Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Five first-round playoff games to watch

Normally the first round of the state playoffs is filled with bad games. Too many average-to-poor teams reach the postseason, making for some bad games on the opening week of the playoffs.

This year it’s different.

The first-round of the Class AAAAA playoffs is loaded with good games. Sure, there are a few lopsided games on the schedule, but this year there’s no guarantee, even for some of the teams with home-field advantage. 

Here’s a look at five of the top first-round games: 

Jones County at Bainbridge: Bainbridge (5-5) doesn’t have a great record, but the five losses have come against larger schools (Brooks County, Tift County, Cairo), a good team from Florida and region champion Warner Robins. The Bearcats are fairly balanced with quarterback Quayde Hawkins (911 yards passing) and running backs Rashad Broadnax and Caleb McDowell. No. 8 Jones County (8-2) has one of region’s top junior quarterbacks in Hunter Costlow, who has thrown for 2,415 yards and 30 touchdowns. The two teams have split two previous meetings. 

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Veterans at Stockbridge: Veterans (8-2) tied the school record for wins, but wound up third in the region and has to hit the road. Quarterback Sebastian Verger has thrown for 954 yards and rushed for 569. The Warhawks’ big runner is Cyrus Zuell, who has rushed for 1,126 yards and 13 touchdowns. But Stockbridge has perhaps the best defense that Veterans has faced this season. The Tigers are led on offense by quarterback Jevon McDonald (1,089 yards passing, 784 yards rushing) and running backs Steve Bonner, Jaylen Jackson and Markell Ramsey. 

Carrollton at Riverwood: Riverwood (8-2) brings a high-powered offense that has scored no fewer than 35 points in any of its wins. Quarterback Aaron Graham has thrown for 1,590 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 578 yards and seven touchdowns. Reese White has run for 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns and is a constant threat. Carrollton (8-2) has a deep roster of running backs led by Brandon Marenco (64 yards, 10 touchdowns), with quarterback Kashif Taylor (1,292 yards passing, 12 touchdowns). Receiver Isaiah Lancaster is a big-play maker with 43 catches and eight touchdowns. Carrollton leads the series 2-0. 

Clarke Central vs. Arabia Mountain (Saturday, Godfrey Stadium): Arabia Mountain (6-4) is making its third straight trip to the postseason under coach Stanley Pritchett. The Rams are led by quarterback Bryson Williams, the second most-productive signal-caller in DeKalb County. Running back Jaylen Burke and receivers Matthew Crawford and Corey Rolle lead the offense. Clarke Central (6-4) is a balanced team led by running back O’Brien Barnett (740 yards) and quarterback Isaac Ward has developed into a good leader (1,278 yards, 10 touchdowns). This is the first meeting between the two schools. 

East Paulding at Banneker: East Paulding (6-4) owns a win over No. 9 Kell, which landed the Patriots in the playoffs. Running back Tyrell Robinson has rushed for 1,477 yards and has been particularly effective during the current four-game winning streak. Banneker (9-1) won its first region championship and has won seven straight games. Gary Benton has rushed for 1,012 yards and 11 touchdowns and quarterback Nick Williams has thrown for 511 and run for 224 yards. This is the first meeting between the two schools. 

Other first-round games: Jonesboro at Wayne County, Carver at Kell, Miller Grove at Buford, New Hampstead at Starr’s Mill, Loganville at Southwest DeKalb, Statesboro at Griffin, Harris County at Dutchtown, Lithonia at Cedar Shoals, Maynard Jackson at Rome, Riverdale at Ware County, Locust Grove at Warner Robins. 

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