The first round of the Class AAAAAAA playoffs are upon us, and except for a handful of games, it might not be that suspenseful.
The computer Maxwell Ratings project margins of victory of 22 points or more for 10 of the 16 games.
The closest games involve Region 1 vs. Region 4 teams. Maxwell calls Camden County a two-point favorite over fifth-ranked Walton, and Tift County a four-point favorite over sixth-ranked Roswell. That’s provocative in itself as the South Georgia teams come into metro Atlanta unranked but dangerous.
Other games that are expected to be competitive are Westlake vs. North Paulding, Norcross vs. Mountain View and Mill Creek vs. Brookwood. And certainly there must be a surprise out there among the games that aren’t projected so closely.
One comment on the draw: No. 1 Colquitt County and No. 7 North Gwinnett – the two finalists of 2017 – are projected to meet in the quarterfinals. North Gwinnett won the 2017 championship game 19-17 on a final-play field goal after an improbable last-minute drive. A coin flip would determine where the rematch would take place.
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The deepest quarter of the draw is the third quarter, which has No. 3 Parkview, No. 6 Roswell, No. 8 Archer and No. 10 Marietta, though Marietta is without its injured star quarterback, Harrison Bailey.
Only one ranked team is present in the top quarter. That’s No. 2 Grayson. But unranked Westlake lost to Grayson only 21-15 in September and could challenge the Rams.
Here are Maxwell’s projections of the first round, and below that are reprints of GHSF Daily’s previews of the best three games this week in the highest class.
Lowndes vs. Cherokee -28
Westlake vs. North Paulding -5
Norcross vs. Mountain View -6
Grayson vs. South Forsyth -37
Camden County at Walton -2
Hillgrove vs. Pebblebrook -36
Mill Creek vs. Brookwood -10
Milton vs. South Gwinnett -33
Marietta vs. East Coweta -27
Tift County at Roswell -4
Archer vs. Forsyth Central -33
Parkview vs. Collins Hill -38
McEachern at Newnan -22
Colquitt Co. vs. Etowah -41
West Forsyth vs. Newton -19
North Gwinnett vs. Central Gwinnett -33
Camden County at Walton
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Raider Valley, Marietta
Records, rankings: Camden County is 7-3, the No. 3 seed from Region 1-AAAAAAA and unranked; Walton is 9-1, the No. 2 seed from 4-AAAAAAA and No. 5.
Last meeting: Camden County won 45-14 in 2005.
Watch the game: On television on GPB and online at NFHS Network.
Things to know: Camden County, in its second season under former North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire, is in the playoffs for the first time since 2015, which breaks the Wildcats' longest postseason drought since 1975-76. Formerly a staunch wing-T program, Camden is passing more than ever in Sphire's spread offense. Logan Watson has thrown for 1,714 yards and 17 touchdowns. The leading rusher is a freshman, Jamie Felix, with 506 yards. LB Jalen Davis, the leading tackler, has eight stops for losses in the last five games. Like Camden, Walton likes to pass and averages 267.2 yards through the air. Austin Kirksey, committed to Nevada, has thrown for 1,771 yards despite missing two games and parts of several others. Kendall Alford (52 catches, 859 yards, seven touchdowns) and Dominick Blaylock (46-869-7) are among the best pairs of receivers in the state. Both have more than 1,000 all-purpose yards. LB/DE Trey Middleton has 26 tackles for losses and nine sacks. Walton is 1-2 against South Georgia teams all-time. Camden is 4-4 against Cobb County teams.
Winner plays: Pebblebrook/Hillgrove winner
North Paulding at Westlake
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Westlake Stadium, College Park
Records, rankings: North Paulding is 7-3, the No. 4 seed from Region 3-AAAAAAA and unranked; Westlake is 8-2, the No. 1 seed from 2-AAAAAAA and unranked.
Last meeting: Westlake won 41-13 in the first round of the 2014 Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Things to know: North Paulding is the No. 4 seed from a region that has five top-20 teams in Class AAAAAAA, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings, which put the Wolfpack at No. 17. Westlake, the only unranked region champion in the class, was beaten by Marietta, another Region 3 team, a year ago in this round, one season after advancing to the semifinals. Westlake historically is better on defense, but not this season. The Lions average 40.1 points per game, the most in school history, but have allowed 30 points in a game four times. Jalyn Williams is 106-of-188 passing for 1,823 yards and 17 touchdowns. Darren Nichols has rushed for 1,027 yards but was injured the past two games, during which Markcus Johnson stepped up with rushing totals of 226 and 102 yards with five touchdowns. Westlake hopes to have Nichols back this week. North Paulding, averaging just 62.2 yards rushing per game, is the most pass-heavy team in the playoffs. Ross Malmgren, a pocket passer, is 207-of-319 for 2,589 yards and 26 touchdowns with only three interceptions. His top receiver is Kellan Autenrieth, who has 715 yards and nine touchdowns. LB Jordan Veneziale, a three-star recruit, has 133 tackles, twice that of his closest teammate.
Winner plays: Cherokee/Lowndes winner
Tift County at Roswell
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Ray Manus Stadium, Roswell
Records, rankings: Tift County is 6-4, the at-large team and unranked; Roswell is 9-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAAAAAA and No. 6.
Last meeting: Roswell won 42-7 in 2009.
Watch the game: Online at NFHS Network.
Things to know: This is the only Class AAAAAAA game this week between teams ranked in at least one poll. Roswell is the consensus No. 7 team while Tift is No. 9 in the computer Maxwell Ratings. Roswell, a state finalist in 2015 and 2016, has bounced back after a 3-8 finish in 2017. The Hornets are a balanced run-pass offense. Ethan Roberts is 110-of-206 passing for 1,852 yards and 19 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Kamonty Jett has rushed for 1,033 yards and twice carried more than 30 times in a game, but was injured and did not play in Roswell's final regular season contest. Jacob Jarett and John Copenhaver have 15 TD receptions between them. Tift is primarily a running team. Mike Jones has rushed for 905 yards. QB Patrick Felton's play is often critical. He threw three TD passes against Parkview and Lowndes, but was 16-of-51 in losses to Colquitt County and Camden County. Both teams have SEC-bound linebackers. Tift's K.D. McDaniel (seven sacks) is committed to Kentucky. Roswell's Tyron Hopper (six TFL, five interceptions) is committed to Florida. But Tift LB Deontae Overstreet (three interceptions, four forced fumbles) and Roswell DB/LB Doneiko Slaughter (eight sacks) also require a close eye.
Winner plays: East Coweta/Marietta winner