FROM THE PREP ZONE BLOGS AT AJC.COM

The high school bloggers at ajc.com include Todd Holcomb (Class AAAAAA), Chip Saye (AAAAA), David Purdum (AAAA), Stan Awtrey (AAA), Adam Krohn (AA) and S. Thomas Coleman (A).

Here’s what to look for during the semifinals of the high school football playoffs.

Class AAAAAA

It’s rare for a No. 3 seed to make the championship game in the highest classification, but it’s a guarantee this season as North Gwinnett and McEachern — teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at one point before winding up third in their regions — play Friday at McEachern in the AAAAAA football semifinals.

Since 1996, when the GHSA first allowed four teams from each region to qualify, only four No. 3 seeds have won their semifinal games in the highest class. They are Colquitt County in 2010, Lowndes in 1999 and Parkview and Tift County in 1997. Lowndes and Parkview went on to win state titles. Only one No. 4 seed, 2006 co-champion Peachtree Ridge, has reached a championship game in the highest class.

Here are things to watch for in AAAAAA and other classifications:

  • Colquitt County and Norcross, which play in the other semifinal, are perhaps more known for their defense than North Gwinnett and McEachern. Each has a fierce pass rush. Lorenzo Carter of Norcross is considered the top defensive end prospect in the country, but Norcross has had six sacks in the past two games by defensive tackles Dorian Kithcart and Khyree Lee. Colquitt County's best-known defensive lineman is preseason all-state player Jamiyus Pittman, who missed five games in midseason with a leg injury.
  • All four of the semifinal teams have a 1,000-yard rusher. McEachern has two — junior running back Taj Griffin (1,175) and quarterback Ty Clemons (1,171). North Gwinnett's C.J. Leggett has rushed for 1,349 yards, with at least 133 in all three playoff games. Norcross running back Josh Boyd has 1,265 yards rushing. Colquitt County's Sihiem King has 1,392 yards and has scored at least one touchdown in all 13 games.

Class AAAAA

  • If the Tucker-Gainesville game is close, it could come down to the kickers, and both teams have good ones. Tucker's Eric Webber is 62-for-65 on extra points and 10-for-11 on field goals and recently broke the DeKalb County record for points in a season by a kicker, with 92. Gainesville's Gage Turner is 78-for-78 on extra points and 6-for-7 on field-goal attempts, for 96 points.
  • Kell quarterback Matthew McGuigan is healthy again after missing the past five games with an ankle injury, but expect the Longhorns to stick with Cameron Rosendahl as the starter against Creekside. In three playoff games, Rosendahl is 29-for-46 passing (63 percent) for 398 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a team that gets about 57 percent of its offense from the running game.
  • Creekside enters Friday's game with Kell as AAAAA's hottest team on offense. The Seminoles averaged 39.9 points during the regular season, but have turned it up a notch in the playoffs, scoring 43.3 points per game the past three weeks.

Class AAAA

  • Griffin hosts Wayne County on Friday in a semifinal loaded with talent. The Bears rallied from behind in the fourth quarter to upend defending champion Sandy Creek on the road. The Yellow Jackets blew past Alexander to earn a spot in the semifinals for the first time in nearly 40 years. Wayne County features two dynamic offensive weapons — quarterback Malique Jackson, who owns an offer from Florida State, and wide receiver Krenwick Sanders, who committed to Wisconsin. Griffin quarterback Jaquez Parks, who should surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in Friday's game, has his fair share of top players as well — junior receiver Christian Owens, who committed to Georgia, and versatile running back DeVontae Freeman.
  • Marist did not attempt a pass in its 30-8 victory against Worth County in the 1989 state championship game. The War Eagles did it again last week, beating Burke County 42-20 without attempting a pass. Marist averaged 8.5 yards on 51 rushing attempts against Burke to advance to the semifinals against powerful Carrollton. Opponents have averaged 127.7 yards rushing against Carrollton this season. The two teams met last season in the second round of the playoffs, with Marist winning 43-27 in five overtimes.

Class AAA

  •  Ringgold (11-2) at No. 3 Washington County (12-0). Ringgold is the only unranked team in the playoffs. The Tigers are led by senior quarterback Slade Dale, who was banged up in last week's quarterfinal game against Central Carroll. The Tigers have scored 127 in three playoff games, including 55 in that first-round classic against North Hall. This is the first time Ringgold has reached this stage of the playoffs. Washington County's previous trip to the semifinals was in 2006.
  • No. 5 Callaway (12-1) at No. 1 Buford (13-0). A very athletic Callaway team stands in the way of Buford making its seventh consecutive trip to the championship game. The Cavaliers feature quarterback Tez Parks and running back Eddie Culpepper. The Callaway defense is led by linebacker Keshun Freeman, who committed to Georgia Tech. But Buford's defense, led by Korie Rogers, has been equal to the challenge all year. The Wolves have squashed both passing attacks (Gainesville's Deshaun Watson) and running attacks (North Hall's triple option).

Class AA

  • Two 13-0 teams will meet in the semifinals when the No. 1-ranked Lamar County Trojans host the No. 6-ranked Benedictine Cadets. Both the Trojans and Cadets are No. 1 seeds, and the Trojans won the coin flip that determined home-field advantage. Last week, the Cadets defeated Calhoun 35-14 in what was their closest game of the season. The Trojans are in the state semifinals for the second time in school history — and second year in a row — but have never reached the finals. They defeated defending state-champion Jefferson 35-24 after trailing at halftime for the first time this season.
  • The No. 2-ranked Lovett Lions host the No. 7-ranked Brooks County Trojans in the other semifinal. Both teams are 12-1. The Trojans beat Bowdon 42-26 in the quarterfinals. They're in the semifinals for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2008. The Lions edged Laney 35-33 last week and are in the semifinals for the fifth time since coach Mike Muschamp arrived in 2005 and first time since 2010.

Class A

Public school

  • No. 9 Charlton County (8-4) at No. 4 Irwin County (10-1-1). Irwin County won the first meeting between the Region 2 rivals 29-26 in the last game of the regular season on a 33-yard field goal in the final seconds by Eric Contreras. The all-time series between the two schools is 17-17. Irwin County, located about an hour east of Albany, has improved steadily during coach Jonathan Lindsey's three seasons in Ocilla, going 3-7 in 2011 and 7-4 last season. After finishing with a losing record (5-6) last year for the first time in his 24 seasons at Charlton County, McWhorter has righted the ship.
  • No. 6 Hawkinsville (9-3) at No. 2 Marion County (11-1). Hawkinsville handed the Eagles their only loss of the season, 14-10 on Nov. 1. Still, Marion County won its third Region 4 title in the past four seasons. The Eagles have played 12 games in each of Mike Swaney's four seasons. This is Marion County's first trip to the semifinals. After a two-year absence from the postseason, Hawkinsville is back in the playoffs under second-year coach David Daniell. The Red Devils are in the semifinals for the first time since they tied Clinch County in 2004 for their fifth state championship, after winning it outright in 2003.

Private school

  • No. 4 Calvary Day (10-2) at No. 1 Eagle's Landing Christian Academy (11-0). The two teams have never met, but both faced Landmark Christian this season. Calvary Day lost to the War Eagles 30-22 in the opener, while ELCA defeated Landmark Christian 35-0. Calvary Day lost its next game to AA Bryan County 40-29, then won 10 consecutive. Coach Mark Stroud, in his sixth season, is 37-9 since he was 4-6 in each of his first two seasons. ELCA is the defending private-school champion. The current group of seniors is 48-4.
  • No. 3 Aquinas (12-0) at No. 2 Mount Pisgah Christian (12-0). Aquinas had been a weak program, traditionally, until Matt Lezotte arrived in 2009. The Fightin' Irish went 17-7 combined in 2011 and 2012, and longtime assistant James Leonard has taken the program to the next level in his first season, winning the school's first region championship. Mount Pisgah, located in Johns Creek, also won its first region title this season under coach Mike Forester, who is in his first season.