Class 3A blog: A look at the semifinals

It has been 18 years since Darren Myles took over the head coaching job at Carver-Atlanta, and during his tenure he has lifted the program into an annual contender at the highest level of the game.

Before Myles’ arrival in 2005, Carver had not been to the playoffs since 1986, when it lost in the quarterfinals. Before that ... a semifinal appearance in 1968.

If Carver secures a victory in Friday’s semifinal game against 5-3A foe Sandy Creek, Myles will have taken the Panthers to the state title game in back-to-back seasons – a first for Carver – and will send the program to its third state championship game appearance since 1967.

You could say there’s a lot riding on the game.

Carver reached this point with playoff victories against Ringgold (44-28), Monroe Area (33-18) and Thomasville (28-23). But Sandy Creek, which defeated Carver 22-12 in the regular season, offers the toughest playoff hurdle yet.

Carver senior quarterback Bryce Bowens is 159-of-226 passing for 2,208 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for a team-leading eight touchdowns. Zy’eek Mender (10 touchdowns) and Deandre Buchannon (7) are favorite targets. Senior Shoun Bilal’s 128 carries for 753 yards leads the team. He has six touchdown runs.

Sandy Creek has defeated Coahulla Creek (70-14), Stephens County (20-7) and Savannah Christian (51-21) to earn its semifinal berth. Patriots senior quarterback Geimere Latimere is 150-of-269 passing for 2,443 yards and 33 touchdowns, while rushing for 10 touchdowns. His younger brother, Amari, a freshman running back, leads his brother in carries (104) and yards (607). He has seven touchdown runs. Cameron Watts has 12 touchdown receptions to lead the team, ahead of Kaleb Cost (7), Dalen Penson (4) and Keyshon Kenny (4).

On the other side of the bracket, top-ranked Cedar Grove always has been the team to beat.

Oconee County stands in the way of the Saints’ second consecutive title game and fifth overall championship game. The Saints have won four, all since 2016.

Cedar Grove has outscored opponents 448-220 this season and defeated Bremen (48-7), Hebron Christian (70-33) and Calvary Day (30-0) to reach the semis.

Oconee enters the game with a back-to-back title loss chip on its shoulders. Oconee County advanced to the state title game in 2019 and lost to Blessed Trinity 17-14 when it was in Class 4A. In 2020, after reclassifying to 3A, the Warriors lost to Pierce County 13-7. This year, Oconee has beaten Lumpkin County (49-21), Adairsville (45-20) and Carver-Columbus (14-6).