A game between two ranked programs will highlight the first round of the Class AAA football playoffs when 10th-ranked Westminster (6-4, 4-2) travels to No. 8 Jefferson (8-2, 5-1) for the third meeting between the two programs.
Jefferson, the No. 2 seed from Region 8, holds a 2-0 edge in the series with victories in 2012 (35-7), under head coach T. McFerrin, and 2013 (28-0), under head coach Ben Hall. Gene Cathcart is in his second season at Jefferson after coaching at Habersham Central from 2003-2008.
Westminster’s Parks Harber has completed 120 of 230 passes for 1,863 yards and 18 touchdowns to lead a Wildcats team that passes more than it runs. But Westminster still has the power to make relaxed defenses pay. Paul Weathington, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior back, has rushed for 828 yards, and Will Hallmark, a 5-10, 175-pound back and free safety, has added 341.
Jefferson is averaging nearly 270 yards rushing with roughly 90 receiving yards. Zac Corbin, a 5-11, 180-pound two-way player, has rushed for 350 yards and has 280 receiving yards with seven touchdowns. Corbin also shores up the secondary as a free safety on defense. Junior Colby Clark, the Dragons’ 5-10, 199-pound starting quarterback, suffered an injury in the sixth game of the season, and backup Carter Stephenson has kept Jefferson in contention.
-- Another feature game has third-ranked Monroe Area (10-0, 6-0) facing a Pace Academy (6-4, 4-2) team that has spent this season either ranked or on the bubble. Monroe Area defeated Pace 36-15 on Aug. 31, but Pace’s defensive effort held Monroe Area to the third-lowest points total of the season.
Pace enters the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Cedar Grove’s Region 5. The Purple Hurricane, under coach Kevin Reach in his second season, stormed (pun intended) flawlessly through the regular season and Region 8 to win its first region title since back-to-back titles under coach Matt Fligg in 2012-13.
Chris Slade’s Pace team runs twice as much as it passes, averaging 207 yards rushing and 105 yards passing. But its offense cannot be the only focus this week. For Pace, the goal, the desire, the plan, the necessity and the only way it can win is to find a way to stop Monroe Area’s passing game, led by quarterback Chandler Byron.
Behind Byron, the Monroe offense has averaged 357 passing, with just 105 rushing yards. He is 46-of-73 passing for 1,063 yards and 14 touchdowns. The offensive prowess, coupled with a lock-down defense, allowed Monroe Area to shut out its first four opponents in Region 8 competition.
Here is the Class AAA schedule for Friday’s first round:
Region 4 No. 3-seed Jackson at Region 1 No. 2-seed Monroe
R3 #4 Windsor Forest at R2 #1 Pierce County
R6 #3 Haralson County at R7 #2 Dawson County
R5 #4 Pace Academy at R8 #1 Monroe Area
R1 #3 Cook County at R4 #2 Westside-Macon
R2 #4 Tattnall County at R3 #1 Benedictine
R7 #3 North Hall at R6 #2 Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe
R8 #4 Hart County at R5 #1 Cedar Grove
R2 #3 Liberty County at R3 #2 Southeast Bulloch
At Large Ringgold at R4 #1 Peach County
R5 #3 Westminster at R8 #2 Jefferson
R6 #4 North Murray at R7 #1 Greater Atlanta Christian
R3 #3 Jenkins at R2 #2 Appling County
R4 #4 Pike County at R1 #1 Crisp County
R8 #3 Morgan County at R5 #2 Lovett
R7 #4 Fannin County at R6 #1 Calhoun
Here are the Class AAA rankings entering the playoffs:
1. (1) Calhoun (10-0)
2. (2) Cedar Grove (9-1)
3. (3) Monroe Area (10-0)
4. (4) Peach County (8-2)
5. (7) Benedictine (9-1)
6. (6) Greater Atlanta Christian (8-2)
7. (8) Dawson County (9-1)
8. (9) Jefferson (8-2)
9. (NR) Pierce County (10-0)
10. (5) Westminster (6-4)
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