Championship game previews

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

FootballClass AAAAAAA

Roswell vs. Grayson

When, where: 8 p.m. Saturday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Roswell is 14-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAAAAAA and No. 2; Grayson is 13-1, the No. 1 seed from 8-AAAAAAA and No. 1.

Last meeting: Roswell won 30-26 in the 2015 Class AAAAAA semifinals.

Things to know: There probably has never been another game between Georgia teams with so many major college recruits. Roswell has six of the top 75 senior prospects in the state, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. They are headed by No. 10 Xavier McKinney and No. 21 LeAnthony Williams (committed to Clemson), both in the secondary. Grayson has seven of the top 100 seniors, plus LB Owen Pappoe, the No. 1 sophomore. Each team has another five or six seniors who are mid-level Division I prospects. Both teams are ranked top 10 nationally. Roswell QB Malik Willis (Virginia Tech commit) has thrown for 2,562 yards and rushed for 1,033. His receivers include Jayden Comma (Maryland) and Corey Reed (Louisville). Sheldon Evans has rushed for 1,554 yards on the season and more than 5,000 for his career. Grayson QB Chase Brice (Clemson) has thrown for 2,590 yards. Kurt Taylor (Michigan) has rushed for 922, including 201 in the quarterfinals. DB/WR DeAngelo Gibbs (No. 2 prospect in Georgia) and RB/DB Jamyest Williams (South Carolina) are two-way stars. Roswell won last year’s semifinal between the two on a 35-yard pass with 10 seconds left.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Grayson by 14


Tucker vs. Valdosta

When, where: 8 p.m. Friday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Tucker is 13-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 4-AAAAAA and No. 4; Valdosta is 13-1, the No. 1 seed from 1-AAAAAA and No. 1.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Valdosta’s 23 state titles are the most by any team in state history, but Tucker has won two championships (2008, 2011) and had a runner-up finish (2013) since the Wildcats’ last appearance in a state final in 2003. Valdosta is seeking its first state title since 1998, the longest drought in program history. Tucker runs for 247.7 yards per game and features two 1,000-yard rushers, Taurean Taylor (122 carries, 1,315 yards, 16 TDs) and Chris Broadwater (175-1,088-21). QB Xavier Shephard has thrown 17 TD passes and has 1,768 yards, most of which have gone to Josh Vann (57 receptions, 1,203 yards, 13 TDs). Valdosta is a bit more balanced, averaging 172.9 yards passing and 155.6 rushing. QBs Josh Belton (1,190 yards passing, 377 rushing) and Hunter Holt (1,087 passing, 653 rushing) have accounted for 3,289 yards and 38 TDs. Tevin Gray has run for 587 yards and six TDs, and J.R. Ingram has 55 catches for 970 yards and 16 TDs.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Valdosta by 2


Rome vs. Buford

When, where: 4:30 p.m. Friday, Georgia Dome

Records, rankings: Rome is 12-2, the No. 1 seed from Region 7-AAAAA and No. 4; Buford is 13-1, the No. 1 seed from 8-AAAAA and No. 1.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Buford has won 11 state titles in football. Rome has not won a state title in any sport. Otherwise, the teams are similar. Rome averages 293.7 yards rushing and 126.8 passing. Sophomore RB Jamious Griffin has rushed for 1,418 yards on the season and had 154 on 31 carries in a 28-21 victory over Stockbridge in the semifinals. A second 1,000-yard rusher, Jalyn Sykes, has been injured the past three games. Buford averages 285.9 yards rushing and 105.1 passing. Junior RB Anthony Grant has rushed for 1,447 yards. A second 1,000-yard rusher, Christian Turner, has peaked in the playoffs. He has 415 yards rushing in the past two rounds. Both teams have several major Division I prospects. Rome LB/DE Adam Anderson has committed to Georgia, and LB Jaylen Griffin is going to Virginia Tech. DE Jamarcus Chatman and the injured Sykes are among the top 50 junior prospects in the state. Buford has eight seniors committed to D-I schools. They include LB T.D. Roof (Georgia Tech), LB Jake Simpson (Wake Forest) and QB Mic Roof (East Carolina).

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Buford by 2

Class AAAA

Cartersville vs. Thomson

When, where: 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Cartersville is 14-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 5-AAAA and No. 1; Thomson is 14-0, the No. 1 seed from 3-AAAA and No. 2.

Last meeting: Cartersville won 21-13 in the 2012 Class AAA quarterfinals.

Things to know: Cartersville, the defending state champion, has won 29 consecutive games and is seeking its fourth state title. Thomson in the finals for the first time since it won the Class AAAA championship in 2002. This game will be a battle between Cartersville’s passing attack and Thomson’s running game. Cartersville averages 264.9 yards per game passing (75.9 rushing) behind QB Trevor Lawrence, the nation’s No. 1 recruit among juniors. He is 236-of-373 for 3,708 yards, with 49 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Antoine Jefferson (59 catches, 819 yards, four TDs) leads five players with at least 30 catches, 425 yards and two TDs receiving. Thomson averages 312.6 yards on the ground (112.6 passing) and has two 1,000-yard rushers – Michael Thomas (259 carries, 2,240 yards, 24 TDs) and Bubba Murray (132-1,007-17). QB Mills Ridings has passed for 1,392 yards and 15 TDs. Both offenses will be facing an outstanding defense – Cartersville is giving up 8.6 points per game, and Thomson is allowing 9.7. Neither team has lost a state championship game (Thomson is 5-0, Cartersville is 3-0).

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Cartersville by 6

Class AAA

Greater Atlanta Christian vs. Cedar Grove

When, where: 1 p.m. Friday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Greater Atlanta Christian is 13-1, the No. 1 seed from Region 7-AAA and No. 1; Cedar Grove is 12-2, the No. 2 seed from 5-AA and No. 6.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: This the only final between teams that have not won state titles, although both have knocked on the door. GAC lost in the 2014 and 2002 finals. Cedar Grove was a 1991 runner-up. Both were semifinalists last year. GAC QB Davis Mills (Stanford commit) missed the first two games injured. He averaged only 169.5 yards passing his first six games but 285.5 over the next six. RB/DB Kyler McDaniel has rushed for 1,416 yards. DB Davis Markham and C Nate Richey are GAC’s best players that rarely are mentioned. PK/P Brooks Buce has made four field goals of 50 yards or longer. Cedar Grove RB Grant Walker has rushed for 1,664 yards behind a king-sized line that includes Netori Johnson (6-3, 348) and Justin Shaffer (6-5, 356), both committed to Georgia. QB Jelani Woods (Oklahoma State) has thrown for 2,172 yards. WR Jadon Haselwood (42 catches, 703 yards) is the No. 3 sophomore recruit in the state and starts in the secondary with fellow D-I prospects Tre Shaw (North Carolina) and Korey Hernandez (Arkansas).

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Greater Atlanta Christian by 6

Class AA

Benedictine vs. Fitzgerald

When, where: 1 p.m. Saturday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Benedictine is 14-0, the No. 1 seed from Region 2-AA and No. 1; Fitzgerald is 13-1, the No. 1 seed from 1-AA and No. 2.

Last meeting: Fitzgerald won 54-28 in the 2015 Class AA quarterfinals.

Things to know: Benedictine, the state champion in 2014, has won 34 of its past 35 games, the only loss against Fitzgerald in the quarterfinals last season. Fitzgerald went on to finish as the state runner-up and is seeking its first state championship since 1948. Fitzgerald’s J.D. King rushed for a career-high 324 yards on 44 carries and scored three touchdowns against the Cadets last season. This year, he has run for 1,701 yards and 20 TDs on 220 carries to lead an offense that averages 278.1 yards per game rushing and 122.4 passing. QB James Graham has passed for 1,563 yards, run for 768 and had a hand in 36 touchdowns. Benedictine has a similar run-pass balance, averaging 290.1 yards rushing and 130.9 passing. John Wesley Kennedy (1,156 yards rushing), Tyleek Collins (895) and Terrick Smalls (692) get most of the carries and have combined for 2,743 yards and 41 touchdowns rushing. Kennedy is also the team’s leading receiver with 39 catches for 851 yards and 15 TDs. QB Nick Iannone attempts about 10 passes per game but has completed 67 percent of them and thrown for 23 touchdowns.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Benedictine by 8

Class A (public)

Macon County vs. McIntosh County Academy

When, where: 10 a.m. Saturday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Macon County is 11-2, the No. 1 seed and No. 2; McIntosh County Academy is 10-2, the No. 6 seed and No. 6.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Macon County QB K’hari Lane has thrown for 3,557 yards and 52 touchdowns, two short of Hutson Mason’s 2009 single-season record, and WR Trey Brown has 974 receiving yards on 47 catches, 21 for touchdowns. But Macon County averages nearly 200 yards rushing per game and has a 1,000-yard rusher, Jared Daniels (1,311). And RB Akeevious McLendon rushed for 117 yards in the semifinals. Macon County is averaging 46.5 points per game, 50.5 against Class A opponents. MCA junior RB J.P. Palmer, who had only 402 rushing yards in the regular season, has busted out in the playoffs. He ran for 232 yards and four touchdowns in the quarterfinals, then had 183 yards from scrimmage (102 rushing, 81 receiving) and three touchdowns in the semifinals against No. 1 Clinch County. He also scored on an interception return last week. Major Robinson, also a junior, has thrown for 1,731 yards. MCA has allowed more than 22 points only once, in a 32-7 loss to Clinch on Aug. 26. MCA beat Clinch last week 24-8. DE Joseph Roberts has five tackles for losses, giving him 28 on the season.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Macon County by 14

Class A (private)

ELCA vs. Fellowship Christian

When, where: 10 a.m. Friday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Eagle’s Landing Christian is 13-0, the No. 1 seed and No. 1; Fellowship Christian is 13-0, the No. 3 seed and No. 3.

Last meeting: Eagle’s Landing Christian won 47-7 in 2009.

Things to know: Eagle’ Landing Christian, the defending champion, is going for its third state title in five seasons. Fellowship Christian, which started football in 2006, hadn’t made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2007 until now. Fellowship runs the Wing-T offense and averages 267.8 yards rushing per game. The leading ball carriers are RB Andrew Johnson (1,063 yards), RB Andrew Minkert (983) and QB Jack Hardin (690). Hardin has thrown for 1,630 yards and 24 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Standouts on a quality offensive line are Jackson Kriekermeir (6-6, 320), Charlie Thompson (6-4, 220) and OL/DT Tad Aycock (6-3, 275). DE Billy McCurry (19 tackles for losses) is the play-maker on defense. ELCA is even more run-oriented as the Chargers average 286.9 yards rushing, 79.5 passing. Trevor Gear has 1,409 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. Brayden Rush has thrown for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns and scored 12 touchdowns. Only one Class A opponent has come within 20 points of beating ELCA the past two seasons. That was Wesleyan (34-31 on Sept. 30). ELCA won the rematch 35-13 in the quarterfinals.

Maxwell Ratings’ projection: Eagle’s Landing Christian by 6

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Okay, here I go:

Grayson by 14

Tucker by 7

Buford by 14

Cartersville by 10

Cedar Grove by 7

Benedictine by 8

Macon County by 7

ELCA by 10

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