Class 2A blog: Round 2 talk

Callaway-at-Bleckley County a coin toss; Thomasville over Heard County safest bet

The GHSA heard appeals from schools requesting lateral transfers within classes Thursday in Thomaston. The 2A schools requesting to move to other regions are Fannin County (From Region 8 to 7), Oglethorpe County (8 to 7), Social Circle (4 to 8), Jefferson County (4 to 3) and Thomson (4 to 3).

The proposed region alignments are as follows:

Update: The following schools won their appeals: Fannin County from 8 to 7; Oglethorpe County from 8 to 3; Social Circle from 4 to 8

There’s a lot of content to digest for Round 2, in addition to below. Check out Tuesday’s blog and Ep. 39 of The Class 2A Blogcast. Further, GHSF Daily has capsule previews for all Round 2 games in 2A.


No. 8 Northeast Raiders (8-3) at Haralson County Rebels (10-1)

Maxwell’s Projection: Northeast by 2

Bottom line: As discussed Tuesday, this game will come down to whether the Raiders can stop the Rebels’ physical ground game, which features a patented “Ugly Eagle” double-wing offense.

Prediction: The projections narrowly favor the Raiders, who will hold an edge athletically. If they can spread the ball around and put up points, that will mean the abilities of dual-threat quarterback Travion Solomon are on full display. A Raiders two-score lead at any point could be too much for the Rebels, who depend on long scoring drives that wear down the defense.

Raiders coach Jeremy Wiggins said Washington County, from an offensive standpoint, is the opponent most similar to Haralson County they’ve played this season. They needed an improbable comeback, led by Solomon, to escape with a 27-23 road win on Oct. 1. They outscored the Golden Hawks 21-3 in the fourth quarter, with Solomon accounting for all three touchdowns.

The Rebels’ most similar opponent to the Raiders is likely Callaway — a team they beat 42-14 on Oct. 8. However, the Raiders are a more experienced team — the Cavaliers are starting a sophomore at quarterback; Solomon is a senior — and have played a tougher schedule. The Raiders are 3-1 against ranked teams while the Cavs have yet to play a ranked team.

Before the playoffs began, I picked Haralson County to win. A big reason why was I was unsure how the Raiders would respond to their season-ending letdown to Lamar County. They beat Cook 42-22 in Round 1, so they rebounded to the point I can see them winning this game. However, I’ll stand by the Rebels, who have the home-field advantage and a unique offense no other team runs.

Columbia Eagles (8-3) at No. 10 Swainsboro Tigers (9-2)

Maxwell’s Projection: Swainsboro by 20

Bottom line: The Eagles defense must account for what, on paper, appears to be a Tigers advantage in size, speed and athleticism.

Prediction: While the projections favor a three-score game in the Tigers’ direction, the Eagles can keep this game manageable — and perhaps even pull off the upset — if their 21.5-sack lineman Marquez Harris can be a major disrupter. Royce Tolbert (915 yards and 13 touchdowns on 93 carries) is another name the Eagles will need a big game from.

In the Eagles’ three losses this season (7A’s Camden County, Lovett and South Atlanta) they gave up an average of 175 yards on the ground, with those opponents almost exclusively running.

The Tigers, led by quarterback Ty Adams (1,415 yards and 20 touchdowns on 173 carries) average 306.5 rushing yards while throwing an average of just 34.2. In the Tigers’ two losses this season (1A Public’s No. 8 Metter, Washington County) they were held below their rushing output, averaging 262.2 yards.

Tigers have the capability overwhelm Columbia at home and looked strong in Round 1, beating Laney 48-6. They’re also on a seven-game win streak.

Though the Eagles have the pieces to keep this a close game and even win it, if the Tigers show up as the best version of themselves, they’ll move on.


No. 4 Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane (9-2) at Fannin County Rebels (10-1)

Maxwell’s Projection: Fitzgerald by 21

Bottom line: The Purple Hurricane have a top-tier defense that has stifled more established offenses, and should be enough to contain a relatively unchallenged Rebels team.

Prediction: It’s hard to imagine the Purple Hurricane rolling into Blue Ridge and coasting to a three-touchdown win, even though that’s what they did last year against the Rebels. The Rebels are scoring 34.1 points this year and the Cane are averaging 24 points, down from 34.3 in 2020.

The reason this game is projected to tilt heavily toward the Cane is resumes. The Rebels have yet to play a ranked opponent and their lone loss came to a Sonoraville team that missed the playoffs in 3A. The Cane played four ranked teams and went 2-2, beating then-No. 1 Irwin County of 1A and then-No. 8 Dodge County, while losing to 3A’s No. 3 Pierce County and No. 2 Thomasville. They averaged four points in those losses.

While the Cane’s offense isn’t what it was last year, their defense is giving up an average of just 12.4 points, and against a much tougher schedule than that of the Rebels. According to MaxPreps, the Cane have a strength of schedule rating of 29.1 to Fannin County’s 0.7.

The Rebels have proven in each of the past two seasons that it’s a mistake to overlook them. They will again have home-field advantage. Though I don’t expect this game to play out as projected, I do expect the Cane to win by two scores.

Lovett Lions (8-3) at No. 5 Putnam County War Eagles (11-0)

Maxwell’s Projection: Putnam County by 11

Bottom line: The War Eagles’ defense is strong enough and the Lions’ offense has struggled enough at times that the War Eagles should prevail.

Prediction: Make no mistake, the War Eagles could lose this game. The Lions are always in the playoffs — they’ve missed the postseason just three times since 1987 — and they’ve advanced in nine of the last 10 seasons. Their 3-5 defense, which has allowed just nine points a game, can slow down almost any offense and Putnam County’s — which averages 45 points — likely won’t be the exception.

However, the War Eagles should put up enough points while limiting a Lions offense that struggles against ranked teams, going 0-3 in the last two seasons while averaging just 6.3 points.

If the Lions are going to win, it will likely be by holding the War Eagles to 21 points or fewer while getting big nights from senior Henry Stimmel (944 yards and 10 touchdowns on 154 carries) and sophomore quarterback Preston Lusnick (995 yards and 12 touchdowns to four interceptions on 85-for-138 passing and five rushing touchdowns).

Otherwise, expect the War Eagles to lean on seniors Gerald Kilgore (1,656 yards and 18 touchdowns to one interception on 83-for-154 passing and 10 rushing touchdowns) and Cedrion Brundage (1,015 yards and 14 touchdowns on 107 carries) for the win.


Westside Patriots (9-1) at South Atlanta Hornets (10-1)

Maxwell’s Projection: Hornets by 5

Bottom line: The Hornets’ Keyjaun Brown will be too much for the Patriots to overcome.

Prediction: The Hornets are my dark horse to win a championship and they’re probably the most underrated team in 2A. They arguably should be ranked and they’re no-doubt loving the underdog role and the chip on their shoulder it brings. This is the only Round 2 matchup where neither team is ranked.

The Patriots, who could also make an argument for being ranked, are here thanks to a 44-yard yard field goal from Sean Medcalfe as time expired. Though Brown will be arguably the best player on the field, Patriots two-way star Kaleb Hutchinson could be just as impactful Friday. His 77-yard pick-6 and 167 rushing yards provided Medcalfe’s game-winning opportunity.

However, Brown rushed for 418 yards and four touchdowns last week in the Hornets’ 46-12 win over Banks County, and slowing him down seems like too daunting of a task for a Patriots defense that gave up an average of 165 rushing yards in its two losses. Brown has yet to turn in a game with less than 100 yards rushing, though the Hornets’ season-opening loss to Heard County was the only game he was held out of the end zone.

If holding Brown scoreless is the blue print for beating the Hornets, that’s not a realistic expectation for the Patriots. The most likely outcome is the Hornets running toward the next round in front of the home crowd.

No. 7 Callaway Cavaliers (8-2) at No. 3 Bleckley County Royals (11-0)

Maxwell’s Projection: Bleckley County by 13

Bottom line: The outcome of this game depends on which team of the defending-champion Cavaliers gets off the bus.

Prediction: The Cavs are the most volatile team in 2A. They started 4-0 and quickly fell to 4-2, suffering double-digit losses at home to Thomas County Central (24-8) and Haralson County (42-14). They also rebounded from that skid to start a second four-game win streak that’s still running and includes a 24-21 win over Heard County in the season finale. They trailed in that game 21-0. In Round 1 against visiting Pepperell, they built a 21-0 lead only let the Dragons back in the game, eventually holding on 29-22.

If the good Cavs show up, they could win regardless of how well the Royals play. The Cavs have the talent to beat anyone in 2A. Sticking to a run-heavy attack is their best bet but if they get caught up throwing the ball too much, they’ll be moving away from their strength. The Cavs’ running attack is primarily spread between Anderson Truitt (98 carries for 805 yards and six touchdowns), Qua Whitfield (93-567-8) and Kier Jackson (45-238-4). Sophomore quarterback Deshun Coleman has 14 passing touchdowns but eight interceptions.

Sticking to the run shouldn’t be a problem for Callaway given that the Royals like to run the ball as well. Jahvon Butler has 1,421 yards and 17 touchdowns on 234 carries, and as a team the Royals have 378 carries to 183 pass attempts.

The Royals have been the more consistent team as demonstrated by their perfect record. However, in Round 1 they found themselves trailing No. 4 seed Early County 16-0 late in the third quarter and needed a long, last-minute touchdown pass to eke out a 20-16 win.

Surprisingly, this is the only Round 2 matchup in 2A involving two ranked teams. Flip a coin — if the bad Cavs show up, the Royals advance. If the good Cavs show, their title-defense likely continues.


Jeff Davis Yellow Jackets (10-1) at No. 1 Rabun County Wildcats

Maxwell’s Projection: Rabun County by 15

Bottom line: The Wildcats have too much offensive fire-power and a home-field advantage for the Yellow Jackets to pull off an upset.

Prediction: The Yellow Jackets have a shot at pulling off an upset, but it’s a small one. You can’t overlook a team that leads 2A in fewest points allowed while also scoring 31 themselves. That’s what the Jackets have done this season. Granted, their strength of schedule rating is only 6.4, but even Maxwell’s Projections have given the Wildcats only a modest 15-point spread. The Wildcats, with a 13.4 strength of schedule rating, have won their games by an average margin of 42 points, so the fact that Maxwell projects the game to be much closer lends the Jackets’ defense credibility.

However, the best player on the field is not only one of the best in the state, but in the nation as well. Quarterback Gunner Stockton is chasing another state record, so he won’t hesitate to air it out. He simply doesn’t turn the ball over, either. Of his 275 pass attempts, only one has been intercepted and that came in the Wildcats’ third game, a 59-14 win at Murphy (N.C.) in which he went 13-for-20 for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed 11 times for 136 yards and another score.

As stingy as the Jackets’ defense is, it might not be the best unit the Wildcats have played. The Wildcats’ lone loss came in their opener on the road to 4A’s 2020 finalists, Jefferson, ranked No. 1 at the time. The Dragons won 22-13. Stockton put up season lows of 136 yards passing and 59 yards rushing, with touchdowns in the air and on the ground.

Plus, the Wildcats don’t have a bad defense. They allow just 12 points a game.

The Jackets are almost exclusively a run team, carrying the ball 344 times for 3,337 yards and 38 touchdowns while attempting just 40 passes that account for 402 yards and three touchdowns. They’ve been winning on defense, with the offense controlling the ball on the ground. Asking them to do the same against the most prolific passer in state history is too much to ask, and they can quickly find themselves playing from behind if Stockton starts out hot.

If the Jackets were to somehow win, it would probably look more like the Jefferson score than a shootout. All signs point to the Wildcats covering the spread, however.

Heard County Braves (6-5) at No. 2 Thomasville Bulldogs (10-1)

Maxwell’s Projection: Thomasville by 34

Bottom line: No disrespect to the Braves, but if there’s a surefire Round 2 favorite in 2A, it’s the Bulldogs.

Prediction: The Bulldogs are primed for another big win after beating once-ranked Washington County 42-7 in Round 1. They’re battle-tested, with the highest strength of schedule rating (31.5) in 2A, a factor contributing to them being ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps computer rankings. They’re 6-0 at home this season. They’ve rushed for 2,218 yards and 29 touchdowns on 415 carries and thrown for 1,409 yards and 15 touchdowns to eight interceptions on 170 attempts. Their defense is giving up an average of 14 points despite half of their regular season opponents being ranked (2A Public’s No. 1 Brooks County, 4A’s No. 10 Cairo, 4A’s No. 8 Bainbridge, 3A’s No. 2 Oconee County and then-No. 2 Fitzgerald).

Nothing on the Bulldogs’ resume points to a letdown here.

Again, that’s to take nothing away from what the Braves have accomplished in their first season under Shane Lasseter, who replaced long-time, state-champion coach Tim Barron. They earned a 22-7 win over 1A Public’s then-No. 7 Manchester — the Blue Devils are the only team to beat Haralson County this season. They beat South Atlanta 16-12 for the Hornets’ only loss. They beat Temple and Bremen to earn a playoff spot. And they beat Dade County 32-27 on the road in Round 1.

The reason the Braves will be in Thomasville, however, is they surrendered a 21-0 lead to Callaway in the season finale, losing 24-21, which cost them the No. 2 seed.

They’re 1-3 against ranked teams this year, and the Bulldogs are easily the best team they’ll have faced.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Braves escape with a win, so they’ll just have to prove the rest of the state wrong. If they do, it will likely be the biggest upset of Round 2, regardless of classification.

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