Class 3A Blog: ‘There is no slouch’ left in the 3A semifinals

Crisp County QB AJ Lofton runs as Cedar Grove Safety Jordan Greer (9) defends during the AAA state title football game on Saturday Dec.14, 2019. John Amis / Special

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

Crisp County QB AJ Lofton runs as Cedar Grove Safety Jordan Greer (9) defends during the AAA state title football game on Saturday Dec.14, 2019. John Amis / Special

Four great teams will play two games in the semifinals of the Class 3A playoffs that easily could be for state championships.

Here are the basics: Crisp will travel to Pierce County; Oconee County will travel to Greater Atlanta Christian, and the winners will meet in the championship game at noon Dec. 30 at Georgia State Stadium.

Oconee is the only semifinalist with a state title (1999). GAC has been to the championship game three times. Crisp lost last season in its first-ever title appearance. Pierce County has never been past the semifinals.

Much has been said about the quality of the classification and the difficulty each team faces day-in and day-out, as Pierce coach Ryan Herring attests.

“I think you’ve got four quality teams left in the playoffs,” he said. “All of us have beaten teams in bigger classes. All four have good records. All four of us – you have to have good players at this point – have good players. And I would imagine the coaching is top-notch, too. GAC is great every year. Crisp was state runner-up last year and barely lost that game (21-14) to Cedar Grove. Then you have Oconee County, who was state runner-up (17-14, Blessed Trinity) in 4A last year, and they have a lot of kids back. So I know they are really good.”

The four remaining programs opened their seasons against higher-classed competition. Crisp County beat 7A Tift (7-0), 6A Houston County (12-0) and then beat A Private and then-No. 2 ELCA 34-14 to start its season. Pierce County opened its season with a 31-10 victory against Class 6A Brunswick and defeated A Private then-No. 2 ELCA 20-13. Oconee County defeated Class 4A North Oconee (27-7), Class 4A Cedar Shoals (35-0) and Class 5A Clarke Central (24-7) to open the season. Greater Atlanta Christian began its year with a 20-0 victory against Class 7A Denmark in the Corky Kell Classic.

“There is no slouch,” Herring said. “In 3A, it is not like everyone can predict who is going to be there (in the end). You expect Grayson in 7A. You expect Fitzgerald in 2A. You expect Warner Robins in 5A. In 3A, I think it is truly up for grabs. Here is how you tell how tough the brackets are ... when you have good teams that are not in the final four. When you have Cedar Grove that is not there, and they beat 7A Milton earlier this year. You have Appling who is not in it. They beat a 4A Benedictine team that is still alive in the 4A semifinals. So you’ve got teams who aren’t in it who are quality football teams. So that kind of tells you that 3A is a tough, tough bracket this year.”

Here are the previews from GHSFD:

Crisp County at Pierce County

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Bearville Stadium, Blackshear

Records, rankings: Crisp County is 11-1, the No. 2 seed from Region 2-3A and No. 4; Pierce County is 11-1, the No. 1 seed from 1-3A and No. 6.

Last meeting: Crisp County won 56-21 in the 2016 Class 3A quarterfinals.

Things to know: Crisp County is allowing 6.3 points per game, fewest in Class 3A, while Pierce County is averaging 51 points per game in the playoffs. The Bears generally keep the ball in the hands of senior QB Jermaine Brewton and sophomore RB D.J. Bell. Brewton has scored nine touchdowns and passed for four in three playoff victories. Bell is averaging 127 yards rushing in the playoffs and went for 165 last week in a 51-18 victory over Carver of Atlanta. Pierce plays good defense, too. The Bears are allowing 9.7 points per game, fifth-fewest in Class 3A, against a schedule that includes 11 playoff teams. Crisp relies on three multi-talented play-makers on offense. A.J. Lofton, a 5-9 senior, has 308 yards passing, 676 rushing and 233 receiving. Marquis Palmer, a 5-9 junior, has rushed for 762 yards, topping 100 twice in the playoffs. Ahmad Brown, a 6-0 senior, has thrown for 966 yards and rushed for 580. Crisp was the 2019 Class 3A runner-up. Pierce has made the semifinals two of the past three seasons but never advanced to a state final. Neither has won a state championship.

Maxwell Projections: Toss-up (Crisp County 17, Pierce County 17)

My pick: Crisp County

Oconee County at GAC

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Spartan Stadium, Norcross

Records, rankings: Oconee County is 11-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 8-3A and No. 2; Greater Atlanta Christian is 12-0, the No. 1 seed from 5-3A and No. 5.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Both teams are playing well defensively. Oconee County, the Class 4A runner-up last season, has allowed just 23 first downs and 455 total yards in its three playoff games. Greater Atlanta Christian, a semifinalist seven of the past nine seasons but never a state champion, held Appling County to 129 yards rushing – almost 200 less than its season average – in a 31-13 quarterfinal victory last week. Both teams are balanced. Passing was a concern for Oconee early on, but Jacob Wright has thrown eight TD passes in the playoffs, four to four-star TE/WR recruit Jake Johnson. C.J. Jones rushed for 104 yards in a 31-13 victory over Peach County last week. All-state candidates Justin Coleman (two TD receptions, 10 tackles vs. Peach) and Whit Weeks (69 yards rushing, seven tackles, one interception) impact the game in multiple ways. GAC relies heavily on Deyon Fleming, who has thrown for 1,750 yards and 21 touchdowns and leads the team in rushing with 424 yards. Unlike most GAC teams, this one doesn’t have a major national recruit among its seniors, but junior Addison Nichols is the consensus No. 9 offensive tackle nationally in his class.

Maxwell Projections: Oconee County 21, Greater Atlanta Christian 14

My pick: Oconee County.