State finals primer: Collins Hill, Hughes, Carver-Atlanta chase history

Centre Parc Stadium on the campus of Georgia State University will be the site of the Georgia high school football state championship games Thursday-Saturday.
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Centre Parc Stadium on the campus of Georgia State University will be the site of the Georgia high school football state championship games Thursday-Saturday.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Adam Krohn

Collins Hill will try to affirm its position as one of the great high school football teams in state history this week while gunning for its first-ever championship.

Also trying to win for the first time will be Langston Hughes, Carver-Atlanta and Trinity Christian. Fitzgerald is a victory from its first championship since 1948, but must beat Thomasville, which hasn’t won since 1988.

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On the other side of the tracks are Buford, Warner Robins, Calhoun, Cedar Grove and Irwin County, each looking to update crowded trophy rooms.

The eight football championship games will be played over three days at Center Parc Stadium beginning Thursday. The finals kick off with three flag football championships and finish late Saturday with Collins Hill taking on Milton for the headliner for the Class 7A title.

Here’s a primer on the championship games.

*Soaring Eagles: Collins Hill, Class 7A’s No. 1-ranked team, can become the first team in the highest classification to win every game by 15 or more points since Valdosta in 1971. Only five teams in any class have done it. A national title isn’t out of the question. The Eagles are ranked No. 3 by MaxPreps and USA Today. Another convocation of Eagles stands in the way, however. Milton, the preseason No. 1 team, enters 13-1 and hasn’t lost since August.

Pedigree: Not many finalists can be called surprises. All were ranked in the top eight after the regular season, and most were in the top three. Seven of the 16 have won state titles in the past five years, with Buford, Calhoun, Benedictine and Irwin County having won multiple championships over the past 10 years.

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*Underdogs: Hughes, a Fairburn school that opened in 2009, is the only first-time finalist. The Class 6A Panthers will take on defending champion Buford, a 13-time winner. Carver-Atlanta, seeking its first title, is making its first appearance since 1967 and will play Cedar Grove in Class 3A. Cedar Grove has won three of the past five titles and beat Carver 17-0 in the regular season. Fitzgerald can win for the first time in 73 years, but faces Thomasville in a rematch of the regular-season game that Thomasville won 15-8. There have been 36 previous state-title games that were rematches. The original winner is 21-13. Two of the original games were ties.

*Defending champions: Buford, Warner Robins, Irwin County and Prince Avenue Christian can repeat as champs. Irwin (vs. Brooks County) and Prince Avenue Christian (vs. Trinity Christian) are facing the same opponents as 2020. Warner Robins and Irwin County are in the finals for the fifth consecutive season. Only Buford, Calhoun and Eagle’s Landing Christian had done that previously. Irwin County can become the first Class A public school to win three consecutive titles since Lincoln County in 1985-87.

*Best players: At least one five-star recruit has been a member of a state championship team each season since 2015, and the trend will continue because Collins Hill WR/CB Travis Hunter and Milton DL Lebbeus Overton are going against one another. Warner Robins junior DL Vic Burley also is a five-star. Other notable players in the finals are Collins Hill QB Sam Horn (committed to Missouri), Carver-Columbus OL Elijah Pritchett (committed to Alabama), Buford DB/WR Isaiah Bond and DB/WR Jake Pope (both Alabama), Cedar Grove RB Rashod Dubinion (Arkansas), LB Christen Miller (four star), Janiran Bonner (Georgia Tech), DE Carlton Madden (Georgia) and DB Kayin Lee (Georgia); Benedictine QB Holden Geriner (Auburn), Hughes RB Antonio Martin (Georgia Tech) and OL Bo Hughley (Georgia) and Fitzgerald LB E.J. Lightsey (Florida).

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*Matters of style: The 16 finalists might be more balanced and explosive on offense than ever. They average 215.6 yards rushing and 193.6 yards passing per game. Only one averages less than 120 yards passing per game. That’s Fitzgerald at 58.0. Trinity Christian and Prince Avenue Christian, the Class A Private finalists, each average more than 300 passing yards. Carver-Atlanta averages 356.9 rushing yards. Cedar Grove is perfectly balanced, averaging 180.6 yards of each.

*Leading off: Three flag football championships will be played Thursday beginning at 11 a.m. The GHSA last year became one of the first state associations to sanction flag football as a championship sport. About 185 Georgia schools participated this season, double the number from last year.

TV/tickets: GPB Sports will televise all games. The GHSA encourages fans wishing to attend to buy tickets ($20) and parking ($20) online through GoFan Digital. Tickets are $25 the day of the event with a credit card only.

Schedule:

Class 7A

Milton vs. Collins Hill

7 p.m. Saturday

Class 6A

Hughes vs. Buford

7 p.m. Friday

Class 5A

Warner Robins vs. Calhoun

3:30 p.m. Saturday

Class 4A

Carver-Columbus vs. Benedictine

3:30 p.m. Friday

Class 3A

Cedar Grove vs. Carver-Atlanta

Noon Saturday

Class 2A

Fitzgerald vs. Thomasville

Noon Friday

Class A Private

Trinity Christian vs. Prince Avenue Christian

5 p.m. Thursday

Class A Public

Irwin County vs. Brooks County

8 p.m. Thursday

Flag football

Class 7A

Hillgrove vs. Marietta

2:30 p.m. Thursday

Class 5A-6A

Lithia Springs vs. Dodge County

12:45 p.m. Thursday

Class A-4A

Portal vs. Southeast Bulloch

11 a.m. Thursday