-back champion in AA since Buford won four in a row from 2007-10, and that’s the longest drought of consecutive titles among any class by four years.
No offense to the current defending champions Heard County, but it would appear that streak of AA teams not winning consecutive titles will continue. The Braves lost seven starters from the championship team that started 1-2 and closed on a 12-game win streak and are in a reloading year. They started 0-4 and closed the regular season with a 17-16 lost to Bremen, which cost them the No. 2 seed and first-round hosting rights. They are the longest of long shots to repeat.
There are four, maybe five teams I could see winning it all this year, so without further ado...here are my predictions. (Click to enlarge.)
For the championship, I pin two teams — Callaway and Rabun County — against each other that have never won a state title, so if those two end up meeting in the championship, one will be making program history.
I picked Callaway for a number of reasons. The first being Tank Bigsby, one of the country’s premier running backs. An Auburn commit, Bigsby is an AJC Super 11 selection, and has another Auburn commit, lineman Tate Johnson, blocking for him. Beyond Bigsby and Johnson, the Cavaliers are stocked with next-level talent including junior quarterback Demetrius Coleman, a three-star athlete with offers including Alabama, and three-star athletes Charlie Dixon (Mississippi State, Nebraska), Jalin Shephard (Auburn, Colorado, Nebraska) and Jacob Freeman (Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt, WVU, Baylor, etc.).
As we all know, stars alone won’t win a title, but this team is well-coached by Pete Wiggins, in his 15th season at the helm, and the team’s nucleus has been together for awhile. Not to mention, they’ve had some big playoff wins over the past few seasons, most notably over top-ranked defending state champions Hapeville Charter last year in the second round. They’ve reached at least the quarterfinals three straight years, including the semifinals in ‘16 and ‘18.
The Cavs haven’t lost to a Peach State team this season, and their lone loss came 10-7 on the road to Opelika, currently ranked No. 5 in 6A by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
To me, it simply feels like this could be Callaway’s year.
That’s not to say picking the Cavaliers was easy. Truth be told, I could see them, Hapeville Charter, Rabun County, Rockmart or even Thomasville, which I consider a darkhorse, winning the championship.
In the semifinals, I have Rabun County avenging its 2017 title game loss to Hapeville Charter to advance. It’s hard not to like what the Wildcats have displayed in their third undefeated regular season of the last four years. They haven’t missed a beat under first-year coach Jaybo Shaw, who succeeded his father Lee, and homegrown Gunner Stockton, a sophomore, is the top quarterback in the country for his class. No team has come within 21 points of them, and that includes two ranked opponents, one of which was AAA’s North Murray, a team that just ended Calhoun’s string of 18 consecutive region titles and 139 consecutive region wins. The other ranked team was Union County, which they blew out 49-7 in the Region 8 title game for a sixth straight league championship.
I’ll get deeper into my predictions as the teams advance, but for now, there are some great first-round matchups that I had trouble picking, including:
- Vidalia at Jefferson County — The Indians are one of two No. 4 seeds I believe have a realistic shot of advancing. I picked the Warriors because they’re at home and they’ve been on a tear since starting 0-2, winning eight straight for their second region title in a row.
- Fitzgerald at Bleckley County — The Purple Hurricane finished 7-3, the same record they had last year when they reached the semifinals as a No. 2 seed. They seem to become a different team in the postseason, advancing in 11 of the last 12 years. The Royals, on the other hand, ended the season with a stunning 16-11 loss to Southwest (4-6, 2-4). Further, it’s tough to know how healthy they’ll be, as three offensive lineman sat out — including their starting center — last week. The Royals already had the No. 2 spot locked up, so it’s possible they were simply resting. Still, I’ll take Fitzgerald in the upset.
- Washington County at Brooks County — Here’s a battle between two perennial playoff teams that could go either way. The Golden Hawks fell out of the rankings two weeks ago after losing 26-13 to a Northeast team that failed to make the playoffs, but then rebounded on Friday with a 27-23 win over Dublin that cost the Fighting Irish an undefeated season. The Trojans have been in and out of the rankings, returning this week after closing the season on a three-game win streak. I’ll take the Trojans at home.
- Hephzibah at Toombs County — This was a tough game to pick but I went with the Bulldogs based on coming out of a very tough, competitive region with two very close losses. Also, five of their seven wins were shutouts. In addition, the Rebels have never won a playoff game in a program history that dates back to 1954. I’ll take the Bulldogs at home.
- Heard County at Pepperell — The defending champion Braves should give the Dragons a run for their money, but I ultimately see them coming up short. Against playoff-caliber teams they haven’t been very competitive this season, and they’re coming of a loss to Bremen in a game that determined second place in 5-AA. They’re also positioned for their first losing season since 2003. The Dragons, on the other hand, have been playing great football all year, posting four shutouts and keeping their two losses — both to top five teams (Darlington, Rockmart) — competitive. I’ll take the Dragons at home.
- Model at Bremen — I love how first-year coach Jeff Hunnicutt has turned the Model program around, having them in region title contention all the way to the final game of the season. I see them playing Bremen tough, but ultimately Bremen emerges at home in the battle of the Blue Devils, as they nearly beat Callaway on Oct. 4, coming up short 20-14.
Now, onto the rankings. Below is the last poll before champions are crowned. The number in parenthesis represents the previous week’s ranking.
1. (1) Rockmart (10-0)
2. (5) Rabun County (10-0)
3. (2) Callaway (9-1)
4. (4) Hapeville Charter (8-1-1)
5. (3) Dublin (9-1)
6. (8) Thomasville (6-4)
7. (9) Brooks County (6-4)
8. (6) Bleckley County (7-3)
9. (NR) Metter (9-1)
10. (7) Union County (9-1)
Out: No. 10 Swainsboro
- The rosters have been revealed for Border Bowl VII between South Carolina and Georgia. The game will be played Jan. 11 at Laney Stadium in Augusta. AA players named are Washington County receiver Shamarcus Poole, Butler receiver Chris Hudson, Westside receiver Quamere Gooch, Screven County running back Gary Hawkins, Swainsboro quarterback Kade Youmans, Washington County lineman Jabari Brooks, Swainsboro lineman Damian Tharp, Jefferson County lineman Richard Stavely, Jefferson County lineman Ceincerre Whidbee, Harlem lineman Ean Dunkle, Hephzibah tight end E’Shawn Mayes, Jefferson County linebacker Kydran Jenkins, Hephzibah defensive backs Enoch Howard and Jaiden Wofford, Laney defensive back Dykese King, Screven County defensive lineman Dacalvin Williams, Washington County defensive lineman Jalen Mathis, Swainsboro defensive lineman Ka’Yun Davis and Westside kicker Maddox Hankinson.
- Jeff Davis running back/linebacker Jayshaun Kirby was recently named 912 Sports’ player of the week.
- For the second year in a row, Jeff Davis lineman Christian Ray will participate in the Georgia Elite Classic “Brain Bowl” for players who excelled academically.
- GHSA temporarily posted the new region alignments for AA on its website and took them down, but not before an alert visitor took a screenshot. Take a look. Obviously this could change pending appeals and other discussions — which is probably why this was taken down — but this probably serves as the starting point.
- Here’s Screven County’s senior night hype video.
- Chattooga’s LaShaun Lester was recently named All On Georgia’s Player of the Week honors. Here’s a video.
- Past, present and future Bleckley County Royals came together ahead of the season finale.
- Southwest’s win over Bleckley County represented a rarity against a ranked opponent.
- Union County coach Brian Allison recently spoke with GHSF Daily for its “Four questions with...”
- Sports Writer Rob compares Temple’s playoff run to that of 2011’s in this story.
- Temple edged Lamar County 28-26 to claim the final playoff spot in Region 5. Walter Geiger has details for Barnesville.com.
- Jeff Davis receiver Greg Chambers has been invited to play in the GACA All-Star Classic, which will be played Dec. 29 at Denmark.
- Check out Dodge County’s new weight room.
- Washington County’s win over Dublin avoided a three-way tie at 3-3 and thus allowing Dodge County into the playoffs.
- Here are highlights from Blitz of Rabun County’s region championship win.
- Here’s another Rabun County highlight of Gunner Stockton.
- Stockton won GHSF Daily State Player of the Week honors for his performance.
- Jeff Davis coach Lance Helton sent a message to the 2019 team, which fell just short of a third straight playoff appearance.
- Hapeville Charter running back Marcus Carroll and his fellow Hornets seniors who’ve spent their prep careers with the program can enjoy an honor few players achieve.
- Here’s how Bremen beat Heard County for second place in 5-AA. Here’s another angle. The field goal capped a furious Bremen rally.
- Some AA highlights from Week 12 can be found at WTOC and WJBF.
- How good are things going for Thomasville after a tough start to the season? This good.
- Here are Rockmart’s offensive and defensive leaders in the Jackets’ win over Model.
- Here’s former Hapeville Charter quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams making plays at the next level. Here’s Tyleek Collins doing the same — try not to laugh as he one-hand throws the defender five yards at the end of the play.
- Former Rabun County quarterback Bailey Fisher had himself a week.
- ToombsNow previews the Bulldogs’ Round 1 matchup with Hephzibah.
- Jeff Davis running back Mike Dotson was nominated for WTOC play of the week.
- Check out this catch from Bremen’s Jacob Reynolds, which was nominated by Recruit Georgia for play of the week.
- Fitzgerald’s Dequavion Harper will play in the Georgia vs. Florida High School Showcase.
- A sad story out of Swainsboro — senior running back John Henderson is out for the season after breaking his arm in a car wreck. He played in all 10 games for the Tigers, rushing for 307 yards and four touchdowns on 53 carries.
- Screven County’s Braylin Williams will play in the CSRA All-Star Senior Bowl.
- The West Georgia Football Podcast previews the Round 1 Tiger at Callaway matchup.
- GHSF Daily’s top performers include AA’s Gunner Stockton, quarterback of Rabun County (251 passing yards, 167 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), Monticello running back Mario Greene (170 rushing yards on 10 carries), Social Circle quarterback Logan Cross (27-of-42 passing for 334 yards, three touchdowns), Social Circle receiver Mason Moore (15 catches, 151 yards, two touchdowns), Toombs County running back D.J. Mincey (130 yards rushing, 40 yards receiving, a touchdown), Vidalia running back Darrell Brown (191 rushing yards and two scores on 20 carries) and Washington County running back Sha’Marcus Poole (165 rushing yards, three touchdowns).
Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.
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