Class 2A blog: Round 1 preview

Reclassification creates plentiful intrigue

There’s plenty of intriguing Round 1 matchups in this year’s tournament, especially with the unfamiliarity of the new schools that joined via reclassification, including ELCA, Fellowship Christian, Appling County and Pierce County, among others.

Earlier in the week, predictions and a podcast were published. Here, we’ll take a quadrant-by-quadrant look at Round 1.

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Credit: GHSA.net

Credit: GHSA.net

The North Cobb Christian Eagles enter the playoffs at 9-1 for the second time since the program was founded in 2007. The last time, in 2018, they reached the 1A quarterfinals. Though beyond their control, the Eagles have played only two teams with a winning record — No. 2 South Atlanta (9-0), and Therrell (6-4 but missed the playoffs). Columbia will be NCC’s toughest challenge since they played the Hornets Oct. 15.

NCC enters the game as 3-point favorites over Columbia. According to team stats on MaxPreps, NCC is 82 of 144 passing for 1,263 yards and 16 touchdowns to four interceptions, primarily with two quarterbacks, and they have 1,592 yards on 296 carries spread across a stable of rushers. On defense, they have 12 interceptions from nine players. Senior Sam Ayegunle leads the team with eight sacks, and junior Jacob Cruz has a team high 84 tackles, 14.5 for loss.

The Columbia Eagles have the tougher schedule and, at 7-3, the lumps to show for it. They’ve rushed for 2,395 yards on 291 carries, with senior Royce Tolbert serving as the team’s workhorse. He has 1,026 yards and eight touchdowns on 116 carries. Senior quarterback Elijah Morgan is 69-for-114 passing with 10 touchdowns to five interceptions. He’s rushed for six touchdowns and 291 yards on 40 carries. His leading receivers are Jadan Baugh (24 receptions, 390 yards, five touchdowns) and senior Abdoul Diallo (10-177-4).

The Eagles have already proven the moment won’t be too big for them. In addition to advancing as a No. 3 seed last year with a 26-14 win over Elbert County, they opened this season with a 13-10 win at Camden County in front of a packed house of 10,000 fans.

Putnam County is a 10-point favorite over Toombs County. Both teams run the ball and lean on defense, so a 14-10-type game wouldn’t be surprising.

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Credit: GHSA.net

Credit: GHSA.net

ELCA, Fellowship Christian and Pierce County are all projected to win by at least three scores. However, the Laney Wildcats, as 28-point underdogs, have played good teams close this season and should, at the very least, cover that spread.

Region 2 champions Spencer are a 13-point underdog to Region 1′s No. 4 seed, the Berrien Rebels (6-4). The Rebels’ losses came to quality opponents. On Aug. 19 they lost 19-18 to 1A-DII’s No. 6 Clinch County. they lost 56-46 to No. 8 Worth County on Sept. 23. On Oct. 14, the lost 45-28 to No. 3 Cook and they closed the season last week with a 34-20 loss to No. 1 Fitzgerald.

The Greenwave Owls have the defense and home-field advantage to pull of the so-called upset, though they probably shouldn’t be considered underdogs. They’re on a seven-game win streak and are giving up an average of 9.1 points this season against 1A and 2A competition.

Fourth-seeded North Murray could make its game with Fellowship Christian much closer than the 19-point margin the Paladins are favored to win by. The Mountaineers are averaging 41.4 points a game; the Paladins giving up an average of 15.7 points.

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Credit: GHSA.net

Credit: GHSA.net

Worth County is a 2-point favorite at Northeast in what might be the best game in all of Round 1. No other game is projected to be closer — Model, as a 7-point favorite over Union County, is the next-closest.

The Raiders’ home-field advantage, size on both lines, strong running game and defense will be tough for the Rams to overcome. The Rams are averaging 33 points a game, but were shut out 42-0 by Fitzgerald and closed the season with a 36-12 loss to Cook, which bumped them from the rankings.

Washington County is a 39-point underdog at Appling County, but the Golden Hawks closed the season 3-1 to make the playoffs and may have turned a corner under first-year coach Robert Edwards. Still, even a close game here should count as an upset. The 8-1 Pirates are playing like a championship contender.

Fannin County is a 15-point underdog at Athens Academy, and they have a common opponent in Union County. The Spartans beat Union 38-7 on Oct. 28. Union beat the Rebels 14-7 in the Aug. 19 season opener.

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Credit: GHSA.net

Credit: GHSA.net

ACE Charter is a 36-point underdog at No. 10 Cook. The Gryphons have a puncher’s chance at keeping the game close, but will need to score in the range of their 42.6-point average. There is precedent for a Gryphons upset. Though the Hornets allowed more than 42 points just once this season, that came in a 47-37 upset-loss to 29-point underdog Dodge County on Oct. 21.

Model hosts Union County in what should be another great first-round matchup, though it likely doesn’t carry the same implications as the Columbia-NCC and Worth-Northeast games. That’s because the winner gets South Atlanta in Round 2. Still, advancing would be noteworthy for either program, which have combined for two playoff wins since 2015.

For more analysis, check out Ep. 56 of The Class 2A Blogcast.