A spectrum of styles leads AAAA’s field
The first seven weeks of the GHSA season have been dominated by Class AAAA’s top three ranked teams. If you were to look at the margin of victory for each of these three teams (Cartersville-37 ppg , Thomson-34.8 ppg, Woodward Academy-34.2 ppg), it wouldn’t show you that in fact, these teams are stylistically very different from each other. From Cartersville’s quick passing attack, to Thomson’s physical running game, and to Woodward Academy’s balance and flexibility, these teams impose their will in different ways. Here’s a look at what’s been fueled Class AAAA’s elite to their fast starts.
With four regular season games left, the top-ranked Purple Hurricanes carry a state-best 21 game winning streak into the weekend. Five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has statistically dominated his junior season, while resting in the second half or running out the clock during Cartersville’s lopsided losses. Lawrence has tossed 20 touchdowns with six interceptions, while moving the ball with an efficient 15.7 yards per completion. Nine different Purple Hurricanes have logged receiving touchdowns and it’s been a collective effort to fuel their 269.5 passing yards per game. One of the reasons Cartersville isn’t averaging even more yardage is its defense that continues to gift the offense prime field position while holding opposing offenses to just six points per game.
The Bulldogs ride a 5-0 start into Friday’s matchup with Hephzibah and have conquered through a challenging first half of the season with sterling success. Thomson had a two-week bye after back-to-back wins over Jefferson (42-20) and Pace Academy (38-10), and returned to the gridiron last Friday to roll past Clarkston 73-8. Former Glynn Academy head coach Rob Ridings has built something special at Thomson and has accumulated a 17-2 record since a 4-7 finish his first season in 2014. Unlike Cartersville’s well-dispersed passing attack, Thomson looks to physically pound the football right through opposing defenses. The Bulldogs have rushed for 313.6 yards per game and are averaging nine yards per carry this season.
3. Woodward Academy
Since a 14-10 loss to Grady the second week of the season, Woodward Academy has outscored its next four opponents 202-12. The 5-1 War Eagles host 3-2 North Clayton this Friday and actually close out their season later this month (Oct. 28) due to a bye week on the Friday of the final regular season. Cartersville’s passing attack and Thomson’s run-first offense are much different than Woodward Academy’s balanced offense. With balance comes flexibility. Quarterback Ryan Glover has been efficient with his passes and supplants the offense with 182.2 passing yards per game to go with his 13 touchdown passes and two interceptions. On the ground, Woodward Academy averages 173.5 yards per game led by sophomore Tahj Gary (48-340-7) and senior Jalen Polk (30-281-6). This flexibility in the playbook that comes with having a reliable quarterback and solid running game gives Woodward Academy the option of attacking a team’s weakness in advantageous ways each week. Against a physical front, the War Eagles can stretch the field with their perimeter playmakers, while teams that are vulnerable to the run have to account for Gary and Polk, which add their own additional dimensions to the running game.