Class 2A blog: Predictions revisited; coaches talk playoffs, etc.

ajc.com

Crystal ball holding true through Round 1

Through the first round, my predictions have made it unscathed. There were some close calls, however.

Let’s take a look:

ajc.com

Credit: Adam Krohn

Credit: Adam Krohn

Two things before we break down the quadrants.

First, Episode 39 of The Class 2A Blogcast is live. Guests are coaches Greg Barnett (Columbia), Scott Roberts (Swainsboro), Tucker Pruitt (Fitzgerald), Lee Hutto (Westside), Von Lassiter (Bleckley County), Lance Helton (Jeff Davis), Chad Cheatham (Fannin County) and Shane Lasseter (Heard County).

Second, the universal coin toss — applied to determine home-field advantage in cases where like seeds play — was conducted Monday for the quarterfinals round at GHSA headquarters by executive director Dr. Robin Hines.

The result:

When applied to 2A’s No. 1 seeds, top-ranked Rabun County would travel to No. 2 Thomasville, South Atlanta to Bleckley County, and Haralson County to Swainsboro.

Another coin toss will take place next week for the semifinals.

Upper-left

The No. 8 Northeast Raiders (8-3) looked strong against the Cook Hornets in their 42-22 win, turning in their third-highest point total of the season. Omarion Ottman and D’Icey Hopkins each had 70-yard rushing touchdowns and quarterback Travion Solomon accounted for three touchdowns.

Now the Raiders travel to the No. 6 Haralson County Rebels, where they’ll face the “Ugly Eagle” double-wing offense. The 10-1 Rebels charged past Chattooga 34-7 in Round 1, and Clay Hyatt had rushing touchdowns of 55, 38, 22 and 19 yards.

It was the first playoff win in Rebels history.

(Rebels coach Scott Peavey was recently featured in GHSF Daily’s “4 questions with...”.)

The Raiders may have an athletic advantage but as the Rebels proved against Callaway, athleticism isn’t always enough. The key to this matchup is how well the Raiders adapt to playing against the Rebels’ unique ground attack, because they’re likely to see only a handful of pass plays, if that.

If the Raiders can stop the Rebels’ physical ground game — which no 2A team has been able to as of yet — they could pull out the win. If the Rebels win, it will be because of another dominant performance from Hyatt.

As noted Sunday, the Columbia Eagles (8-3) are coming off their first playoff win since 1997, beating Elbert County 26-14, one of a number of first-round upsets around the state.

“It was a special moment,” Eagles second-year coach Greg Barnett said. “The guys played well, we stuck to the game plan and we ended up coming out on top.”

They’ve been flying under the radar all season after a Covid-shortened 2020 limited them to six games (3-3). After coming within four points of a Region 6 title and now advancing in the playoffs, the rest of 2A is on notice.

The Eagles will play at the No. 10 Swainsboro Tigers (9-2) next, and Barnett said it will take their best to win.

“They are an absolute tough team,” Barnett said. “They’ve got some tough kids and their scheme is good. So we’re going to have to play a perfect game if we want to come out of there victorious.”

Eagles tackle Marquez Harris has 21.5 sacks.

The Tigers had also been flying under the radar until Oct. 22, when they edged then-No. 5 Jeff Davis 15-14 in what ultimately decided Region 2. They started 2-2 with a tough non-region schedule but are now on a seven-game win streak, debuting the AJC’s final poll before the the playoffs.

Swainsboro beat Laney 48-6 in Round 1, with quarterback Ty Adams rushing for three touchdowns.

The Tigers haven’t advanced past the second round since 2003, and the Eagles are looking to extend that streak.

“They’ve got a lot of good-looking players on both sides of the ball,” Tigers coach Scott Roberts said. “They’re really big on the defensive front and they’re athletic in the secondary. Offensively, they’ve got a lot of playmakers. They’re very dangerous.

“We’ve got to go out and play well — everyone does at this time of year. That was one of the things we were talking about earlier. I saw in the AJC where there were (17) upsets (in the first round). You can’t take any week for granted in this thing and if you do, you’re begging for a disaster.”

Lower-left

One of Round 2′s most-anticipated matchups is the No. 4 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane (9-2) traveling to the Fannin County Rebels (10-1). It’s a rematch from last year’s quarterfinals, when the Cane won 48-14 in Blue Ridge.

The Rebels dominated Bremen in Round 1, winning 45-14 despite being only 8-point favorites. They’ve been denied entry into the rankings all season despite reaching the quarterfinals last year and winning 7-2A for a second straight year.

They’re playing with a chip on their shoulder, and they haven’t forgotten last year’s lost to Fitzgerald.

“I think with the experience last year — at one point, it was 14-7 — our quarterback (Luke Holloway) broke his foot in the Heard County game (the week before),” Cheatham said. “(The Purple Hurricane) kind of started pinning their ears back and coming and getting us a little bit because they knew he wasn’t so mobile. Seth Reece stepped in and did a pretty good job, and those playoff games were his coming out party. I think our kids will play with a chip on our shoulder, and they understand that (the Purple Hurricane) have a long drive. That usually plays a little bit into it over the years that I’ve seen.

“Again, we’re going to do what we do this week in practice, keep the same routine, keep it as business-like as possible and prepare for them just like we did in Week 1 with Union County.”

This should be a much closer game, with the Cane not as strong on offense after losing nine of 11 starters from last year’s unit that reached the championship. They still have one of the best defenses in 2A though — led by Florida commit EJ Lightsey — so if they can keep the Rebels well below their 34-point scoring average, there’s a good chance they win.

The Cane are coming off the only Round 1 matchup between ranked teams in 2A, edging No. 9 Dodge County 15-6. Another victory in Blue Ridge won’t be a shoo-in for the Cane, and coach Tucker Pruitt is well aware.

“I think they’ve got a good football team, and the first thing we’ve all got to understand in our program is that nothing that happened last year has any effect on the game this year,” he said. “Last year, it was a good trip. We went out and we played well and we did what we had to do to win, but nothing from that carries over to this year. So, we’ve got to have a high sense of urgency.”

The Cane also must account for the four-and-a-half hour commute.

“We’re going to have to make it a business trip,” Pruitt said. “...They have a tremendous home-field advantage and a nice setup up there, and obviously...they’re going to be wanting some revenge, so we’re going to have to have a great week of practice and go up there and play our best game.”

(Scroll to the bottom of this post for more on Fitzgerald and Pruitt.)

The 8-3 Lovett Lions travel to the No. 5 Putnam County War Eagles (11-0) in one of Round 2′s more intriguing matchups.

The War Eagles , who couldn’t have looked more impressive in their 62-7 win over East Laurens, are averaging 45 points. The Lions are giving up an average of nine points and are coming off a 28-7 home win over Union County. However, the Lions have struggled on offense against ranked teams in each of the past two seasons, going 0-3 while scoring 6.3 points.

Three touchdowns could be enough for the War Eagles to pull off the win. A close, low-scoring game likely favors the Lions.

Upper-right

The Westside Patriots (9-2) advanced after a come-from-behind effort against Vidalia, climbing from a 21-0 deficit to win 23-21 on a 44-yard field goal as time expired.

Patriots coach Lee Hutto said the key to the comeback was the Pats staying true to themselves.

“We never panicked,” Hutto said. “Our kids and coaching staff stayed calm. I told my staff, ‘As long as we stay calm, our kids are going to be calm. So, our staff never panicked. We stayed positive and our sideline stayed enthusiastic. ...We came out in the second half and played much better defensively — shut them out. Got a few things going on offense. Had a huge pick-6 (a 77-yarder by Kaleb Hutchinson) that flipped the momentum of the game.

“Everyone just kept playing and kept believing.”

Now they’ll face the 10-1 South Atlanta Hornets, champions of Region 6, who beat Banks County 48-12.

The Hornets haven’t lost since their season opener at Heard County, 15-12. Keyjaun Brown is state’s leading rusher, and he had 418 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 carries last week.

The 11-0 Bleckley County Royals, who last year reached the quarterfinals as a No. 4 seed, needed a comeback and last-minute touchdown to beat No. 4 seed Early County 20-16.

Coach Von Lassiter said his team remained confident despite being down 16-0 late in the third quarter.

“At halftime there was some disbelief,” Lassiter said. “I think guys really understood then what I’d been trying to tell them all week. Whenever you put a No. 1 and a No. 4 (seed) from (Region 3 and Region 1) together, it doesn’t matter what number they are.”

Now the Royals get the defending champion Callaway Cavaliers (8-2).

“It will be a big challenge for us and one that we’re excited about,” Lassiter. “You grow up in this town, you live in this town and it’s not every day you get to play in games like this. Our players are excited to be playing at home and playing a big-time opponent like them.”

In Round 1, the Cavs jumped to a 21-0 lead over Pepperell and held on for a 29-22 win. They have the talent to beat the Royals, so it wouldn’t be a huge upset for them to win, but the Royals have been the more consistent team this year.

Lower-right

The 10-1 Jeff Davis Yellow Jackets posted the first round’s only shutout in 2A, winning 40-0 over a Jefferson County Warriors team that had advanced in each of the previous eight seasons. When it comes to 2A, the Jackets have one of the highest scoring offenses (31 points), and their defense gives up the fewest points (4.9).

After losing the No. 1 seed to Swainsboro, they’ll make the five-and-a-half hour trip to Tiger in hopes of taking down the top-ranked Rabun County Wildcats (10-1).

“Coach Jaybo Shaw does a fantastic job,” Jackets coach Lance Helton said. “In my opinion, they’re the most well-coached team I’ve seen on film this year...We’re going to have to execute at a very high rate to give ourselves even a chance to compete this Friday night with their talent. They’re the No. 1 team in our classification for a reason.”

The Wildcats are coming off a 63-14 win over Pace Academy. It was another monster night for Gunner Stockton, who was 18-of-21 passing for 302 yards and five touchdowns to no interceptions. He rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.

The Heard County Braves (6-5) survived on the road at Dade County, 32-27, advancing for the fourth time in five years. They advanced last year in Tim Barron’s final season and now first-year coach Shane Lasseter is looking to take them past the second round for the first time since they won 2A in 2018.

Though the Braves rebounded from their regular season-ending loss to Callaway that cost them a No. 2 seed, as the No. 3 seed they travel to the the No. 2 Thomasville Bulldogs (10-1).

It will be a rematch of the 2017 quarterfinals, when the Braves won 28-14 on the road. Lasseter, who was the Braves’ athletic director at the time, said the team will draw from the travel experience when trying to pull off the upset.

“(The Bulldogs) have all the pieces of the puzzle to win a title,” Lasseter said of the Bulldogs. “Depth, great players on both sides of the ball, an outstanding quarterback, very well coached — so it will be a challenge. We’ve been (to Thomasville) before (in 2017). ...The familiarity of that trip from the coaching staff, to be able to plan it out, should help a little bit. This time a year you don’t have to be the best team all the time, you just have to be the best on that day and that’s what we’re trying to preach to our kids.”

Thomasville is coming off a 42-7 win over once-ranked Washington County and have advanced in the playoffs each of the past five seasons.

Etc: Behind the scenes of a trick play

In the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane’s season opener against Irwin County, they won 18-15 in overtime. To tie the game at 15, they converted on a 2-point trick play that was so deceptive the Cane basically turned into 11 magicians and executed a thing of art.

In Ep. 39 of The Class 2A Blogcast, the play’s architect, Cane coach Tucker Pruitt, broke it down:

“We kind of keep a couple special plays and I think our kids like those and practicing them keeps things fun.

This particular one was one we got out of our single wing. Irwin County is an odd-stack defense, so they pretty much have three cover guys — two corners and a free safety. We removed the one corner to the weak side. We got in an unbalanced formation, because we felt like if we did that we would get the free safety to the strength and have just one corner to the back side. To the back side, we removed the corner with a wideout that was off the ball, and had an eligible tight end at tackle.

All it is, is a gap-blocking scheme. Everybody block down and block your inside gap. We snap the ball to the quarterback and he fakes like he’s running, but the blocking back that’s up there right behind the offensive line actually turns around and faces the quarterback, who’s got the ball, and the quarterback hands the ball right in his belly. The back side tackler who’s an eligible tight end blocks out on the overhang and then kind of releases to the middle and the runner turns and throws it over his shoulder with his back turned to where he’s throwing and kind of flips it over the line of scrimmage to the tight end.

We call that play ‘Flapjack.’ We put it in that week and didn’t know we’d need it, but when we came down and scored...at that point in time, that was the only pass play we had available with our quarterback out (due to injury). So, it was good timing and our kids went in an executed and made it work.”

---

Follow the AJC’s Class 2A coverage and The Class 2A Blogcast on Twitter.