Primer advancing second round of high school football playoffs

The opening round of the playoffs was so predictable that a computer algorithm, the Maxwell Ratings, correctly picked 111 of 127 winners. No. 1-ranked teams were 8-0 by an average score of 49-8, and top-10 teams were 67-2 when not playing each other.

The second round inevitably is more suspenseful. Here’s a closer look at the round of 16, which entails 64 games in the GHSA’s eight classifications this weekend.

A look back: Although most first-round games were decided by 24 points or more, the first round had its moments. Three teams won in overtime – Houston County by going for two, St. Pius by forcing a turnover and Social Circle by kicking a 38-yard field goal. Dooly County beat Jenkins County 22-21 on Lorenzo Clayton’s 4-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion with 20 seconds left, and Stephenson beat Pace Academy 40-38 on Devin Ingram’s touchdown runs of 60 and 58 in the final six minutes. Harrison, Dalton, Calhoun and Berrien also scored game-winning touchdowns or field goals in the waning moments.

Favorites: The No. 1 teams are Buford in 7A, Hughes in 6A, Ware County in 5A, Cedartown in 4A, Cedar Grove in 3A, Fitzgerald in 2A, Prince Avenue Christian in A Division I and Bowdon in A Division II. All won by 28 points or more in the first round.

Underdogs: Seven teams are in the second round for the first time since the GHSA expanded the playoffs to 32-team draws in 1996. They are Berrien, Cass, Harlem, Lanier County, North Atlanta, Telfair County and Walnut Grove. All are underdogs this week, according to the Maxwell Ratings.

Regulars: Ten teams are in the round of 16 for the 10th consecutive year or longer. They are Benedictine (11 consecutive), Buford (24), Calhoun (22), Callaway (11), Cartersville (11), Cedar Grove (10), Eagle’s Landing Christian (15), Prince Avenue Christian (12), Ware County (16) and Woodward Academy (10).

Missing: Brooks County, the 2021 Class A Public champion, failed to make the second round for the first time since 2007, the season before coach Maurice Freeman was hired. Blessed Trinity’s streak of 11 appearances also ended in the first round. Brooks County and No. 4 Jefferson in Class 5A are the only top-five teams that are out.

Best second-round game: No. 5 North Cobb and No. 3 Mill Creek have been in the Class 7A top five almost every week, but only one will make the elite eight. They’re playing at North Cobb, where the home team has suffered heartbreaking second-round losses the past two seasons. Mill Creek features the state’s most highly recruited player, defensive back Caleb Downs.

Danger approaching: Three No. 1-teams will be tested at home against top-10 opponents. They are Buford vs. No. 6 Walton in Class 7A, Prince Avenue Christian vs. No. 7 Elbert County in A Division I and Bowdon vs. No. 9 Manchester in A Division II.

More good games: Nine other games match ranked teams. They are No. 9 Lee County at No. 5 Woodward Academy in Class 6A, No. 3 Cartersville at No. 5 Cambridge in 5A, No. 8 Burke County at No. 6 Bainbridge and No. 7 Wayne County at No. 3 Perry in 4A, No. 9 Oconee County at No. 10 Adairsville and No. 3 Sandy Creek at No. 7 Stephens County in 3A, No. 9 Cook at No. 4 Thomson and No. 10 North Cobb Christian at No. 7 Rockmart in 2A and No. 6 Clinch County at No. 7 McIntosh County Academy in A Division II.

Top players: The teams of nine of the AJC’s Super 11 are still alive. Buford’s Justice Haynes, Hughes’ Bo Hughley and Cedar Grove’s Kayin Lee play for No. 1 teams. The teams of Mill Creek’s Downs, Warner Robins’ Vic Burley and South Atlanta’s Keyjuan Brown also are favored to win this week. Things look dicier for Lamar County’s C.J. Allen and North Gwinnett’s Kayden McDonald. North Cobb quarterback Malachi Singleton remains sidelined with an injury.

What’s next: The quarterfinals represent the first time that region champions and other same-seeded teams can meet. In those instances, the teams listed lower on the draw is home. Potential matchups include No. 1 Buford at No. 4 Carrollton in Class 7A, No. 3 Roswell at No. 2 Thomas County Central in 6A, No. 2 North Oconee at No. 3 Perry in 4A and No. 2 Calvary Day at No. 1 Cedar Grove in 3A.