GHSA semifinals preview: 5 teams trying to make finals for first time

The Milton Eagles celebrate their 36-27 win over the Mill Creek Hawks in quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 at Milton High School. (Daniel Varnado/ For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

caption arrowCaption
The Milton Eagles celebrate their 36-27 win over the Mill Creek Hawks in quarterfinal game Friday, Nov. 26, 2021 at Milton High School. (Daniel Varnado/ For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Five Georgia football teams will try to reach state championship games for the first time Friday night when 16 semifinals will determine who advances to play next week at Center Parc Stadium.

Langston Hughes and North Oconee are in the semifinals for the first time, and Dacula, Appling County and Metter, though experienced in a final four, have never taken that next step.

One of them is assured a place in the finals when Dacula plays at Hughes in Class 6A. Hughes opened in 2009. Dacula has been around since 1964. The game will be played in College Park at Banneker.

North Oconee, in its 18th season, is playing at No. 1-ranked Benedictine of Savannah in Class 4A.

Appling County’s football history dates to the 1930s with Baxley High, but a victory over Cedar Grove in a Class 3A semifinal at Godfrey Stadium would put the Pirates in their first final.

Metter played its first record game in 1925 but is 0-5 in state semifinals. The unbeaten Tigers are at home against No. 2 Brooks County in Class A Public.

Here’s more scoop on the semifinals.

Favorites: The teams to beat, and their percent chances of winning it all according to the computer Maxwell Ratings, are Collins Hill in 7A (87%), Buford in 6A (83%), Warner Robins in 5A (51%), Benedictine in 4A (66%), Cedar Grove in 3A (31%), Thomasville in 2A (67%), Trinity Christian in 1A Private (84%) and Metter (44%). Collins Hill, Trinity Christian and Metter have never football state titles. Thomasville last won in 1988.

Defending champs: Seven of eight are still playing. They are Grayson (Class 7A), Buford (6A), Warner Robins (5A), Pierce County (3A), Callaway (2A), Prince Avenue Christian (1A Private) and Irwin County (1A Public). Only Marist (4A) is out.

Surprises: Dacula and Grayson are the only unranked teams among the 32 semifinalists, though both were ranked in preseason. North Oconee and Swainsboro are the only ones not ranked in preseason, though both are ranked now. Swainsboro, which finished 4-7 in 2020, is in the semifinals for the first time since 2001. Cedartown is in the semis for the first time in 20 years. Blessed Trinity and Walton, third-place finishers in their regions, have won three consecutive playoff games on the road, and they’re road-bound again – Walton to Milton in Class 7A and Blessed Trinity to Calhoun in 5A.

Winnersvilles: Three cities have two teams in the semifinals. They are Bogart (North Oconee, Prince Avenue Christian), Fairburn (Creekside, Hughes) and Roswell (Blessed Trinity, Fellowship Christian).

History maker: Fellowship coach Tim McFarlin is the ninth coach in GHSA history to lead three schools to the semifinals. In his first season at Fellowship Christian, a Class A Private school, McFarlin previously led Roswell and Blessed Trinity.

Notable players: Only two of AJC’s preseason Super 11 are still playing. They are quarterback Sam Horn and wide receiver/cornerback Travis Hunter of Collins Hill. Horn committed to Missouri, Hunter to Florida State. There are lots of other major Division I prospects, though. Among them are Appling County defensive end Darris Smith (committed to Georgia), Cedar Grove wide receiver Janiran Bonner (Georgia Tech), Benedictine quarterback Holden Geriner (Auburn), Walton cornerback Marcus Allen (North Carolina), Buford wide receiver/defensive back Isaiah Bond (recently decommitted from Florida), Cedartown running back/linebacker C.J. Washington (Georgia), Cedar Grove running back Rashod Dubinion (Arkansas) and Hughes running back Antonio Martin (Georgia Tech).

Best matchup: Defending Class 5A champion Warner Robins is on the road at No. 5 Creekside. Neither won its region, but Warner Robins eliminated No. 1 Cartersville in the second round, and Creekside has beaten three ranked teams in the playoffs.

Next: The 16 winners will advance to the finals Dec. 9-11 at Center Parc Stadium.

Friday’s games:

Class 7A

Walton at Milton

Grayson at Collins Hill

Class 6A

Dacula at Hughes

Carrollton at Buford

Class 5A

Warner Robins at Creekside (B)

Blessed Trinity at Calhoun

Class 4A

Cedartown at Carver, Columbus

North Oconee at Benedictine

Class 3A

Appling Co. at Cedar Grove (GO)

Carver, Atlanta at Pierce Co.

Class 2A

Fitzgerald at Swainsboro

Callaway at Thomasville

Class A Private

Trinity Christian at ELCA

Prince Avenue at Fellowship Christian

Class A Public

Wilcox Co. at Irwin Co.

Brooks Co. at Metter

Stadium abbreviations: (B) Banneker High School; (CM) Columbus Memorial; (GO) Godfrey; (SM) Savannah Memorial