High school picks for championship weekend

The 2010 high school football playoffs have been crazy at times.

Two-time defending champion Camden County was eliminated in the second round by a Hillgrove team playing in Class AAAAA for the first time. Top-ranked Northside-Warner Robins got knocked out in the first round by Whitewater. And four No. 4 seeds reached the semifinals, second only to the five that got to the final four in 2006.

Yet now that the season has reached championship weekend, it seems to have worked out like it often does. Here’s a look at the five championship games and the familiar faces that will play for the titles.

Class AAAAA

Region 1-AAAAA and Gwinnett County prevail again. Twelve of the past 16 champions in the highest classification have come from one of those two areas and this will be the seventh head-to-head matchup between the groups in a championship game during that stretch. Many believed that this year’s Region 1 vs. Gwinnett final would include Lowndes or Valdosta against North Gwinnett, but it didn’t come close to working out that way. Instead we have Colquitt County (which last won the title in 1994) against Brookwood (which won in 1996). Brookwood hasn’t had to play a No. 1 seed in the playoffs and faced only one No. 2 seed. On Saturday the Broncos will prove too strong for third-seeded Colquitt.

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Class AAAA

The only championship game featuring new names will be in AAAA, where Chattahoochee and Starr’s Mill will be making their first appearances in the final. Both teams have 14-0 records, region championships and top-six rankings, so it’s hardly a shock that either team made it to the Georgia Dome. It just seems strange to have a AAAA final without Tucker, Marist, Statesboro or Northside. Special teams could make the difference in this one and that’s where I’ll give Chattahoochee the edge. Ammon Lakip has kicked two last-second, game-winning field goals in the playoffs and Kane Whitehurst has averaged 51 yards on kickoff returns this season.

Class AAA

Sandy Creek won the Class AAAA title last season and hasn’t missed a beat since dropping to AAA this year. The Patriots have won 28 consecutive games and their closest game this season was a 20-14 victory against AAAA Whitewater in the opener on Aug. 27. Carrollton has cruised through its 14-0 season, outscoring opponents by an average of 45-7 and playing only two games – playoff victories against St. Pius and Cairo – that were closer than 22 points. This one is as much of a tossup as any game this weekend. I’ll go with Sandy Creek in what should be a great game.

Class AA

Buford is playing in the championship game for the ninth time in 11 seasons and seeking to become only the second team in state history to win four consecutive titles, joining West Rome (1982-85). The Wolves’ past two championships have come against Calhoun, which they’ll have to beat on Friday to get that fourth straight title. Calhoun has lost all three of its all-time meetings with Buford, although the Yellow Jackets have come closer to winning each time, losing by 27 points in 1996, 24 points in 2008 and three points last year. But my No. 1 rule in predictions is to always pick Buford and I’m not abandoning that this week.

Class A

Clinch County is one of the big boys in Class A, with four state championships, and will be making its fourth appearance in the final since 2002. Savannah Christian has never won a GHSA football championship, although it did reach the final last season and won seven titles in the Georgia Independent School Association. Savannah Christian’s No. 4 seed is a bit misleading. The Raiders bring a 13-1 record into the championship game and were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season. But Clinch County is ranked No. 1 for a reason and the Panthers will prove they deserve it when they win championship No. 5.

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