Class 5A blog: A look at the state semifinals

The Class 5A semifinals feature two compelling matchups. All four remaining teams are state-ranked, so there’s not a dark horse in the field. They’ve managed to successfully navigate this year’s COVID minefield and find themselves one win away from a spot in the championship game on Dec. 30 at 3:30 p.m. at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium.

Here’s a look at the teams in the Final Four and what they need to do to play for the state championship.

No. 5 Coffee (10-2) at No. 4 Cartersville (11-1)

Coffee: The Trojans are the No. 3 seed from Region 1 and have won all three of their playoff games on the road. Coach Robby Pruitt’s team has gotten home in the wee hours of the morning the last two weeks and has played 15 of its last 16 playoff games away from home. So being away from home isn’t a shock to these guys. Key players: QB A.J. Wilkerson, RB Maurice Turner, WR Kenneth Davis, LB Anthony Gaskin, LB Brandon High, DB Jacob Lindsey. How they got here: Coffee def. Ola 31-7, def. Starr’s Mill 24-9, def. Calhoun 27-17. What they must do to win: The Trojans must minimize the turnovers and prevent the quick-strike ‘Canes from changing the pace of the game. Coffee will better served if it can manage the game and prevent it from becoming a race. The Trojans have the sort of experienced offense capable of getting it done. The defense must limit – eliminate probably isn’t possible – the big plays by Cartersville’s explosive offense.

Cartersville: The Purple Hurricanes are the No. 2 seed from Region 7. Their only loss came against Class 7A Cherokee which ended a state-record 62-game regular-season winning streak. They beat Calhoun to earn the second seed, which helped them earn a home game. Key players: QB Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, RB Quante Jennings, WR Sam Phillips, WR Devonte Ross, DB Evan Slocum, ILB Gavin Geros, DB Amarai Orr. How they got here: Cartersville def. Maynard Jackson 56-6, def. St. Pius 31-19, def. Ware County 34-31. What they must do to win: It would behoove Cartersville to avoid playing from behind like it did last week against Ware County. But the Hurricanes are one of those teams with the tradition (four state titles, most recently 2015 and 2016) and the experience to avoid getting flustered. Playing at home is a huge benefit for Cartersville, which has lost only two games – both in the playoffs -- at Sam Weinman Stadium over the last five seasons.

No. 10 Jones County (10-3) at No 2 Warner Robins (11-1)

Jones County: The Greyhounds lost their first three games to a trio of state-ranked teams, but have not been slowed since. They’ve won 10 in a row. They are the No. 1 seed from Region 4, earning the title with a 38-35 win over Ola. The Greyhounds are coached by Mike Chastain, who was the head coach at Warner Robins before moving up the road to take the job at Jones County. Key players: QB John Alan Richter, RB Andrew Carner, WR Maleek Wooten, OL Matt Adams, LB Deon Richardson, PK Evan West. How they got here: Jones County def. Wayne County 27-25, def. Griffin 34-13, def. Eastside 28-7. What they must do to win: The Greyhounds can’t afford to turn it over and give Warner Robins any uncontested points. There are enough offensive weapons in place to control the pace of the game and Jones will probably lean heavily on the running skills of Carner. The Jones defense will probably need its best game to keep the Demons at bay.

Warner Robins: The Demons, the champions and No. 1 seed from Region 1, are one of the state’s iconic programs. They are trying to reach the state championship game for the fourth straight year. Warner Robins is looking for its first state championship since 2004. This year’s senior class has a cumulative record of 50-7. Key players: QB Jalen Addie, RB Jahlen Rutherford, RB Malcom Brown, WR Daveon Walker, WR Armon Porter, LB Ahmad Walker, DB Xavier Hill, DB Jay Carter. How they got here: Warner Robins def. Union Grove 49-7, def. Woodward Academy 30-7, def. Blessed Trinity 35-28. What they must do to win: The Demons have done a good job avoiding distractions all season. Now they must come down from the euphoria of beating No. 1-ranked Blessed Trinity and focus on Jones County. That’s possible with sort of senior leadership and experience on both offense and defense and coach Marquis Westbrook has done a good job keeping the team centered and on mission.