Breaking down the right side of the bracket’s eight matchups
I previewed the left half of the Class AAAA bracket here. Below are the eight games occupying the right half of the bracket’s first-round pairings.
R4 #3 Luella at R2 #2 West Laurens
Luella and West Laurens will meet for the first time on Friday. West Laurens has advanced to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, while Luella is making its third playoff appearance since 2008.
R6 #4 Pickens at R8 #1 Jefferson
Pickens and Jefferson get set for the fifth Dragon vs. Dragon game in state history. The two programs have split the all-time series 2-2 with Pickens winning the most recent matchup 17-6 all the way back in 1989. Chris Pittman leads Pickens on the ground with a team-high 1,014 yards and 11 touchdowns. Jefferson’s potent rushing attack is spearheaded by Colby Wood and Zach Boobas. Wood has compiled 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Boobas has added 526 yards and 12 touchdowns.
R5 #3 Sandy Creek at R7 #2 Marist
Marist and Cartersville are the only teams in the state that hold a 4-0 all-time record against Sandy Creek, however the War Eagles haven’t faced Sandy Creek since 1995. Marist will look to control the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of the more athletic Patriots offense. Sandy Creek quarterback Bryant Walker has passed for at least 100 yards in every game this season while running back Jaelen Greene paces the ground game with 102.2 rushing yards per game.
R3 #4 Baldwin at R1 #1 Cairo
Cairo quarterback John Michael Owens has thrown 13 touchdowns in the Syrupmakers’ last five outings. Cairo’s only loss of the year came in a 23-17 battle with 5A’s Thomas County Central. Cairo followed the loss with a 17-14 win over Class 5A Bainrbidge, before averaging 38.3 points per game and posting a 7-0 record in Region 1 play. Baldwin limps into the playoffs with a 4-6 record after earning the No. 4 seed out of Region 3, which houses Burke County and Thomson. Baldwin’s offense has been held to single digits five times this season.
R2 #3 Spalding at R4 #2 Eastside
Spalding’s impressive 10-2 season last year ended with a 48-21 loss to Woodward Academy in the second round. It was a tough draw to face the War Eagles last year, but Spalding has a tough opening round matchup with Eastside, which has beaten the Jags in both of the school’s meetings. Eastside (7-2-1) missed out on the playoffs with a 7-3 record last season and has finished with seven wins three of the past four seasons.
R8 #4 St. Pius at R6 #1 Ridgeland
After finishing fourth in Region 8 with a 2-8 record, St. Pius faces a tough draw with No. 1 seed Ridgeland. At 8-1, Ridgeland’s only loss came in a 35-34 game with Pickens. In that game, the Panthers nearly pulled off the comeback but missed the potential game-tying PAT. Ridgeland’s offense has lit up the scoreboard for at least 32 points every game this season. Leading the charge is junior running back Jalyn Shelton, who has taken 126 carries for 1,081 yards and 19 touchdowns this season (8.6 yards per carry).
R7 #3 West Hall at R5 #2 Troup
Friday is a defining moment for Troup, which saw its 8-2 season end with a humbling 68-0 loss to Cartersville in the Region 5 championship. The Tigers have been on a roll before the Cartersville game and with plenty of speed and experience can grab the school’s first playoff win since 2011. West Hall closed its season with a 34-13 loss to Blessed Trinity and it has been since 2000 that the Spartans last won a playoff game.
R1 #4 Americus-Sumter at R3 #1 Thomson
Americus-Sumter earned the final playoff spot out of the competitive eight-team Region 1 race. The Panthers played competitively with Cairo (36-21) and closed the season with a 17-14 must-win game against Columbus. Thomson, on the other hand, has been unchallenged this season. The Bulldogs take a 10-0 record into the postseason with a 486-86 scoring advantage. Thomson has bullied opposing defenses with its unstoppable running game and has scored 69 points or higher in three games this year to fuel the 48.6 points per game average. Thomson has averaged 299.5 rushing yards per game this year, with a defense that has shortened the field and held defenses to 8.6 points per game.