Semifinal Primer: Predictable brackets holding true to form

(Daniel Varnado/Special to AJC)

(Daniel Varnado/Special to AJC)

The Georgia high school football playoffs are down to the semifinals, with 16 games scheduled around the state tonight.

So far, they’ve been as predictable as any in state history. Every No. 1- or No. 2-ranked team is still playing.

Contrast that to 2015, when state titles were won by unranked Westminster, ninth-ranked Pace Academy and 10th-ranked Allatoona.

This year, only two teams outside the top seven in their classifications – unranked Westlake (AAAAAAA) and No. 10 Hapeville Charter (AA) – have survived.

Here are more things to know about the penultimate weekend of the season.

*Newcomers: Four schools are in the semifinals for the first time. They are Hapeville Charter (first varsity season 2011), Fellowship Christian (2004), Westlake (1988) and Tattnall Square (joined GHSA in 2014). Tattnall won 11 state titles in the Georgia Independent School Association.

*Regulars: Twelve of the 32 semifinal teams made the final four last season. Buford has arrived a state-record 10 consecutive times. Eagle’s Landing Christian has made it six in a row.

*Best matchups: The AAA semifinals figure to be the tightest. The computer Maxwell Ratings peg Greater Atlanta Christian as a three-point favorite over Peach County and Cedar Grove as a two-point pick over Crisp County.

*The blue bloods: The AAAAAA semifinals have been called the final four of Georgia high school football blue bloods. Valdosta and Dalton have fielded teams for more than 90 years and rank in the top 10 all-time in victories. Tucker (2008, 2011) and Northside-Warner Robins (2006, 2007, 2014) have five state titles in the past 10 years.

*Nationally ranked: Three of the four Class AAAAAAA semifinal teams hold top-25 national rankings. Grayson is as high as No. 5 (CalPreps, MaxPreps). Roswell is as high as No. 7 (PrepNation). Mill Creek is as high as No. 12 (High School Football America, PrepForce). The most widely known poll, USA Today’s, puts all three in the top 15.

*The perfect four: All four semifinal teams in the Class A private-school division are 12-0. It has happened only five times since the start of statewide playoffs in 1948 that all four semifinal teams in a classification were unbeaten and untied. This group features No. 1 ELCA, No. 2 Prince Avenue Christian, No. 3 Fellowship Christian and No. 5 Tattnall Square.

*1 versus 2: In AAAAAA, No. 1 Valdosta plays at No. 2 Dalton. In AAA, No. 1 GAC plays at No. 2 Peach County. No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchups have taken place only 12 times in the previous 30 years of semifinals, but also twice last season, when No. 2 Blessed Trinity beat No. 1 Calhoun and No. 2 ELCA beat No. 1 Prince Avenue Christian.

*Fanatical fan: Tim Wilson will attend his 500th consecutive Peach County game on Friday. The Trojans fan’s first game was Sept. 5, 1975, when Peach beat Carver of Columbus 43-0 at Anderson Field. Wilson was 12 at the time. Peach is 340-159 in those games. (Seth Ellerbee talked with Wilson in his Class AAA blog for ajc.com this week.)

*Rematches: Two semifinals are rematches of regular-season games. Clinch County (Class A public) beat McIntosh County Academy 32-7 on Aug. 26. Thomson (AAAA) beat Jefferson 42-20 on Sept. 2. This has happened 43 previous times since the GHSA began doing statewide playoffs in all classes in 1948. The original winner is 28-14. (One of the 43 regular-season games was a tie.)

*Coin flips: Seven teams are playing at home after winning coin tosses. That’s per GHSA rules when region champions (or other same-seeded teams) meet in the semifinals. Since 2008, when the semis were taken out of the Georgia Dome, the home team is 26-15 when region champions face off. Further, the higher-ranked team is 14-4 at home, but only 11-12 when losing the toss and playing on the road. The seven that won tosses to play at home this week are Grayson, Dalton, Rome, Cartersville, Peach County, Benedictine and Fitzgerald.

*Changing venues: Two semifinals were moved because the original home team did not have enough permanent seating as required by the GHSA. Roswell and Westlake, two Fulton County schools, will play at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta. Westlake was the original home team, but neither had the required 6,000 seats for a AAAAAAA semifinal. Jefferson now will play at Thomson. Jefferson fell 800 short of the 4,000 required for AAAA. That was a tough pill for Jefferson to swallow because the school’s stadium is sufficient for AAA. Jefferson has AAA enrollment, but was forced into AAAA this academic year by the GHSA’s new out-of-county enrollment rule.

*Notable coaches: Jeff Herron of Grayson is in the semifinals with his fourth school. He also led Oconee County, Camden County and Prince Avenue Christian to final fours. Two other coaches are back with their second schools. They are McIntosh County’s Robby Robinson (2002 Metter) and Rome’s John Reid (2006 East Paulding).

*More coaching trivia: Four coaches are working for their alma maters – Dalton’s Matt Land, Crisp County’s Shelton Felton, Northside’s Kevin Kinsler and Tucker’s Bryan Lamar. Three semifinal coaches are alumni of DeKalb County schools. They are Lamar, Robinson (Shamrock) and Kevin Whitley of Stockbridge (Lakeside). Two went to Clewiston High in Florida – Fellowship Christian’s Al Morrell and Hapeville Charter’s Winston Gordon. In fact, Morrell was Gordon’s head coach at Clewiston. Five semifinal coaches are in their first seasons leading their programs. They are Herron, Alan Rodemaker of Valdosta, Kareem Reid of Westlake, Chance Jones of Tattnall Square and Greg Vandagriff of Prince Avenue. Vandagriff replaced Herron.

*Notable players: Only 7.6 percent of Georgia’s 421 football-playing schools are still alive, but 48.0 percent of Georgia’s top 25 senior prospects will be on the field tonight. The 12 are No. 1 Davis Mills of GAC, No. 3 DeAngelo Gibbs, No. 7 Jamyest Williams and No. 24 Tony Gray of Grayson, No. 8 A.J. Terrell and No. 16 Jaden Hunter of Westlake, No. 10 Xavier McKinney and No. 21 LeAnthony Williams of Roswell, No. 11 Netori Johnson of Cedar Grove, No. 13 Malik Herring of Mary Persons, No. 19 Markaviest Bryant of Crisp County and No. 20 William Poole of Hapeville Charter.

*Record watch: Macon County quarterback K’hari Lane has thrown 50 touchdown passes, four short of Hutson Mason’s single-season record set in 2009. Lane has thrown five TD passes in a game eight times this season. Macon County is at home against Emanuel County Institute.

*Next: The 16 winners will advance to the finals Dec. 9-10 in the Georgia Dome.

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