Here’s an early look at some of the story lines for the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs this week:
*Best draw: Valdosta
No. 1-ranked Valdosta, which is seeking its first state title since 1998, is the only top 10 team in its quarter of the bracket and one of only three ranked teams in its half of the bracket. The first No. 1 seed the Wildcats could face is Dacula, which went 6-4 during the regular season (although that record is deceiving because of the Falcons’ difficult non-region schedule). The Wildcats’ biggest hurdle to reaching the Georgia Dome is likely to come in the semifinals, where they could be matched up with second-ranked Dalton.
*Toughest draw: Evans
Evans had the best overall record (7-3) of any team in 3-AAAAAAA and could’ve won the region title with a victory in the regular-season finale against Heritage-Conyers, but the Knights put themselves in a bad spot when they lost to Heritage and fell to the No. 2 seed. Evans opens the playoffs against Lee County, which would travel the same path after the first round. If the seeds and rankings hold, the Evans-Lee winner could have to face No. 3 Mays, No. 4 Tucker and No. 5 Northside-Warner Robins just to reach the final.
*Most intriguing matchup: Hughes at Johns Creek
Hughes finished as the No. 4 seed in tough Region 5, but the Panthers reached the playoffs each of the past four seasons in the highest classification, winning in the first round three times. Johns Creek is making the third playoff appearance in the program’s eight-year history and won its first region title last week. Both teams play in nine-team regions, so the opportunities to see how they would fare against other regions were limited. Hughes had the most impressive victory, beating Region 2-AAAAAAA champion Westlake 10-9.
*Best chance for a win by a No. 4 seed: Coffee vs. Heritage-Conyers
Coffee finished in fourth place in Region 1 after losing to Lee County last week, but the Trojans spent time in the top 10 this season. Their three region losses came by a total of 19 points – 17-14 against No. 5 Northside, 15-10 against No. 1 Valdosta, and 31-20 against No. 8 Lee County. The Trojans will be matched up with a Heritage team that won the Region 3 title with a 42-23 victory over Evans last week. Heritage (6-4) is in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and seeking its first playoff victory since 2011.
*Best team sitting at home: Houston County
Houston County spent seven weeks ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAA, but the Bears finished in last place in five-team Region 1 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They were quarterfinalists the past two seasons. Houston County’s 7-3 overall record was the best of any team that missed the playoffs, and it was better than 15 teams that did make it in. Greenbrier, Douglas County and Sprayberry, all of which went 6-4, were the only other AAAAAA teams that finished with a winning record but missed the playoffs.
(R8 #3) Gainesville at (R6 #2) Harrison
(R2 #4) Bradwell Institute at (R4 #1) Tucker
(R1 #3) Lee County at (R3 #2) Evans
(R7 #4) Cambridge at (R5 #1) Mays
(R6 #3) Allatoona at (R8 #2) Lanier
(R4 #4) Jonesboro at (R2 #1) Glynn Academy
(R3 #3) Grovetown at (R1 #2) Northside-Warner Robins
(R5 #4) Hughes at (R7 #1) Johns Creek
(R4 #3) Stephenson at (R2 #2) Effingham County
(R6 #4) Sequoyah at (R8 #1) Dacula
(R5 #3) Northgate at (R7 #2) Centennial
(R3 #4) Lakeside-Evans at (R1 #1) Valdosta
(R2 #3) Richmond Hill at (R4 #2) Lovejoy
(R8 #4) Winder-Barrow at (R6 #1) Dalton
(R7 #3) Alpharetta at (R5 #2) Alexander
(R1 #4) Coffee at (R3 #1) Heritage-Conyers