Remaining coaches show mutual respect before big weekend

(AJC)

(AJC)

There have been some big games throughout the Class AAA football season, but the four quarterfinal matchups that will be played Friday could reach all-time show-stopper status.

Of the eight teams remaining, Pierce County is the only team without a top-10 ranking. The rest fill out the top seven ranked teams in the state.

1. (1) Greater Atlanta Christian (11-1)
2. (2) Peach County (11-1)
3. (3) Westminster (10-2)
4. (4) Calhoun (10-2)
5. (5) Crisp County (12-0)
6. (6) Cedar Grove (10-2)
7. (7) Liberty County (11-1)

I thought it would be a perfect time to call each of the remaining coaches to hear, in their own words, what they thought about the programs they will play Friday night. The best place to start? The No. 1 team in the state.

Greater Atlanta Christian at Liberty County

GAC, the No. 1 seed from Region 7, will travel from Atlanta to Hinesville, near Savannah, to take on the No. 7 Liberty, the No. 1 seed from Region 2. This will be the first meeting between the teams. (It should be mentioned that due to a long travel time for GAC, the game has been moved up to 6:30 p.m. Friday and will be held at Donnel Woods Stadium in Hinesville. The winner will face Peach/Westminster winner.)

GAC coach Tim Hardy on Liberty: “Clearly Coach (Kirk) Warner has done an excellent job. He has a really talented team, and they are playing at a high level and executing in all phases of the game. We are excited about a challenge of a South Georgia road trip. No playoff run is complete without a trip to South Georgia. So we are looking forward to it and have a great respect for who they are and what they’re doing. I hope we can compete our best and find a way to get it done.”

Liberty County coach Kirk Warner on GAC: “First thing, you have to start with the quarterback, (Davis) Mills. He is the No. 1 player in the state for a reason. He can make all the throws. Very smart, intelligent guy. He can hurt you with his legs, too, although he prefers to throw. They’re just a well-disciplined team and they have some athletes on both sides of the field. So we are definitely going to have our hands full. Our game plan is to cut down on the explosive plays and to make them earn everything they get. We just have to be physical. We have been physical at times, especially in our secondary. Those guys have to be physical. They run a lot of timing routes, so if we can be physical with them and get the timing off, hopefully our front seven can get to Mills a couple of times.”

Maxwell Rating projection: GAC will win by 14 points.

Peach County at Westminster

No. 2 Peach County, the No. 1 seed from Region 4, will travel to No. 3 Westminster, the No. 1 seed from Region 5, after losing a coin toss.  Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Alfred E. Thompson Stadium in Atlanta. It is the first meeting between the two programs. The winner will face Greater Atlanta Christian/Liberty Winner.

Westminster coach Gerry Romberg on Peach County: “First off, man, the program has a rich tradition in football. I think they won the state in 2005, 2006 and 2009 and they just have great football tradition. This is a school that has a lot of … just the whole fabric of the community is built around the football program. So, we are really excited to play a school with such great tradition because this is our first time playing them. Looking forward to it. Just some researching a little bit on them, I told our players today that this is one of those ‘Friday Night Lights’ towns where football is so important to the community. We were fortunate to win the coin-toss, but I am sure they will bring a huge crowd up to Atlanta on Friday night because football is so important to that community. We are excited for the challenge for sure.”

Peach County coach Chad Campbell on Westminster: “Well, I mean they have a good football team. They’re very explosive offensively. They have a lot of weapons. The quarterback is playing well and makes good decisions with the ball. The (Zay) Malcome kid, he has been great. So we will have our hands full. If practice today indicates anything, then we should be able to carry the momentum from last week into the game. We had a really good practice today. It was upbeat and focused. This time of year, it’s all about who plays the best and makes few mistakes. We have to limit those big plays from Malcome and their other back. He is making big plays. Has been all year, on special teams, too. He is a dynamic player. They will lull you to sleep with play-action and then send it over the top, so we have to do a good job with our eyes and play sound football on all three phases.”

Maxwell Rating projection: Westminster by 5

Cedar Grove at Calhoun

Both teams reached the semifinals last season. No. 4 Calhoun, the No. 1 seed from Region 6, will face No. 6 Cedar Grove, the No. 2 seed from Region 5, at Phil Reeve Stadium in Calhoun at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The two programs have only met once, in the 2014 semifinal, where Calhoun won 38-18.

Cedar Grove coach Jimmy Smith on Calhoun: “They are a great program and its something that we have been growing toward and inspiring to be. We have been looking forward to playing them, and we have to see how good we can be against them. It is all about execution. Execution is key. The size and speed we have is important for our program, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t execute. That’s the only thing that matters and the thing that matters most.”

Calhoun coach Hal Lamb on Cedar Grove: “They are a really, really talented football team. A lot of size, a lot of speed. They’ve got the total package. So we are really concerned, obviously. It is going to be a battle. It’s going to be a challenge for our guys, you know, so far so good. We have a good start and we will continue to get better throughout the week and put a product out there Friday and see what happens. We obviously cannot turn the ball over. When we have the ball in the red zone, we have to get the ball in the end zone. We can’t settle for field goals. We can’t get stopped on downs, because they’re very good on defense and offense. Their size is really a big concern of mine. You know, you still have to play the game.”

Maxwell Rating projection: Calhoun by 2

Pierce County at Crisp County

Fifth-ranked Crisp County, the No. 1 seed from Region 1, will play Pierce County, the No. 2 seed from Region 2, at the Cougar Den in Cordele at 7:30 p.m. Friday. This will be the first meeting between the programs. The winner will face Cedar Grove/Calhoun winner.

Crisp County coach Shelton Felton on Pierce County: “We are having an awesome day of practice right now. Man, Pierce County, coached by coach (Sean) Pender — he is a great offensive mind and their quarterback is the real deal; he makes it go. He throws it everywhere to receivers anywhere, just the real deal. I know everyone talks about Jake Fromm, but good God Almighty, he is special. But we are excited to make it this far and hope to see next Friday.”

Pierce County coach Sean Pender on Crisp: “They’re a really good team, in particular. But they are a really good team on defense. They are a balanced team offensively and can hurt you with big plays. Defensively, those two outside linebackers they have are pretty special characters. We are taking this one game at a time. We have game-planned for Crisp, and we are going to try to do what we do best. If that works against them, perfect. I know we are starting to become more balanced offensively but defensively we have to step up our game. We have to eliminate Crisp’s big plays. They are very athletic. There is no denying that. They have a lot of speed and size to go with it, and when you are fast and big, you typically are able to make some plays.”

Maxwell Rating projection: Crisp by 16


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