GHSA State Football Semifinals Roundup

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Led by freshman quarterback Julian Lewis, No. 4-ranked Carrollton punished host Colquitt County on fourth down, converting in key moments throughout the semifinal matchup en route to a 35-27 victory to earn a trip to the state title game for the first time since 2013.

The loss marked Colquitt County’s first under new head coach Sean Calhoun, who spent five seasons (2016-20) at the helm at Carrollton before leading the Packers to their first Final Four appearance of the post-Rush Propst era.

Lewis was 17-of-26 passing for 248 yards and two touchdowns while junior back Bryce Hicks had 37 carries for 205 yards and a touchdown to lead the Trojans.

The Trojan defense forced a quick punt on the Packers’ opening drive before Carlos Moore made back-to-back tackles to end Carrollton’s first possession. With the ball back in his hands, Colquitt quarterback Neko Fann broke free down to the Trojan 5-yard line for 1st-and-goal, but the Carrollton defense stuffed the Packers on three straight runs for a turnover on downs. Facing 4th-and-1 at their own 20 moments later, the Trojans went for it, getting a huge run from Hicks — and a couple of personal foul penalties on the Packers — for a fresh set of downs deep in Packers territory. Carrollton converted on 4th-and-1 again to pick up 1st-and-goal early in the second, and Jamun Evans scored from four yards out for the first points of the game to cap the 99-yard drive

Colquitt answered with a quick touchdown from Charlie Pace, but the Trojans again went for it on 4th-and-1 in their own territory on their next drive to set up a 25-yard scoring strike from Lewis to Kiyun Cofer. Brett Fitzgerald added a 42-yard field goal for the Packers with 1:37 left in the half, and after Johnny Clay sacked Lewis to force a Trojan punt, Jack Luttrell put Colquitt on top (17-14) with a 49-yard punt return touchdown. With 11 seconds on the clock, Lewis then found Caleb Odom, who stretched out toward the pylon before losing the ball out of bounds at the 1-yard line, and Hicks ran it in for a 21-17 edge at the break.

Hicks was responsible for the first points of the second half as well, throwing a jump pass to Jordan White in the end zone on 4th-and-2 to extend the Trojans’ lead. Fitzgerald added another field goal late in the third quarter to make it a one-score game, but Lewis and Odom connected again — this time on 4th-and-13 — for a 32-yard touchdown and 35-20 lead with six minutes remaining. Fann found Ny Carr for a 25-yard score shortly after, but the Trojans were able to run out the rest of the clock for the win.

The AJC has writers at Mill Creek at Milton, Gainesville at Roswell, Rome at Hughes, Oconee County at Cedar Grove and Carver-Atlanta at Sandy Creek. See the full brackets and scoreboard powered by Score Atlanta or go to Todd Holcomb’s Friday Night Wrap here.

See the full semifinals recaps below.

Class 5A

Warner Robins 35, Cartersville 10

Warner Robins held serve at home to advance to the program’s sixth-straight state championship game while keeping alive its chance at a third-straight title. After entering the second quarter tied 3-3, Warner Robins scored 17-unanswered points to shift momentum and lead 20-3 at the half. Ryan Johnson gave Cartersville the 3-0 lead on a 27-yard field goal with nine minutes left in the first quarter. Daniel Barber tied the game with a 36-yard field goal two minutes later. Elijah Antonio gave Warner Robins the lead on a 5-yard run and Malcomn Brown expanded the lead with a 48-yard run with six minutes left in the first half. Barber’s 22-yard field goal pushed the lead. William Gunnings III gave the Demons a 26-3 lead on a 38-yard run with nine minutes left in the third quarter. Paul Gamble passed to Collin Fletcher on a 38-yard touchdown but Cartersville could not muster any more offensive production. Isiah Canion scored on a 5-yard run to expand the lead for Warner Robins and a 47-yard field goal from Barber brought the score to its final tally. Marquis Westbrook took over in 2019 and lead the Demons to a state championship before losing to Buford 17-14 in overtime. In 2020, Warner Robins beat Cartersville 62-28 and last season, the Demons moved past Calhoun 38-14 in the title game.

Ware County 31, Dutchtown 7

The top-ranked Ware County Gators are returning to the state title game for the first time since 2012 following an emphatic victory over visiting Dutchtown. The first points of the night came on LJ Hall’s return of a punt blocked by Jaden Jones, and the Gators also got a 40-yard touchdown completion from Nikao Smith to Jarvis Hayes, a 37-yard field goal from Will Bates, and a touchdown run from CJ Johnson for a 24-0 lead. Dutchtown got on the board with 0:37 left in the half, but Smith and Hayes connected again in the third for the game’s final points.

Class 4A

Benedictine 42, Troup 21

The reigning Class 4A champion Benedictine Cadets are heading back to the state title game following a comfortable win over visiting Troup. The home team led 21-0 after the first quarter, 35-0 at the break, and 42-7 in the third before the Tigers added a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes from Taeo Todd. Benedictine quarterback Luke Kromenhoek had a trio of touchdown completions in the first half, including two to Za’Quan Bryan (11 and 30 yards) and a 30-yarder to Rasean Matthews. Na’Seir Samuel and Houston Jackson each had rushing scores in the first half as well, and Matthews scored from 30 yards out in the third quarter for the Cadets’ final points.

Cedartown 28, North Oconee 20

Cedartown is returning to the state championship game for the first time since 2001. Carlos Jones had a 61-yard pick-six right before the half to stifle North Oconee’s momentum — the Titans were on the Cedartown 39 with 1:26 left — to take a 14-7 lead into the break. The Bulldogs extended their lead to 28-13 early in the fourth before Max Wilson made it a one-score game with a 5-yard touchdown run. North Oconee got the ball back with three minutes left but turned the ball over on downs. Cedartown’s Harlem Diamond finished the night with three touchdowns.

Class 2A

Fitzgerald 19, Fellowship Christian 9

Fitzgerald did all of its scoring before the half and held on for victory to advance to the state title game for the third-straight season while its defense of last year’s championship remains alive. Before Fitzgerald’s victory in the title game last season, the Purple Hurricane had one state championship in 1948. Against Fellowship, Fitzgerald took a 2-0 lead early after forcing a safety. The Purple Hurricane expanded the lead on a 1-yard run from Sylon Davis. Sulton Cooper expanded the lead on a 6-yard run with 10 minutes left before the half. Eric Trejo pushed the lead to 19-0 on a 32-yard field goal. Nathan Chapman kicked a 38-yard field goal and Kyle Elphick rushed in from one yard but Fellowship ran out of time.

Thomson 20, Appling County 14

Thomson will play in the state championship for the first time since 2016 after its 20-14 win. Appling County trailed 13-0 in the first half before finding some success, with running back Jaylen Johnson rushing for two touchdowns to give Appling county a 14-13 lead early in the fourth. Thomson answered back with a 77-yard touchdown run from Jontavis Curry for a 20-14 edge, however, and the defense made a late stand to clinch the state final berth. Curry finished with three touchdowns (two on the ground and one receiving).

Class A Division I

Prince Avenue Christian 24, St. Francis 20

Prince Avenue is advancing to the state championship for the third straight year after its 24-20 victory vs St.Francis. St.Francis is now 0-10 vs top-ten opponents. The first half was back-and-forth, with the teams trading touchdowns en route to a 14-14 tie at the break. St.Francis made things interesting when, trailing by 10, Jaiden Jenkins threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to four points with 5:33 left. Prince Avenue held on to make one final stop, however, to advance. The Wolverines had two rushing touchdowns and a 57-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Philo.

Swainsboro 22, Irwin County 21

No. 2 ranked Swainsboro advanced to the state championship for the first time since 2000 with a game-winning field goal from Landen Scott as time expired and improved to 13-0 with a dramatic 22-21 road win. The two teams were originally scheduled to meet in non-region play Sept. 29, but the first meeting since 1985 was forced to be canceled as a result of Hurricane Ian and head coach Scott Roberts had to wait until the semifinals to face his alma mater. Demello Jones led Swainsboro with three rushing touchdowns in the first half (23 yards, 66, 11), but a missed PAT and failed two-point conversion left the Tigers with a 19-7 edge. Quarterback Cody Soliday through a touchdown pass in the first half to put the Indians on the board. Shane Marshall sparked Irwin County’s strong start to the second half with a 2-yard touchdown run and the Indians grabbed the lead with another rushing score to go up 21-19 in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Irwin County turned it over on downs at the Swainsboro 20-yard line with just over four minutes left and the Tigers marched down the field to set up the game-winning field goal at the buzzer.

Class A Division II

Bowdon 45, Lincoln County 28

No. 1 ranked Bowdon improved to 13-1 and picked up its 12th-consecutive victory over visiting Lincoln County to advance to the state finals for the first time since 2001 and. Lincoln County struck first with a 7-0 Trey Huff touchdown pass, but Bowdon closed out the opening quarter with a Robert McNeal 50-yard touchdown run and 55-yard touchdown pass to Will Rainwater to go up 14-7 and the Red Devils never trailed again. Huff knotted the game back up, however, with a 1-yard rushing score, but Dylan Akins answered with a 15-yard touchdown and McNeal hauled in the first of his two interceptions to set up a Cameron Holloway 20-yard field goal before the break to give Bowdon a 24-14 advantage. Bowdon failed to recover an onside kick to open the second half and Lincoln County cut into the deficit with a Huff touchdown pass. Akins answered with a 45-yard touchdown run to put Bowdon up 31-21. Asher Christopher sacked Huff on Lincoln County’s next possession and McNeal tacked on a 62-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 38-21. Franklin Brown scored to bring Lincoln County within 10 points (38-28), but Akins found the endzone a third time on a 25-yard touchdown run and McNeal iced the game with his second interception of the night.

Schley County 35, Johnson County 6

No. 5 ranked Schley County advanced to the state championship for the first time in its 35-year history and improved to a school-record 12-2, while picking up its 11th-straight victory after a 1-2 start. The Wildcats were led by a two-touchdown performance by quarterback Jay Kanazawa, who is pacing all of Class A Division II this season with over 2,900 yards on the season. Schley County scored 51 or more points in its five previous victories, but with a 35-0 lead after the first three quarters were content to take advantage of the running clock in the fourth quarter where the Trojans scored the only points on a late rushing score.