Landmark Christian makes history as rare No. 4 seed in finals

What are the chances?

Landmark Christian, which a month ago looked harmless as a fourth-place finisher out of Region 5-A, is going to the Georgia Dome on Saturday, playing for the championship of Class A.

There have been 608 fourth-place teams in the high school football state playoffs since 1996. Only four have gotten this far.  That calculates to a 152-to-1 underdog.

‘’So it has been done before?” Landmark coach Kenny Dallas said Sunday. “We’re obviously real excited to be playing in this game, and honestly, we’ve got such a good region that we came out of, as we entered the playoffs, I don’t think the No. 4 seed ever fazed them.’’

For every 32-team draw in Georgia’s high school football playoffs, there’s bound to be a surprise team or two that breaks through, but – except for Landmark Christian -- this year has been fairly tame.

Nine of the 10 state finalists are region champions. Seven were ranked in preseason, and two others moved into the polls by mid-September.

That’s not to say those teams’ trophy cases are full. Only Tucker (AAAA), Peach County (AAA) and Buford (AA) have won recent state titles.  Calhoun (AA) won in 1952.

The other six are looking to win GHSA state championships for the first time. That includes Grayson and Walton, playing for the Class AAAAA title. Both are undefeated this year. The others are Lovejoy (AAAA), Burke County (AAA), Savannah Christian and Landmark (A).

But Landmark, a private school in Fairburn, stands out beyond just this year for beating the odds. Only one No. 4 seed has ever won a state championship in football. That was Peachtree Ridge in 2006.

What makes it hard for the fourth seeds is the challenge of winning on the road. No. 4 seeds can’t play at home unless facing another No. 4 seed, which almost never happens.

Landmark has won four straight playoff games on the enemy’s home field. The only other team in Georgia history to do that was Colquitt County in 1991. Even Peachtree Ridge got the break of playing on a couple of neutral fields.

Landmark was backed into a corner even before the state playoffs. In the final week of the regular season, Landmark went to Wesleyan for a region play-in game. It was a must-win game for both teams,  and Wesleyan was ranked No. 9 in the state.

Landmark won 16-7, the first of five straight upsets on the road. Landmark hasn’t played a home game since Oct. 14.

All of Landmark’s games have been close, and three have come down to the final three minutes. Landmark beat Darlington of Rome on a 22-yard field goal by Joshua Vineyard in the first round. In round two, Landmark beat Aquinas of Augusta 28-21 in the quarterfinals on a 28-yard screen pass from Cantrell Frazier to Jeremiah Kirkland with 13 seconds left.

On Friday, Frazier’s 24-yard touchdown run with 42 seconds was the difference in beating No. 2-ranked Eagle’s Landing Christian in McDonough in the semifinals. Landmark had lost to ELCA 35-14 in the regular season.

Landmark (12-2) plays No. 1-ranked Savannah Christian (14-0) on Saturday.