Blessed Trinity vs. Westminster
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Alfred E. Thompson Stadium, Atlanta
Rankings: Blessed Trinity (10-3 in 2016) is No. 2 in Class AAAA; Westminster (10-3 in 2016) is No. 5 in AAA.
Last meeting: Westminster won 38-31 in overtime in the 2015 Class AAA championship game.
Things to know: This is a rematch of the 2015 Class AAA championship game won by Westminster in overtime. Blessed Trinity had beaten Westminster 24-10 in the regular season and entered the game 13-0-1 and heavily favored. The teams did not meet last season as they reserved room in their schedules to play in the American Football Classic in Ireland. Westminster must replace its RB/KR Zay Malcome (Penn freshman), its best player in a decade. The best returning players are DE Truman Jones (offers from Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Virginia) and OL Peter Rooney (committed to UConn). Blessed Trinity has three preseason all-state players, all juniors who are two-way starters. They are TE/LB J.D. Bertrand (committed to Georgia), RB/LB Steele Chambers (four-star recruit) and WR/DB Ryan Davis (1,300 all-purpose yards).
Fitzgerald at Hapeville Charter
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Banneker High School, College Park
Rankings: Fitzgerald (13-2 in 2016) is No. 3 in Class AA; Hapeville Charter (10-4 in 2016) is No. 2 in AA.
Last meeting: Fitzgerald won 42-21 in the 2016 Class AA semifinals.
Things to know: Fitzgerald must replace RB J.D. King, who signed with Oklahoma State after rushing for almost 6,000 yards in his career (1,798 last season). Senior QB James Graham is 26-4 as a starter and has more than 2,500 yards both passing and rushing over the past two seasons. LB Donterious Milsap was a preseason all-state pick this year. This is without question Hapeville’s most talented team in the program’s seven-year history. QB Hajj-Malik Williams returns for his senior season after passing for 2,901 yards and rushing for a team-best 534 in 2016. Williams will be joined by five preseason all-state selections – WR Rory Starkey, OL Ousman Traore, DL Kingsley Enagbare, DL/LB Caleb Kelley and DB Chris Smith. And the Hornets added RB Tyleek Collins, a 1,000-yard rusher who transferred from Benedictine. Fitzgerald’s victory over Hapeville last season put the Purple Hurricane in the state finals for the second consecutive season. Fitzgerald built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and led 35-6 at halftime. Hapeville had won just 14 games in its first five seasons before going 10-4 in 2016 and making its first playoff appearance.
Greater Atlanta Christian at Lovett
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Martin E. Kilpatrick Stadium, Atlanta
Rankings: Greater Atlanta Christian (13-2 in 2016) is No. 2 in Class AAA; Lovett (8-4 in 2016) is No. 7 in AAA.
Last meeting: Greater Atlanta Christian won 31-6 in 2016.
Things to know: Greater Atlanta Christian returns 15 starters from a team that reached the Class AAA final in 2016 and put five players on the preseason all-state team. RB/DB Kyler McMichael is the highest-profile player in the group. The Clemson commit rushed for 1,493 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and is the No. 14 cornerback prospect in the 247Sports Composite ratings. GAC must replace Davis Mills, the nation’s No. 1 pro-style QB last season who signed with Stanford. His replacement is expected to be junior Joshua Rose or sophomore Jackson Hardy. Lovett is replacing QB Brady Tindall, who passed for 1,996 yards and ran for a team-high 695 yards in 2016. He’s playing for Mercer now. Senior Crawford Schwieger passed for just 144 yards and rushed for 181 last year but saw action in nine games. The top three receivers are back, including K.J. Wallace (51 catches, 612 yards) and preseason all-state TE Nick Jackson (26-406). GAC’s victory in last year’s game was its third consecutive in a series it leads 7-6. McMichael ran for a season-high 196 yards in that game, which the Spartans led 10-6 midway through the third quarter but pulled away down the stretch.
Hillgrove vs. Buford
When, where: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta
Rankings: Hillgrove (5-6 in 2016) is unranked in Class AAAAAAA; Buford (13-2 in 2016) is No. 2 in AAAAA.
Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.
Things to know: Hillgrove had its first losing record in a full varsity season last year but still earned a playoff berth. The Hawks return most of their key players, and the Marietta Daily Journal has projected them as the favorites to win Region 3-AAAAAAA. Players to watch include TE/WR Chigoziem Okonkwo (expected to sign with Maryland or Georgia Tech), DB Jaylen McCollough (nation’s No. 3 safety in the Class of 2019) and QB Hunter Arters (2,100 yards passing in 2016). Buford has made 10 consecutive appearances in the state finals, winning seven in that stretch. The Wolves’ top player is Anthony Grant, a Tennessee commitment who rushed for 1,484 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. As a linebacker, Grant had 47 tackles, three sacks and eight QB pressures. WR Tyler Gillis, a transfer from Lambert, was a preseason all-state pick, and RB Christian Turner has committed to Michigan. Hillgrove coach Phillip Ironside needs one victory to reach 100 wins in Georgia. He is 99-61 in 16 seasons (2006-2017 at Hillgrove, 2002-2005 at Campbell) Buford coach John Ford is in his first game with the Wolves after going 40-12 in four seasons at Roswell, including 28-2 the past two years. Ford replaces Jess Simpson, who is with the Atlanta Falcons after going 164-12 in 12 seasons leading Buford.
McEachern vs. Mill Creek
When, where: 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta
Rankings: McEachern (11-2 in 2016) is No. 5 in Class AAAAAAA; Mill Creek (13-1 in 2016) is No. 7 in AAAAAAA.
Last meeting: Mill Creek won 31-28 in the 2016 Class AAAAAAA quarterfinals.
Things to know: Mill Creek returns just four starters from a team that finished 13-1 and reached the state semifinals for the second consecutive season. QB Cameron Turley (2,351 passing yards in 2016) is now playing baseball at Georgia Tech. Also gone are the top three rushers and top three receivers from last season. One key returnee is John Harris, a 6-foot-5, 275 guard who was a preseason all-state selection and has committed to Virginia Tech. McEachern must replace QB Bailey Hockman, who passed for 2,604 yards last season and signed with Florida State, as well as 15 other starters. Malik Evans is expected to take over for Hockman. Leading rusher Paris Brown (1,148 yards) returns for his junior season, and senior WR Genuine Potts (28 catches, 250 yards) is expected to have a big season. In last year’s playoff game at McEachern, Turley’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Ace Williams with 3:09 remaining provided the winning points and accounted for more than one-third of his 170 passing yards. Hockman passed for a season-high 374 yards as Mill Creek limited the Indians to 14 yards rushing.
Norcross vs. Colquitt County
When, where: 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta
Rankings: Norcross (11-1 in 2016) is No. 9 in Class AAAAAAA; Colquitt County (8-5 in 2016) is No. 2 in AAAAAAA.
Last meeting: Norcross won 14-9 in the 2013 Class AAAAAA semifinals.
Things to know: Norcross defeated Colquitt County in the 2012 and 2013 semifinals en route to state titles. Colquitt then won the titles in 2014 and 2015. The schools have not met otherwise. Norcross graduated QB Baron Radcliff (Georgia Tech baseball) and almost every substantial yard-gainer on offense. RB Omar Sinclair (342 yards rushing, 170 receiving, 141 returning, nine touchdowns) is a returner to watch. Norcross has a strong front seven led by DE Dareus Barnhill (18 tackles for losses), DT Nazir Sy (16 TFL, eight sacks, committed to Western Kentucky) and OLB Terrion Dangerfield (10 TFL). Norcross has the most accomplished kicking game in the state with Cole Hanna and Jake Carmada sharing duties. Colquitt County’s new quarterback, replacing graduated Jay Saunders (2,915 yards passing), will be Steven Krajewski, who moved in from Michigan a year ago. He has several mid-major offers, including one from Georgia State. Daijun Edwards rushed for 887 yards as a freshman last season. Colquitt returns four starters on defense. One is J.J. Peterson, the No. 1 OLB prospect nationally.
Northside (Warner Robins) at Warner Robins
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, McConnell-Talbert Stadium, Warner Robins
Rankings: Northside (11-3 in 2016) is No. 4 in Class AAAAAA; Warner Robins (3-8 in 2016) is unranked in AAAAA.
Last meeting: Northside won 55-3 in 2016.
Things to know: Northside has eight starters returning from its 2016 semifinal team, but the Eagles must replace QB Tobias Oliver, now at Georgia Tech. Oliver rushed for 1,581 yards and 21 touchdowns and passed for 1,724 yards and 17 TDs last season. Look for junior Jadin Daniels, who saw action in seven games last season, to get the first shot as the QB starter. Warner Robins’ 3-7 regular-season record in 2016 was its worst since 2010, but it still earned a playoff berth out of Region 1-AAAAA. The Demons expect to be much improved this season, considering they have six returning starters on offense and eight on defense. They also picked up RB Jaeven West, QB Dylan Fromm and WR Tyler Fromm from Houston County. All are expected to start. West led the Bears in rushing last season and was the third-leading receiver. The Fromms are the twin brothers of former Houston County star QB Jake Fromm, now at Georgia. Northside’s 52-point victory last season was the most-lopsided game in a rivalry that has been played every year since 1964. Warner Robins holds a 34-25 lead in the series, but Northside has won 16 of the past 21 games.
Prince Avenue Christian at Aquinas
When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aquinas Stadium, Augusta
Rankings: Prince Avenue Christian (12-1 in 2016) is No. 2 in Class A private; Aquinas (6-5 in 2016) is No. 9 in Class A private.
Last meeting: Prince Avenue Christian won 35-14 in 2016.
Things to know: These private schools have met in August each of the past three seasons. Prince Avenue has won the last two. None of the three have been close. Prince Avenue Christian lost to Class A private-school runner-up Fellowship Christian 31-28 in the semifinals last season. The Wolverines return most of their better players, including preseason all-state C Daniel Parrish and WR/DB Christian Parrish. Christian Parrish had 30 catches for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns and returned three punts for touchdowns. MLB Sam Wessinger (94 tackles, 13 TFL) and OL Harris Jump (committed to Georgia Tech) also are all-state candidates. Aquinas returns its leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler from a 6-5 team that slumped after three consecutive region championships. WR/SS George Welch and K/P Crimmins Hankinson made preseason all-state. RB/LB Joseph Douglas, the brother of former Aquinas star and Georgia player Brendan Douglas, had 840 yards rushing and 65 tackles in nine games last season.
Tucker vs. Kell
When, where: 9 a.m. Saturday, Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta
Rankings: Tucker (13-2 in 2016) is No. 1 in Class AAAAAA; Kell (11-3 in 2016) is No. 6 in AAAAA.
Last meeting: Kell won 20-13 in 2016.
Things to know: Kell QB John Lampley rushed for 115 yards and passed for 198 in the victory over Tucker last year. Tucker did not lose again until the Class AAAAAA championship game against Valdosta. Kell graduated Lampley to Southern University but won a sweepstakes when former Pope QB Evan Conley transferred in. Conley passed for 2,276 yards, rushed for 917 and had a hand in 36 touchdowns in just 10 games last season. RB Josiah Futral had 1,600 yards from scrimmage last season. Kell lost its top eight tacklers, including LB Solon Page, the GSWA AAAAA defensive player of the year, now at Tennessee. Tucker has nine players who are rated among the 160 best senior prospects in Georgia, the most of any team. The most prominent are WR Josh Vann (eight catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns vs. Kell last season), LB Michael Harris (Region 4-AAAAAA defensive player of the year in 2016 for Lovejoy) and OL Dylan Wonnum (top-10 national recruit).
Valdosta at Lowndes
When, where: 8 p.m. Friday, Martin Stadium, Valdosta
Rankings: Valdosta (14-1 in 2016) is No. 2 in Class AAAAAA; Lowndes (10-3 in 2016) is No. 4 in AAAAAAA.
Last meeting: Valdosta won 38-13 in 2016.
Things to know: Valdosta scored two touchdowns on special teams and one on an interception return in the 2016 victory over Lowndes. It made for Valdosta’s first three-game winning streak in the series since 1996, after which Lowndes went on a 13-4 run. Lowndes returns three preseason all-state offensive players from a team that scored a school-record 594 points (45.7 per game). They are QB Michael Barrett (2,753 yards passing, 1,170 rushing), RB Travis Tisdale (1,018 rushing) and OL Jalen Goss. Six starters return on a defense that allowed a school-record 336 points (25.8 per game). Valdosta graduated virtually all of its offensive play-makers save for part-time starting QB Hunter Holt (1,092 yards passing, 680 rushing). The defense lost about half of its starters. All-state LB Zakoby McClain, a top-250 national recruit, and DB/WR Jayce Rogers are the most prominent returnees. Rogers returned a state-leading seven punts or kickoffs for touchdowns last season, one against Lowndes.
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