Semifinals in review

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

Roswell High School wide receiver Jayden Comma (5) completes a catch while being pursued by Westlake High School's Tre Person (1) during the second half of a semi-final high school football game, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Atlanta. Roswell defeated Westlake 28-0. Branden Camp/Special

Roswell High School wide receiver Jayden Comma (5) completes a catch while being pursued by Westlake High School’s Tre Person (1) during the second half of a semi-final high school football game, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Atlanta. Roswell defeated Westlake 28-0. Branden Camp/Special


*Roswell 28, Westlake 0: QB Malik Willis, who transferred from Westlake last spring, was 14-of-22 passing for 220 yards. Sheldon Evans rushed for 87 yards on 16 carries. Westlake was held to 139 yards of total offense, minus-10 rushing, and was intercepted four times, twice by all-state DB Xavier McKinney. Westlake failed to score despite crossing midfield seven times.

What it means – Roswell is back in the championship game for the second consecutive season and seeking its first state title since 2006.

*Grayson 44, Mill Creek 26: Grayson opened a 38-7 lead with 1:11 left in the first half on Quinton Thames’ 44-yard interception return and kept Mill Creek at a safe distance from there. Chase Brice was 17-of-25 passing for 294 yards and four first-half touchdowns. Evan Sturgill had six receptions for 120 yards. Grayson’s Jamyest Williams had 128 yards from scrimmage (55 rushing, 73 passing).

What it means – Grayson is in a state championship game for the second time, first since its 2011 championship season. Jeff Herron becomes the third coach in GHSA history to lead three schools to title games. T. McFerrin and Charlie Winslette are the others.


*Tucker 22, Northside (Warner Robins) 7: Northside scored on its first drive of the game, taking a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by QB Tobias Oliver, but Tucker rallied for a 9-7 halftime lead and controlled the second half. Josh Vann had two touchdown catches and finished with 125 yards receiving, and he and Jalen Jefferson had interceptions in the final five minutes to put the game away. Aaron Sterling returned a fumble 44 yards for a touchdown for a 15-7 lead in the third quarter. Northside was held to 191 yards of total offense.

What it means – Tucker is in the state finals for the fourth time in eight seasons, first since 2013, and seeking its first state title since 2011.

*Valdosta 27, Dalton 6: Valdosta led 7-0 at halftime and got two third-quarter touchdowns to pull away. QB Josh Belton was 14-of-20 passing for 187 yards and four touchdowns, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen. The Wildcats’ first two touchdowns came after recovering muffed punts. Dalton’s Ahmaad Tanner, who ran for 243 yards in a victory over Coffee in the quarterfinals, was held to 11 carries for 57 yards, 23 of which came on a first-quarter run. Dalton was the only undefeated team in Class AAAAAA.

What it means – Valdosta is in a championship game for the first time since 2003 and seeking its first championship since 1998.


*Rome 28, Stockbridge 21: Jamious Griffin rushed for 154 yards on 31 carries and scored three touchdowns, including a 14-yard run with 6:30 left to break a 21-21 tie. Stockbridge didn’t threaten from there and blew one chance when it muffed a punt with 1:32 left. Stockbridge QB Kenderick Duncan threw TD passes of 70, 34 and 27 yards to Marquez Ezzard, who finished with nine catches for 201 yards. Rome QB Knox Kadum threw for 152 yards.

What it means – Rome is in its first championship game and is a victory from its first state title in any sport. The school opened in 1992 with the merger of West Rome and East Rome, which had won seven football state titles between them. Stockbridge falls in the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

*Buford 28, Kell 16: Christian Turner rushed for 139 yards on 24 carries, and his 3-yard with 2:11 left essentially clinched the win. T.D. Roof, better known as a linebacker, rushed for 114 yards and had two sacks on defense. It was the second straight playoff game in which Buford had two 100-yard rushers. Buford coach Jess Simpson made a gutsy call midway in the fourth quarter. His team leading 14-10, he elected to go for a fourth-and-1, and Roof scored on a 58-yard run. Buford held Kell to 179 yards of total offense.

What it means – Buford won its 31st consecutive home playoff game and is in the state finals for the 10th straight time. Buford is after its 12th state title, 11th since 2001. Kell falls to 0-2 in semifinals. The Longhorns also fell short in 2013.

Class AAAA

*Cartersville 38, Mary Persons 17: Mary Persons led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, but Cartersville outscored the Bulldogs 38-3 the rest of the way for its 29th consecutive victory. Cartersville QB Trevor Lawrence was 16-of-23 passing for 253 yards and four touchdowns, and his 18-yard TD pass to E.J. Turner gave the Purple Hurricanes a 21-17 halftime lead. Turner finished with six receptions for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Trey Creamer rushed for 141 yards on 18 carries and had TD runs of 54 and 29 yards.

What it means – Cartersville, the defending champion, stands one victory from becoming the 11th team to produce back-to-back 15-0 seasons and the 19th to sustain a 30-game winning streak.

*Thomson 27, Jefferson 6: Jefferson led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter, but Thomson seized control with second-quarter touchdowns on a 1-yard run by Michael Thomas and a 15-yard run by QB Mills Ridings. Thomas threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Trey Parker on a halfback pass in the third quarter, and Bubba Murray scored on a 2-yard run with 10:08 to play. Jefferson’s only points came on field goals of 22 and 30 yards by Hayden Kilgore. Thomas rushed for 97 yards, giving him 2,240 for the season, and Murray ran for 76 to surpass the 1,000-yard mark (1,007).

What it means – Thomson is in its first state-title game since its 2002 Class AAAA championship season.

Class AAA

*Greater Atlanta Christian 13, Peach County 7: GAC QB Davis Mills was 16-of-27 passing for 223 yards as GAC took a 10-0 halftime lead and didn’t allow points until the final two minutes. Peach County QB Antonio Gibson (19-of-32, 195 yards) threw a 15-yard TD pass to Devontae Howard with 1:27 left. Peach County got the ball back with 11 seconds left but got only to midfield and was intercepted. All-state PK Brooks Buce kicked field goals of 25 and 33 yards. Peach County led 328-321 in total yards but missed field goals of 42 and 37 yards and suffered the only turnover of the game.

What it means – GAC reaches the state finals for the third time, first since 2014, in pursuit of its first-ever state title. The school began varsity football in 1991.

*Cedar Grove 55, Crisp County 0: Cedar Grove took a 41-0 halftime lead and recorded its sixth shutout, the most since the 1991 state runner-up team, which had eight. Crisp’s first three drives were a fumble and two safeties. DE DeAngelo had four tackles for losses. Jelani Woods was 7-of-9 passing for 121 yards and two touchdowns, both to Jadon Haselwood, who had four receptions for 108 yards.

What it means – Cedar Grove is in the state finals for the second time, first since 1991. Crisp County falls short of its first state-championship game. The margin of victory was the third-largest in GHSA semifinal history, and largest since Dublin beat Lovett 65-7 in a AA game in 2006. Crisp’s loss was the largest in state playoff history on a home field, breaking a record set in the 1983 Class AAAA championship game when Tift County beat LaGrange 59-6.

Class AA

*Benedictine 49, Callaway 10: Benedictine led 27-3 at halftime and put the game away with a 22-point third quarter. Wesley Kennedy rushed for 180 yards on eight carries, caught two passes for 43 yards and scored four touchdowns, including three in the first half. Cooper Marini’s 5-yard touchdown run made it 40-3 with 6:28 to play in the third quarter, and Benedictine’s reserves played the rest of the way. Callaway’s D.J. Atkins, a 2,000-yard rusher, finished with 129 yards on 26 carries. The Cavaliers’ only touchdown came on a 31-yard run by Braylon Sanders in the fourth quarter.

What it means – Benedictine is in the state finals the second time in three seasons, first since its Class AA title of 2014.

*Fitzgerald 42, Hapeville Charter 21: Fitzgerald built a 35-0 lead in the second quarter and coasted from there. J.D. King rushed for 152 yards on 20 carries and scored on runs of 15 and 23 yards. QB James Graham rushed for 57 yards and three touchdowns and was 6-of-14 passing for 74 yards. Ethan Gordon ran for 57 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Hapeville QB Hajj-Malik Williams ran for all three of the Hornets’ touchdowns and had 225 yards passing. Williams had 60 yards rushing, but Hapeville finished with just 43 rushing yards as a team.

What it means – Fitzgerald is in its fifth championship game (second in a row) and in position to win its first title since 1948 (Class A).

Class A (public)

*Macon County 48 Emanuel County Institute 26: Macon County won the expected shootout between high-scoring teams, but not in the usual way. K’hari Lane, who was four TD passes from tying Hutson Mason’s state record, was only 6-of-13 passing for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and 1,000-yard rusher Jared Danels was limited to 66 yards on 11 carries. But Daniels returned an interception 46 yards for a win-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter, and Lane, normally a big runner, rushed for 67 yards. Junior RB Akeevious McClendon rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on a season-high 15 carries. ECI QB Rhett Gay was 21-of-33 passing for 228 yards. Macon County scored right at its season average (46.3) while ECI was held to almost half its average (50.2) entering the game.

What it means – Macon County is in the finals for the first time since its Class A championship season of 1996. Lane has another game in which to break Mason’s single-season record for touchdowns in a season (54). Lane has 52.

*McIntosh County Academy 24, Clinch County 8: Valentin Salazar made a 37-yard field goal with 7:40 left for a 10-8 lead, and J.P. Palmer returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown on Clinch County’s next possession to put MCA in control. Palmer also scored on a 56-yard reception in the first quarter and a 13-yard run in the fourth after Clinch failed on a desperate fourth-down attempt. Palmer rushed for 102 yards on 18 carries and had two catches for 81 yards. Major Robinson was 9-of-17 passing for 142 yards. Clinch had 254 yards rushing but was 6-of-18 passing for 118 yards.

What it means – MCA advanced to its first state-championship game and became the 15th team in GHSA history to avenge a regular-season defeat in the semifinals. (Pace Academy was the last to do it in 2015 against Greater Atlanta Christian.)

Class A (private)

*Eagle’s Landing Christian 42, Tattnall Square 21: Eagle’s Landing Christian led 14-7 at halftime and pulled away with a 21-point third quarter on the way to its 21st consecutive victory. Trevor Gear rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown. QB Brayden Rush passed for 139 yards and two touchdowns (a 73-yarder to Sean Queen and a 5-yarder to Gear) and ran for a score. Caleb Dallas and Johnathan Youngblood returned interceptions for TDs in the second half. Tattnall Square’s Ahmad Barron ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

What it means – ELCA is in the finals for the fourth time in five seasons and can win its third state championship in that time (won in 2012 and 2015). ELCA can finished unbeaten for the first time in its history. Tattnall, an 11-time champion of the Georgia Interscholastic Association that joined the GHSA in 2014, was denied its first GHSA final.

*Fellowship Christian 31, Prince Avenue Christian 28: Fellowship Christian led 25-7 at halftime and 31-7 after a 5-yard touchdown run by Andrew Minkert midway through the third quarter and then held off a late rally. Prince Avenue Christian got possession of the ball at its 47-yard line with 2:12 remaining but fumbled on the first play. Fellowship Christian recovered and ran out the clock. Fellowship QB Jack Hardin passed for two touchdowns (25 yards to Ryan Reid and 11 yards to Merrick Haigler) and ran for two more.

What it means – Fellowship, which started varsity football in 2006, is in its first championship game after going nine years since its last winning season. Fellowship and Roswell of the highest classification give the city of Roswell two teams in the finals. Prince Avenue was denied its first state final since 2012.

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