Hapeville Charter will look to avoid having its season ended by Jefferson for the second-straight year after dropping a 35-0 second round showdown last year. The Hornets have played a very challenging schedule that includes teams like Milton, Woodward Academy and Pebblebrook and this will be yet another ranked opponent with No. 6 Jefferson. Jefferson was ranked No. 1 in Class 4A prior to its 11-6 loss to North Oconee and carries a 9-1 record into the first round. The Dragons run the Wing-T with five-star athlete Malachi Starks commanding the show and they have a tremendous defense. Head coach Gene Cathcart has dealt with a series of injuries throughout this season and if Jefferson returns to full strength—then they will have a chance at making a run to the finals for the second straight season.
R4#4 West Laurens at R2#1 Carver-Columbus
West Laurens will travel to take on Carver-Columbus for the first time in school history and will have a tremendous challenge ahead of them. The Raiders have seen plenty of tough teams throughout their 5-5 regular season with teams like Spalding, Baldwin and Perry, but Carver-Columbus is currently ranked No. 3 in Class 4A and rides a nine-game winning streak into kickoff. Carver’s lone loss came in a 25-22 battle with Class 6A’s Lee County and they dominated opponents in each matchup since. Senior running back Jaiden Credle has racked up 1,500 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns this season—making him one of the 10 running backs in the entire state to reach the 20-touchdown mark and it only took nine games (Carver beat Jordan by forfeit).
R3#3 New Hampstead at R1#2 Cairo
New Hampstead was 7-1 (matching a single season school record for wins) before dropping a 70-28 loss to Benedictine and letting a large lead slip away in a 34-28 loss to Jenkins. Now, the Phoenix and junior quarterback Pauly Seeley will be on the road and will have to visit a tough Cairo team. Seeley has passed for 1,625 yards and 21 touchdowns this season.
R5#4 Hampton at R7#1 Cedartown
Hampton will attempt to win a playoff game for the first time in program history against one of the hottest teams in the state. Cedartown made a run to the quarterfinals a year ago under first-year head coach Jamie Abrams and now the Bulldogs are the No. 4 ranked team in the classification—carrying an 8-1 record into the playoffs. Cedartown’s lone loss came to Class 5A powerhouse Calhoun and they have a highly-effective ground game and tremendous defense leading the way. The Bulldogs are averaging 312 rushing yards per game and quarterback Reece Tanner has the ability to find his targets as well. The physicality on both sides of the ball and the playmakers that fuel Cedartown’s wing-T offense makes them a true contender this season.
R8#3 Flowery Branch at R6#2 Mays
Flowery Branch is likely the most talented No. 3 seed in this year’s playoffs and it has reeled off four-straight wins after dropping competitive games with Jefferson and North Oconee to open region play. The Falcons have Myles Ivey and sophomore Malik Dryden leading the rushing attack with playmakers like Seth Larson and Jahiem Hayes making plays in the passing game. Senior quarterback David Renard can also keep the chains moving with his legs. Mays has played a very tough schedule and carries a 3-6 record into its first-round showdown with Flowery Branch.
R2#4 Hardaway at R4#1 Perry
Perry was 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in Class 4A before a 31-26 loss to Spalding. Following that defeat, the Panthers closed out the season with five-straight victories, including a massive 40-8 win over Baldwin in their finale that earned them the No. 1 seed. This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs and Hardaway comes in battle-tested. The Golden Hawks fell to No. 2 seed Hardaway 41-34 in overtime, lost to No. 3 seed LaGrange 21-12 and fell to an outstanding Carver-Columbus team 38-7. Hardaway is a dangerous No. 4 seed and this should be a fantastic football game.
R2#3 LaGrange at R4#2 Baldwin
As mentioned in the last matchup, expect all the Region 2 vs. Region 4 matchups to show us a lot as these two extremely talented regions square off. LaGrange came up short 42-27 to Carver-Columbus and fell 35-14 to Troup before defeating Hardaway for the No. 3 seed. LaGrange scored a playoff win last season for the first time since 2012 under first-year head coach Matt Napier and are determined to make a run this season. Baldwin and LaGrange have never met prior to this upcoming meeting and the Braves have advanced past the first round in each of that past four seasons under head coach Jesse Hicks.
R8#4 Cedar Shoals at R6#1 Marist
This is the last season that Marist will be competing in Class 4A and the War Eagles will look to go out on top after cruising to last year’s championship. The War Eagles are 4-0 all-time against Cedar Shoals, but this will be the first meeting since 2004. Cedar Shoals earned the No. 4 seed out of an incredibly tough Region 8 and this will be another steep challenge for the Jaguars.
R7#3 Heritage-Catoosa at R5#2 Luella
This will be the first-ever meeting between programs and Heritage will try to win a playoff game for just the second time in its brief history. Luella is coming off a tough 14-7 loss to Riverdale that was for the Region 5 championship and is looking to win its first-ever playoff game. Luella is currently 7-3 and a win would result in the most wins in school history.
R1#4 Thomas County Central at R3#1 Benedictine
No. 2 ranked Benedictine and Thomas County Central will meet for the first time Friday night in Savannah. Benedictine opened the season 0-2 with out-of-state losses to Christopher Columbus (FL) and Beaufort (SC) and has since won eight-straight games—including a 49-42 win over Class 5A powerhouse Ware County. Benedictine’s offense has scored 48 points or more in its last eight games and has a 27-point average margin of victory despite a narrow win over Ware County and 42-27 and 33-23 losses to open its season. There is no doubt that Benedictine is one of the hottest teams in Class 4A right now and they have advanced past the first round in each of the past nine seasons. Thomas County Central has lost three-straight games entering the playoffs and at one point was ranked the No. 8 team in the classification. If the Yellow Jackets play their best football, they have a chance to keep pace with Benedictine.
R4#3 Spalding at R2#2 Troup
Spalding and Troup will square off on Thursday in one of the most interesting first-round pairings. Spalding has a win over Perry on its resume and Troup has given all of its opponents trouble this season. This will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.
R6#4 Miller Grove at R8#1 North Oconee
Miller Grove has had an incredibly competitive season, but they will have to visit a red-hot North Oconee team that was able to defeat No. 1 ranked Jefferson 11-6 en route to the Region 8 title. North Oconee’s defense is one of the top units in Class 4A and Miller Grove will be tasked with taking on the Titans.
R5#3 Fayette County at R7#2 Northwest Whitfield
This will be the first-ever meeting between the programs. Northwest Whitfield is appearing in the playoffs for the seventh-straight season and Fayette County is looking to win its first playoff game since 2007.
R3#4 Island at R1#1 Bainbridge
Bainbridge made a run to the semifinals last season and enters the playoffs as region champions for the second-straight season. Bainbridge scored a 43-0 win over Islands in the second round last season.