It is hard to pick a best game from the Class AAA quarterfinals, for good reason. Each matchup features potential upsets, defending champions, rich traditions and newcomers trying to reach the semifinals for the first time ever.
As mentioned in my Tuesday blog, the top seven ranked teams are still competing.
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)
So where to we start? What about No. 2 vs. No. 3?
The highest-ranked game is between No. 2 Peach County, which faces No. 3 Westminster at Alfred E. Thompson Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Westminster, the No. 1 seed from Region 5, won titles in 1971, 1978 and 2015. The Wildcats are led by dynamic back Zay Malcome, who set a school season rushing record by moving to 1,680 yards after last week’s 45-21 victory against Savannah.
“He is going to get his yards, and nobody going to shut him down,” said Peach Coach Chad Campbell. “We just can’t allow him to go the distance. We have to tackle him. He will get yards, but those big 50- and 60-yard explosive plays, we can’t let that happen.”
Peach is trying to get back to the dominance it had when it won state titles in 2005, 2006 and 2009. The Trojans have not been to the quarterfinals since 2012.
“Peach is, well, I think they’ve been ranked No. 2 all year, and for good reason,” said Westminster coach Gerry Romberg. “They’re extremely well-coached and fast on both sides of the ball. They aren’t the biggest team we have faced all year, but across the board they are the fastest team we have faced all year.”
Westminster, who won the coin toss for home-field, was lucky to avoid a trip to Anderson Field in Fort Valley where the whole town shuts down on Friday nights in the fall. Peach may be facing a Westminster home crowd, but you can expect a caravan from Middle Georgia to arrive in Atlanta before kickoff.
The winner will face GAC/Liberty County winner.
Pierce County at Crisp County
The main chance for an upset could come from the game between No. 5 Crisp County and unranked, yet high-powered, Pierce County (9-3).
Crisp County is 12-0 and on the best run in school history, reaching quarterfinals for the first time since 2001, when it lost to Paulding County. Should Crisp win, it would make the semifinals for the first time since 1995.
The Cougars defense is anchored by 6-4, 225-pound defensive lineman Markaviest “Big Cat” Bryant, who has been recruited by nearly every Division 1 program in the nation. Bryant is the No. 19 senior prospect in the state. Quay Walker, a 6-3, 215-pound linebacker/receiver, is the No. 22 junior prospect in the state.
Crisp defeated Lovett last week in the final seconds when quarterback Patrick Felton completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to win 30-29.
Crisp has given up 13.5 points per game this season and will play against a Pierce County offense that has gotten used to putting up big numbers. Pierce has scored 43.8 points per game this season. Stetson Bennett, who has passed for 3,517 yards, will lead the way for the Bears. Shyhiem Clark has rushed for 1,305 yards for a Bears team that has averaged 499.2 yards per game.
Last week Pierce defeated Bremen 49-27 in a game that saw Bennett rush for 148 yards and pass for 197. Clark rushed for 215 yards.
The winner will face Cedar Grove/Calhoun winner.
Greater Atlanta Christian at Liberty County
Top-ranked GAC will travel to Hinesville for its game against No. 7 Liberty County 6:30 p.m. Friday.
This game will feature the two top prospects in the state. GAC quarterback Davis Mills, who has committed to Stanford, is the No. 1 prospect. Defensive back/wide receiver Richard LeCounte, who has committed to Georgia, is No. 2.
Mills was 24-of-27 passing for 260 yards in last week’s 34-21 victory against Worth County. The Spartans kicker, Brooks Buce, had field goals of 47 and 52 yards.
LeCounte may get a lot of the attention, but quarterback Jaalon Frazier has rushed for 1,171 yards and passed for 2,723 yards and 40 touchdowns. Neither program has won a state title, but GAC has been in five semifinals and two finals. Last season GAC was ousted by eventual champion Pace Academy.
Liberty, who has never been to a quarterfinal, is a 14-point underdog, according to the Maxwell Ratings’ projection.
The winner will face the Peach County/Westminster winner.
Cedar Grove at Calhoun
Cedar Grove, the No. 2 seed from Region 5, will travel to Phil Reeve Stadium to face Calhoun, the No. 1 seed from Region 6. Both programs made the Class AAA semifinals last season. The last game between these two programs came in the 2014 Class AAA second round, when Calhoun won 38-10.
Under coach Hal Lamb, Calhoun is 8-4 in the quarterfinals. The Yellow Jackets overcame a slow start against Jackson last week, trailing 20-14 in the first half. Calhoun shut out Jackson in the second half to win 41-20. Baylon Spector led the way playing quarterback, running back and linebacker. He rushed for 100 yards and passed for 137.
Cedar Grove moved past Jenkins 28-3 last week to make it to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Running back Grant Walker rushed for 210 yards (1,509 on the season). The Saints have not allowed a touchdown against its first-team defense in the last seven games.
Cedar Grove has several Division 1 prospects that are sure to impact this game. Linemen Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer, both 6-5 and 330 pounds, play offense and alternate on defense. Both have committed to Georgia.
The Maxwell Ratings’ projection has Calhoun by 2.
The winner will face Pierce/Crisp County winner.