I picked Rabun County to win because, for me, the best story going in was for Gunner Stockton, in his final high school season before heading to Georgia, to deliver the Wildcats their first-ever state title while setting all state records along the way. The Wildcats had a senior-laden team and were battle-tested, but faced a very tough quarterfinals matchup and, with an unfortunate universal coin toss, were forced to travel across the state for a road game against the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs proved to be the better team, and based on the way they played and the final score, home-field advantage may not have mattered for this game after all.
I will maintain that the winner of this game goes on to win it all, so that would make the Bulldogs my new pick to take home the hardware.
Last year, I predicted the Bulldogs would beat their Region 1 rivals, the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane, in the championship. Was I a year off? The Cane, who held up their end of my picks last year by reaching the title game, are still alive after beating previously-undefeated Putnam County last week.
Before talks of a championship, the Bulldogs now have to knock off the defending-champion Callaway Cavaliers, who are trying to become the first 2A program to win back-to-back football titles since Buford, which won four in a row from 2006-2010.
That the Cavs have made it this far shouldn’t be a surprise given that deep playoff runs are a staple of coach Pete Wiggins’ long tenure at Callaway. However, a return to the semifinals with a completely reloaded roster after graduating nearly all key playmakers from last year’s championship team is a feat that can’t be overstated.
Before the season started, I wondered if the Cavs, after years of deep playoff runs that came up short, would turn the corner and build a dynasty after last year’s title. I knew that was a tall order but they started 4-0 and looked every bit the part of a title contender. Then came a two-game skid, but they’ve brushed that off and seemed to have taken on a championship mentality ever since.
Picking them to lose in the second round to then-undefeated, No. 3 Bleckley County is something I’d do 10 times out of 10, and maybe an earlier version of the Cavs would have lost that game. But they marched into Cochran and won easily. Then they shut South Atlanta out in the second half last week for another road win.
Can the Cavs now go to Thomasville and win there too?
You can never count them out given their pedigree, but it’s still too much for me to envision them escaping with a victory against the Bulldogs.
When I made my predictions, I said the winner of the Rabun County-Thomasville game would win 2A. I still feel that way, as the Bulldogs appear to be playing head-and-shoulders better football of the remaining teams.
I had the Swainsboro Tigers losing to Haralson County in the quarterfinals, but instead they beat Northeast in double-overtime. The Tigers are a team I honestly overlooked, as most of my attention was focused on the ranked teams, plus others that stood out as up-and-coming, like Columbia, Dade County, South Atlanta and Westside.
Meanwhile, Swainsboro — a postseason mainstay — was quietly building up an impressive resume.
Now the Tigers have everyone’s attention and are playing at a level that I can see them beating the Purple Hurricane, who travel to them. This will be the Cane’s toughest playoff opponent yet and, at least on paper, the two appear evenly matched. If anything, the Tigers may have an edge on offense with Ty Adams, though the Cane’s defense may be stronger.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see either team advance, but I’ll stick with the Cane to return to the championship a second year in a row.
If my new predictions hold true, that would mean my picks from 2020 — Region 1 rivals Thomasville and Fitzgerald — would meet in Atlanta to play for the championship. It’s a matchup that fans outside of South Georgia may not care as much for, but it would be incredible for a title game.
Another great story that I never would have seen coming is a rematch of last year’s final, Callaway vs. Fitzgerald. The two programs brought great crowds to Atlanta last year and I would expect that to happen again this year, should they meet. It would also be a great game.
Of course, Swainsboro can squash both of those narratives by beating Fitzgerald and from there, the Tigers would play Thomasville or Callaway. The Tigers have never played Callaway, and they’re 3-0 all-time against Thomasville, winning in 2004, 2001 and 2000 — all first-round playoff matchups.
Check back on Thursday when the semifinals are previewed and each of the remaining coaches discuss last week’s win and this week’s matchups.
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