State playoff predictions

On Friday, the season that matters most – the postseason – begins. The 10 games played to this point by each Class AA team – in some cases just nine thanks to weather – were designed to eliminate all but 32 teams. Those select few remaining have a shot at the ultimate prize: a state championship.

But before the AA championship is decided on Saturday, Dec. 10 at 1 p.m., there’s a tough four-game slate teams who make it to the fifth and final game must play. Which two teams will win four games?

That’s anyone’s guess, and below is the guess of Class AA blogger Adam Krohn:

 

 

 

2016-class-aa-football-playoff-bracket-with-predictions

Click to enlarge. Predictions by Adam Krohn/AJC.

So there it is. The Benedictine Cadets will win the state championship by beating the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricane in the final. It would be the Cadets’ second AA championship in three seasons and first-ever undefeated season, and they would have avenged their 54-28 quarterfinals loss last year to the Purple Hurricane, who would finish as AA state runners up for the second consecutive season.

And what a remarkable story a Cadets championship would be. Before the season even began, they were thrown into a controversy when its own Region 2 so badly didn’t want them that member schools threatened legal action. Then, in the middle of the season, they were hit with adversity when Hurricane Matthew paid Savannah a visit. Through it all, they dominated the regular season by going 10-0 for the second year in a row. They outscored the competition 405-81. The closest a team came to the Cadets was Atlanta’s St. Pius X Golden Lions, a program ranked No. 6 in AAAA at the time. The Cadets beat them 21-7 in Atlanta on Sept. 2.

The Cadets have had a target on their backs all season long and that won’t change in the postseason. But they’re battle-tested and hungry after their loss last year to Fitzgerald, which robbed them of a second consecutive championship. They’re 30-1 in their last 31 games. These factors, along with everything else stated above, is why this blogger believes the Cadets are your 2016 AA state champs.

That’s not to say the Cadets should expect to coast through the tournament. Getting to the Georgia Dome will be tough and, if the tournament unfolds as predicted, Fitzgerald would be there to greet them in the final. The Purple Hurricane also make a strong case to take home the hardware.

For one, the Purple Hurricane’s core remains largely intact from last year’s runner-up squad, led by running back and AJC Super 11 selection JD King, who recently surpassed 5,000 rushing yards for his career. The only team that stood in their way last season, the state champion Pace Academy Knights, are no longer in AA. Given those two facts, it would be logical to conclude that this season belongs to Fitzgerald. However, the Purple Hurricane showed they were mortal with their loss to an unranked team in Tift County.

Of course, a regular season loss isn’t the reason I’m picking Fitzgerald to lose in the championship game. I simply believe the Cadets have demonstrated they’re a better team this season.

Other takeaways from the predictions:

  • I have a No. 1 seed losing in the first round: the Hapeville Charter Hornets of Region 6. I understand it’s a very bold prediction and perhaps a bit of a reach to expect a win from a Monticello Hurricanes team that finished 3-7 to sneak in as a No. 4 seed from Region 8. But for me, the jury is still out on the new Region 6, a region that was stripped of all the private schools that dominated AA across all sports over the past several years. As such, I’ve predicted a first-round exit for all Region 6 teams. While the Hornets have a  sexy 7-3 record, they’re 1-3 against non-region opponents. It would be an upset for the Hurricanes to win, but it’s going to take some time before it’s known how good the new Region 6 is.
  • I have a No. 2 seed advancing to the quarterfinals: the Thomasville Bulldogs out of Region 1. Their 5-4 overall record is misleading because all four of those losses are to playoff teams, with three coming against teams from higher classifications, including AAAA’s No. 5 Cairo. All games were competitive save their game against Cook, a No. 3 seed in AAA. They beat a ranked Brooks County team in region play and came to within 13 points of beating Fitzgerald in the season finale despite starting in a 20-0 hole. To get to the quarterfinals, where it’s predicted they’ll meet their fate against Benedictine, I have them beating a No. 3 seed in Dodge County then upsetting Pepperell, the No. 1 seed from Region 7 in the second round. The rest of the predicted quarterfinalists are No. 1 seeds.
  • Other games that could be considered upsets or bold predictions: Screven County beating undefeated Callaway in the quarterfinals; Heard County beating Rockmart in the first round; Rabun County beating Vidalia in Round 2.
  • Feel free to take these predictions with a grain of salt. Last year’s predictions were bungled so badly that the eventual state champions, Pace Academy, were picked to lose in the first round. Granted, the Knights were a No. 4 seed when they made their improbable run, but coach Chris Slade never let me hear the end of it. Good luck to all AA teams this postseason.

Even though they’re completely meaningless compared to the tournament seeding, updated top 10 rankings were released following Week 12. Perhaps their use is simply to serve as a gauge for what to expect in the playoffs in terms of upsets and which teams to keep an eye on.

There was a bit of shuffling from last week. The Jefferson County Warriors fell four spots to No. 7 after the Screven County Gamecocks beat the Warriors in the regular season finale to claim Region 4. The Gamecocks moved up two spots to No. 5, just behind No. 3 Callaway and No. 4 Rabun County, who each moved up a spot as a result of Jefferson County’s loss. Pepperell and Vidalia swapped places and Washington County’s loss paved the way for Hapeville Charter’s debut at No. 10.

Although I have Hapeville losing in the first round, it’s still worth noting that it was the Hornets emerging in the new Region 6. Their seven wins is the most in program history, which began in 2011, and this is just their second winning season, the first coming last year. They will be in the playoffs for the first time in team history and clinched their first region title in convincing fashion: a 57-6 win over K.I.P.P.

Here’s a glimpse at the updated rankings, with the previous week’s rankings in parenthesis:

1. (1) Benedictine (10-0)
2. (2) Fitzgerald (9-1)
3. (4) Callaway (10-0)
4. (5) Rabun County (9-0)
5. (7) Screven County (9-1)
6. (8) Pepperell (8-1)
7. (3) Jefferson County (9-1)
8. (6) Vidalia (8-2)
9. (10) Thomasville (5-4)
10. (NR) Hapeville Charter (7-3)
Out: N0. 9 Washington County (8-2)

In brief:

  • Banks County receiver Bryce Bennett, Heard County kicker Trey Wiggins, Metter quarterback Shamel Johnson and Rabun County quarterback Bailey Fisher earned GHSF Daily’s “Top Performances” honors, while Screven County earned “Lines of Distinction” honors.
  • Check out the season stats for AA according to MaxPreps.
  • The Benedictine Cadets host two events on Friday: the first round of the state playoffs and, thanks to Hurricane Matthew, a postponed homecoming.
  • ToombsNow has a story of Swainsboro coach Mark Stroud coaching in the regular season finale against a Toombs County program he helped build. Swainsboro won 26-21. Here’s footage from the second half of that game.
  • Here’s the Region 8 hardware Rabun County took home for the second year in a row. It was the Wildcats’ third overall region title. It was coach Lee Shaw’s first career undefeated regular season at 9-0. The Wildcats were leading their season opener against Mount Pisgah Christian 21-14 when the game was called by lightning. This is Shaw’s 20th season as a head coach according to GHSFHA.org.
  • The final score of the Screven County-Jefferson County game of 49-34 does not do the Gamecocks justice. They put the game away before the fourth quarter. There was a running clock. Here’s the Region 4 hardware.
  • As Hapeville Charter shows, it’s always fun when a defensive lineman gets an interception. The Hornets later celebrated the first region title in program history. Fox 5 has the highlights.
  • Here’s Pepperell celebrating its Region 7 championship. Here’s a highlight play from that game. Dragons coach Rick Hurst was still happy come Saturday morning.
  • The Georgia-South Carolina Border Bowl IV teams were announced. AA selections include Washington County running back Darius Tucker, Laney receiver Jaylen Watson, Washington County offensive lineman Gambill Williams, Screven County offensive linemen Kameron Kirkland and Lewis Wallace, Jefferson County defensive linemen Parker Stokes and Melton Brown, Laney defensive lineman Tyrone Truesdell, Washington County defensive lineman Chandler Seales, Laney linebacker Willie Eubanks, Screven County linebacker Richmond Whitfield and Laney defensive back TJ Smith. Coaches Joel Ingram of Washington County and Ron Duncan of Screven County will serve as assistants on Team Georgia’s staff.
  • Nykeem Farrow of Bleckley County had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was one of WMAZ Channel 13’s plays of the week.
  • Banks County beating Elbert County was voted by NE Georgia Recruits twitter followers as the week’s biggest surprise. Banks County won 49-29.
  • Vidalia linebacker and AJC Super 11 selection Nate McBride had an interception that was nominated by WTOC Sports as a play of the week.
  • Laney’s Willie Eubanks and Tahj Tanksley were named Players of the Game by WJBF Sports. Laney beat Josey 31-0 in the regular season finale.
  • Here’s a profile by Morgan Lee of accessWDUN of Banks County’s Bryce Bennett, who was named Player of the Week.

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