Class 5A blog: Familiarity flows throughout the four quarterfinal games

A pair of rematches are the highlights of a strong third-round playoff schedule in Class 5A.

No. 8 Warner Robins travels to No. 2 Creekside in a game between two teams that played in the semifinals last year and No. 9 Calhoun travels to No. 1 Ware County, where the Yellow Jackets beat the Gators in a thrilling second-round a year ago.

The other two semifinal games have No. 6 Coffee at No. 3 Cartersville and Mays, the only unranked team in the field, at No. 7 Dutchtown.

Calhoun at Ware County: Ware County (11-0) is the only unbeaten team left in Class 5A. The Gators are a squad with few deficiencies that can be exploited and were able to overcome two interceptions and two fumbles to beat feisty Chamblee 24-7 in the second round. Quarterback Niko Smith (2,037 yards, 22 TDs) has been playing through a foot injury but is expected to be healthy for this one. The running game revolves around junior Dae’jeaun Dennis (994 yards, 12 TDs) and sophomore Reggie Boyd (626, eighth TDs). Jarvis Hayes has 43 receptions for 822 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Ware County defense limited Chamblee to only 10 yards running last week and linebacker Trey Hargrove blocked a punt. William Bates is one of the most reliable kickers in the state.

Calhoun (9-3) eliminated Kell 34-7 in the second round and will play in the state quarterfinals for the 16th time over the last 17 years. The heart of the team is Caden Williams, a workhorse running back with good speed and a never-say-die attitude. The biggest prospect is sophomore tight end Emaree Winston, who is already drawing national attention. Tackle Brody Ballew, a Furman commit, leads the line and Cam Curtis is a standout at receiver – where he’s also a top blocker -- and cornerback.

Calhoun beat Ware County 42-28 in the second round a year ago, but Ware coach Jason Strickland told the Waycross Journal Herald, “We can’t make the focus (of the season) to beat Calhoun.”

Mays at Dutchtown: Mays (8-4) got beat up by a tough early schedule and were 2-4 after a disappointing loss to Maynard Jackson. But the Raiders have run off six straight wins, three of them shutouts, and beat upstart Cass 34-27 in the second round. Mays has a playmaking quarterback in Saulamon Evans and two excellent running backs in Triston Morgan (178 yards rushing vs. Cass) and Quintarion Kelly.

Dutchtown (11-1) suffered its only loss to Jones County, but the Bulldogs established themselves as contenders with a regular-season win over Warner Robins. Defense is again the hallmark at Dutchtown and coach Niketa Battle’s team has limited opponents to single digits in seven games and has four shutouts. On offense the man to stop is Jamal Bing, who has put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

The other factor in this game is Battle. He was formerly the head coach at Mays, where his teams won three region championship, but he resigned to take the Dutchtown job this season. It was a matter of opportunity meeting convenience; Battle lives minutes away from the Dutchtown campus.

Warner Robins at Creekside: Warner Robins (8-4) has fought through inexperience and injuries this season in its quest to reach the championship game for a sixth straight year. The Demons eliminated Northside-Columbus 38-7 in the second round. There’s a question is at quarterback, where starter Isaiah Canion filled in last week for injured starter Chase Reese. Defensive end Vic Burley is having another stellar season with 13 tackles for loss and 27 hurries; he even played fullback last week and caught a long touchdown pass.

Creekside (10-2) has playing at a very high level. The Seminoles whacked Dalton 61-0 last week and have won 10 straight games. Coach Maurice Dixon’s team has found a way to pair its mighty defense (five shutouts) with an offensive that’s scored 35-plus points in nine of its last ten games. Quarterback Vinson Berry is emerging as Dixon predicted and the running back tandem of Roderick McCrary (1,389 yards, 17 TDs) and Travis Terrell Jr. (820 yards, 10 TDs) is among the best. Khary Morris (121 tackles, six tackles for loss), Kaquan Kimber (100 tackles, 11 tackles for loss), Javeon Miller (six sacks) and Gary Green (six sacks) are among the top players on a physical, fast defense.

Coffee at Cartersville: Coffee (10-2) finished second in Region 1 under first-year coach Mike Coe. The Trojans beat Decatur 51-23 in the second round and have scored 34-plus points in 10 games. The offense is versatile and productive. Quarterback Maurice Hensley (1,327 yards, 12 TDs), running backs Antwain McDuffie (1,142 yards, 17 TDs), Fred Brown (792 yards, 16 TDs) and Tyrese Woodgett (709 yards, nine TDs) and receiver Billy Simpson (20 catches, 20.1-yard average) make things hum. On defense, Larry Daniels leads the team with 89 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and four sacks.

Cartersville (11-1) lost only to Calhoun in a triple-overtime thriller. The Purple Hurricanes had the most challenging second-round game last week and beat No. 5 Cambridge 37-14. Quarterback Patrick Gamble has thrown for 1,370 yards and 17 touchdowns and Malachi Jeffries has run for 1,243 yards and 20 touchdowns. Sophomore Jamauri Brice (38 catches, six touchdowns) and senior Fletcher (32 catches, eight TDs) leads a deep group of receivers. Linebacker Myles Forristall leads the team with 72 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and five sacks. The defense is very deep; 17 players recorded a defensive statistic in last week’s game.

Next week

The Calhoun-Ware County winner will play the Mays-Dutchtown winner. The game will be at the home of the Calhoun-Ware winner.

The Warner Robins-Creekside winner will play the Coffee-Cartersville winner. The game will be played at the home of the Warner Robins-Creekside winner.