Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Caption

Thanksgiving blog: Predictions, previews, briefs

With Thanksgiving being this week, I will combine Tuesday and Thursday’s posts into one blog here, where we’ll revisit my predictions, preview the quarterfinals and, as we’ve done every week this season, take a look at Class AA in brief.

Predictions

My predictions were looking pretty good until some guy named “Tank” came along and bulldozed all over them. Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby led Callaway to a decisive 31-13 win over defending state champion Hapeville Charter. Though there are conflicting reports over how many yards Bigsby rushed for — Callaway coach Pete Wiggins told the AJC he rushed for more than 300 yards — he had four rushing touchdowns and dominated what was, statistically, the best defense in AA, as the Hornets came in allowing just 4.3 points a game.

(For the updated Class AA bracket, go here; for a recap of Round 2, go here)

Had the brackets been drawn up differently, this could very well have been a championship matchup. But the lower-left quadrant was absolutely stacked this year with three top five times and four ranked teams overall, and so in the second round there was a rare top-five matchup.

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Most read

  1. 1 Officer in critical condition after shooting; suspect in custody
  2. 2 Atlanta college receives huge philanthropic gift
  3. 3 Milton celebrates historic 7A championship upset

For me, picking the Hornets to repeat as champions came down to counting them out — and being dead wrong — for two years in a row. In 2016, I actually had them going out in the first round; they reached the semifinals. Last year, I had them losing in the quarterfinals to the undefeated, top-ranked, defending state champions, Benedictine; they the championship. 

Even though the 2018 Hornets didn’t have the star power of last year’s championship team, which sent five players to the next level, there will still no clear signs heading into the playoffs that they weren’t the team to beat. Yes, the usual suspects of Rockmart, Callaway, Brooks County and Rabun County looked as strong as ever, but the Hornets’ defense looked unstoppable — especially against Class AA opponents, which they hadn’t lost to since 2016.

The first sign, to me anyway, that the Hornets might not be as prepared as necessary to defend their title, came in the first round against Coosa. Though they won 32-10, they actually trailed at one point in the game which, in my mind, was completely unacceptable. Coosa came in with a 4-6 record and Maxwell’s computer projections pegged the Eagles as a 37-point underdogs. To me, the Hornets came off as underwhelming.

Even if the Hornets had been playing at a high level, Callaway was going to be a stiff challenge. Bigbsy has been a force all season and was coming off a 300-plus, three-touchdown performance in the Cavs’ win over Elbert County. Surprisingly, Bigsby was able to run through the Hornets the same as any other opponent this season and now has 600 rushing yards through two playoff games.

Will anyone be able to stop him? As far as I’m concerned, that’s the question in Class AA moving forward. Obviously the Cavs are not a one-man team, but there aren’t many playing at a higher level right now. Rockmart’s Dyquan Bloodshaw comes to mind. He’s the workhorse for the only remaining undefeated team and has averaged 281.5 yards and has a total of six touchdowns in two playoff games. Rabun County is putting up its usual video game-like offensive numbers as well.

A big reason for Bigsby’s success is Keiondre Jones, a four-star offensive lineman (6-foot-3, 340 pounds) who is committed to Auburn.

I’m a firm believer that any team that reaches this point of the playoffs — the quarterfinals — has a legitimate shot to win the state championship. When you get this deep into the season, you have to be one of the best teams. It doesn’t matter how the bracket was drawn, or the perception that one team’s path to this point may have been easier than another’s. If your team is still standing at this point, you can smell a championship, and your confidence is sky-high. That’s what makes this time of year so special.

Previews

Courtesy of GHSF Daily

Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane at Rabun County Wildcats

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger

Records, rankings: Fitzgerald is 9-3, the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AA and unranked; Rabun County is 11-1, the No. 1 seed from 8-AA and No. 8.

Last meeting: Fitzgerald won 35-16 in the 2016 Class AA quarterfinals.

Things to know: Fitzgerald has bounced back from a 4-7 season in 2017 and is in the quarterfinals for the ninth time in 11 seasons after its 27-12 victory over Swainsboro last week. Fitzgerald trailed 12-7 in the fourth quarter but got a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown by Keiwan Flowers and ran for two scores to put the game away. Fitzgerald had 222 yards rushing and took advantage of five Swainsboro turnovers (two fumbles and three interceptions). Rabun County, the state runner-up last season, is making its fourth consecutive quarterfinal appearance and is 25-2 since losing to Fitzgerald in the 2016 quarters. Brison Beck rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-0 victory over Chattooga last week. Braxton Hicks scored on a 20-yard reception and a 36-yard fumble return, and freshman QB Gunner Stockton passed for 258 yards and two TDs and ran for 41 yards. They are the team's offensive leaders - Stockton with 2,727 yards passing, Beck with 1,436 yards rushing, and Hicks with 938 yards receiving. Austin Jones has 855 receiving yards. LB Mason Sprinkle has a team-leading 108 total tackles.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Even

Winner plays: Heard County/Dublin  

Heard County Braves at Dublin Fighting Irish

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Shamrock Bowl, Dublin

Records, rankings: Heard County is 10-2, the No. 1 seed from Region 5-AA and No. 3; Dublin is 11-1, the No. 1 seed from 3-AA and No. 6.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Things to know: Heard County, a semifinalist last year, returned to the quarterfinals with a 27-6 victory over Douglass. Heard County scored on its first offensive play, a 52-yard pass from Alijah Huzzie to Lequincey Shepherd. Aaron Beasley ran for 128 yards and a TD on 21 carries and has 1,461 yards rushing and 18 TDs for the year. DE Zaylin Wood (committed to Temple) had 15 tackles, four for losses, and broke the school's single-season record for tackles. He has 30 tackles for losses this year. LB Andrew Leak had two interceptions. Dublin advanced to its first quarterfinal since 2011 with a 23-7 victory over Thomasville last week. Jermaine Cooley had 102 of Dublin's 228 rushing yards and scored on a 22-yard run and an 11-yard reception. Corteveyas Mitchell scored on a 6-yard run and threw the TD pass to Cooley. Thomasville took a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game but could do little after that, as the Fighting Irish held it to 180 total yards (56 rushing).

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Dublin by 13

Winner plays: Fitzgerald/Rabun County winner 

Rockmart Yellow Jackets at Jefferson County Warriors

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Warrior Field, Louisville

Records, rankings: Rockmart is 12-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 7-AA and No. 2; Jefferson County is 10-2, the No. 1 seed from 4-AA and unranked.

Last meeting: This is the teams' first meeting.

Things to know: Rockmart is 12-0 for the first time since 1950, when the school won its only state championship, and its No. 2 ranking equals the highest since then. Rockmart is No. 2 in AA scoring offense (47.08 points per game) and scoring defense (7.00). The Yellow Jackets built a 28-14 lead last week and held on for a 35-23 victory over Bremen. Offensive players to watch are Dylan Bailey (1,149 yards passing in the regular season), Zabrion Whatley (769 yards rushing), Markus Smith (689 yards rushing) and Juke Boozer (561 yards receiving). Jefferson County has won 10 consecutive games since starting the season with losses to Swainsboro (14-12) and Washington County (35-14). The Warriors beat Dodge County 27-13 in the second round to return to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2015. Jefferson County is led by Jaden Jenkins, who has rushed for 1,977 yards and 29 touchdowns on 248 carries. Jenkins had a season-high 268 yards and a TD on 37 carries last week.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Rockmart by 17

Winner plays: Washington County/Callaway winner 

Washington County Golden Hawks at Callaway Cavaliers

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Callaway Stadium, LaGrange

Records, rankings: Washington County is 10-2, the No. 3 seed from Region 3-AA and No. 10; Callaway is 10-2, the No. 2 seed from 5-AA and No. 4.

Last meeting: Washington County won 31-7 in the second round of the 2014 Class AAA playoffs.

Things to know: Washington County is in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2014, when it beat Callaway to reach the quarters. Last week, the Golden Hawks beat Brooks County 34-30, stopping Trojans QB Jacolby Brown inches short of the goal line on a fourth-down play with 14 seconds remaining. Brooks County took a 21-14 lead in the fourth quarter, but Dyquan Bloodsaw returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards for a touchdown and later scored on a 41-yard run for a 34-30 lead. Bloodsaw rushed for 1,526 yards in the regular season. Callaway recorded the most notable victory of the playoffs when it knocked off defending state champion Hapeville Charter 31-13 last week. It was the Cavaliers' first-ever victory in seven tries against a No. 1-ranked team. Tank Bigsby, who rushed for 1,443 yards in the regular season and 314 against Elbert County in the first round, scored all four of the Cavaliers' touchdowns, on runs of 3, 16, 85 and 24 yards. Callaway is in the quarterfinals for the third consecutive season.

Maxwell Ratings' projection: Callaway by 1

Winner plays: Rockmart/Jefferson County winner

In brief:

  • The GHSA’s universal coin toss for the quarterfinals went to the bottom portion of the brackets.
  • Justin Newman stepped down as coach of the Spencer Greenwave Owls after just one season in which they finished 3-8, including a 65-0 loss to Rabun County in the first round of the playoffs after qualifying for the postseason as a No. 4 seed out of Region 5. Spencer’s next coach will be its fifth since 2012. 
  • The Washington County-Heard County game was decided on a controversial call. GHSF Daily asked a ref about how the officiating crew reached a conclusion on the play in question.
  • Rockmart is calling for all football alumni to be at the Jackets’ Thanksgiving-day practice.
  • Here are more stats on Callaway’s win over Hapeville Charter.
  • Select players for Callaway tried out for a Georgia vs. Texas showdown.
  • Anfernee Patterson of The Atlanta Voice has a writeup of the Callaway-Hapeville Charter game.
  • Here are some more Tank Bibsgy highlights. Here’s his 85-yard scoring run.
  • Here’s Callaway celebrating.
  • Brooks County offensive lineman Jakobee Mitchell and Elbert County defensive back DJ Ardister were invited to the Rising Seniors Foundation All-Star Game.
  • Seniors for Union County will participate in the Georgia-Tennessee Border War.
  • David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle has coverage of Jefferson County and Washington County’s advancement to the quarterfinals.
  • Here’s a list by GHSF Daily of the most recent quarterfinals appearance for each of this year’s quarterfinalists.
  • Washington County’s Dyquan Bloodshaw is a beast. The offensive line has been a big help.
  • Former Rabun County quarterback and AJC Player of the Year finalist Bailey Fisher is picking up where he left off at the next level.
  • Former Chattooga standout Isaac Foster won Special Teams Player of the Year honors at Kennesaw State.
  • More AA players were named to the GACA All-Star Classic, including Keshawn Suggs (Callaway), Charlie Dixon (Callaway), Jalin Shephard (Callaway), Bryce Bailey (Bleckley County), Netrius Fleming (Elbert County), Daniel Lavender (Elbert County), Deacon Allen (Rockmart), Jaques Evans (Dublin), Romello Height (Dublin) and Jabari Burge (Model).
  • Though the Douglass Astros were eliminated last week, they still had the best season of any APS program. Here’s their final hype video.
  • Here’s highlights of the Douglass-Heard County game.
  • Here’s how the field was dried ahead of the Washington County-Brooks County game.
  • Bremen’s not afraid to get dirty.
  • B.E.S.T. Academy coach Joshua Moore has been nominated for an honor.

Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.

More from AJC