In 2016, Smith led Cedar Grove to a program-first state championship when it beat Greater Atlanta Christian 30-19 in the championship game. Eventual-champion Calhoun dealt the Saints a 14-6 loss in the 2017 semifinals in what could be classified as a bracket-shaking upset.
But the team responded with back-to-back championships in 2018 – in Smith’s final season – and in 2019 under head coach Miguel Patrick, who was promoted through the Saints’ coaching ranks.
Patrick left after the 2020 season -- a quarterfinals loss being his last game -- and John Adams led the team to its fourth title in six seasons. Cedar Grove beat Carver-Atlanta 56-26 in the championship game in 2021. Last season, Cedar Grove played victim to Sandy Creek in a 21-17 loss in the championship game after a controversial call forced the GHSA to implement instant replay for title games.
Against Mary Persons, junior receiver Devin Carters scored two touchdowns in the third quarter, and that proved too much for the Bulldogs. His reception from E.J. Colson with 6:30 left put Cedar Grove ahead 21-14, a lead it would not relinquish.
Now the Saints will host top-ranked Calvary Day for a state-championship caliber semifinals matchup after the Cavaliers defeated Wesleyan 42-21.
Calvary Day held the Wolves scoreless in the second half to secure the victory after trailing 21-14 at the half.
Trailing 7-0, Calvary Day quarterback Jake Merklinger scored on a 5-yard run to tie the game. Trevor Strowbridge scored on a 13-yard run to tie the game at 14. Wesleyan took the halftime lead on a 33-yard pass from Ben Brown to Jamie Tremble, but could manage no more offensive production.
Merklinger scored on a 1-yard run with 10 minutes left in the third quarter and passed to Caden Arnold (15 yards) to take the lead for good late in the third quarter. Merklinger passed to Michael Smith on a 24-yard touchdown to extend the lead and capped scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run with seven minutes left in the game. Calvary Day will travel to Cedar Grove in the semifinals.
On the other side of the bracket, Savannah Christian moved past Lumpkin County 42-21 to end the best football season in Lumpkin history. The Raiders advanced to the semifinals for the 15th time in program history.
Savannah Christians’ Zo Smalls had three rushing touchdowns to lead the Raiders to the first semifinal appearance in five seasons. He opened the scoring on a short touchdown run early in the game to put the Raiders ahead, then scored again on a 10-yard run with eight minutes left in the first half to extend the lead. Kenry Wall scored on a 2-yard run to expand the margin to 21-3.
Cal Faulkner passed to Nolan Matthews on a 5-yarder with seven minutes left in the third quarter, then Smalls scored a minute later on an 11-yard run to put Savannah Christian ahead 28-14. Jaden Miles scored on a 32-yard run with six minutes left in the game to put the Raiders ahead 35-21, and Wall scored on a 41-yard run with five minutes left to secure the victory.
The Raiders will face Carver-Columbus, which outlasted Monroe Area 18-14. Carver played in the 2021 Class 4A championship game and is in the semifinals for the fifth time since winning the Class 3A championship in 2007.
Class 3A quarterfinals scores
R5 #1 Cedar Grove 28, R2 #1 Mary Persons 14
R3 #1 Calvary Day 42, R7 #2 Wesleyan 21
R3 #2 Savannah Christian 42, R7 #1 Lumpkin County 21
R1 #1 Carver-Columbus 18, R8 #3 Monroe Area 14
Class 3A semifinals schedule
R3 #1 Calvary Day at R5 #1 Cedar Grove
R3 #2 Savannah Christian at R1 #1 Carver-Columbus