State playoff predictions

 

2017 AA football bracket

Right-click and open in new tab to enlarge. Predictions by Adam Krohn/AJC.

The postseason is upon us, which means it’s time for my annual predictions. My picks are above, so the cat’s already out of the bag: I’m picking the top-ranked, undefeated Benedictine Cadets (10-0) to repeat as Class AA state champions for back-to-back titles and 15-0 seasons. It would also be the Cadets’ third title in four years.

The Cadets would be the first AA team crowned as state champions after winning the title game in brand-new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The AA championship is set for Saturday, Dec. 9 at 1 p.m.

In last year’s predictions, I correctly pegged the Cadets to beat Fitzgerald in the title game. I readily acknowledge that there’s nothing bold about picking the undefeated, defending state champs to win it all again, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to reach an obvious conclusion. In the end, the Cadets have done nothing to create any doubt that they’re ready to run the tables again. They’ve won all their games by at least two scores, they have a veteran quarterback and depth on both sides of the ball.

If the tournament plays out as I expect it to, the Cadets will face the No. 2 Hapeville Charter Hornets (9-1) in the quarterfinals. To me that’s a shame, because that matchup would have made for the best AA championship. It would have been a classic north-south battle for Peach State supremacy, featuring seemingly equally-matched teams. However, bracket alignments are determined before the season begins, so this is what teams are plugged into.

It won’t be an easy game for the Cadets — the Hornets have risen to prominence in the two seasons since 6-AA was redrawn and have a plethora of D-I talent with an on-field performance to match — but I expect Benedictine to prevail in the end. And I say this not knowing which team will have the home-field advantage, as was the case for a lot of critical matchups involving teams with the same seed. In those cases, a coin-flip determines which team hosts, according to GHSA bylaws.

After beating the Hornets, the Cadets should face a No. 4-ranked Thomasville Bulldogs (10-0) team experiencing one of the best seasons in their program’s history.

The Bulldogs are one of five undefeated teams in the AA tournament and come in off consecutive come-from-behind wins, including one against No. 6 Brooks County in which they overcame a 20-0 halftime deficit. Last week, they were down 28-17 to Fitzgerald before rallying to preserve their perfect record. They will be a very hard team to put away, and no lead should be considered safe. But again, I believe the Cadets have what it takes to escape with the win.

The other side of the bracket was incredibly difficult to predict with tough, bracket-busting choices coming as early as Round 2 with the Brooks County Trojans (8-1) at No. 7 Dodge County (9-0). I have the Trojans advancing, then beating No. 9 Callaway (9-1) on the way to the semifinals to meet their fate against the No. 3 Screven County Gamecocks (9-0). Picking the Gamecocks to beat No. 5 Rabun County (10-0) in the quarterfinals wasn’t an easy choice, but their defense — they recorded six straight shutouts and held a Jefferson County team averaging 52.3 points a game to 20 points in the regular season finale to win the 4-AA title — coupled with Rabun County’s struggle to put up big points after the second round in its recent playoff losses leads me to give Screven County a slight edge.

Should the Gamecocks advance to the title game, it would be their first trip there since 2002, when they won the AAA championship.

But with the density of strong teams on that side of the bracket, the odds I picked all of those games correctly are slim, so I’ll go ahead and give myself a pass for getting them wrong when that turns out to be the case. If it turns out I’m right, however, I can claim super-expert status that everyone must acknowledge in the comments section.

Speaking of the comments section, I’m sure there are a few readers who may see the bracket playing out differently. I encourage those readers to put their predictions in the comments section. Either way, let me know what you think about this year’s bracket.

Personally, I think Class AA has the state’s best tournament bracket, regardless of classification. AA has the most undefeated teams (five) of any class and you’d be hard pressed to find another class with more parity.

Whoever comes out of AA will be able to hang their head high knowing that they came out of a tournament in which they beat a handful of really great high school football teams.

Other takeaways from the predictions:

  • I have the Toombs County Bulldogs (9-1) pulling off a rare playoff win by beating Fitzgerald. The Bulldogs have qualified for the playoffs five times since 2003 but have made it to the second round just once in that span — in 2007 when they reached the quarterfinals. The win is no sure thing either. Though the Purple Hurricane (4-6) are nowhere near the same as the one that reached the previous two state title games led by running back JD King and former coach Jason Strickland, they’ve been playing better as of late now that quarterback James Graham is healthy.
  • I’ve picked the B.E.S.T. Academy Eagles (5-5) to defeat Temple for their first playoff win in the program’s seven-year history under the only coach they’ve ever had, Joshua Moore.
  • I have Brooks County and Thomasville — both from Region 1 — reaching the semifinals. Although it’s a longshot, there is a chance for them to meet in the finals for a rematch of the epic game they played on Oct. 27, which the Bulldogs won 23-20.
  • Unranked teams with potential to be dark horses: Rockmart (8-2), Pepperell (7-3), Elbert County (8-2), Toombs County (9-1). By darkhorse, I don’t necessarily mean upset wins — though that too could happen — but a likelihood they play a given team a lot closer than expected and put a favorite on its heels.

***

The final rankings before a champion is crowned have been released with only a minor tweak from the previous week. The Jefferson County Warriors, with its loss to No. 3 Screven County, dropped from No. 6 to the back of the line at 10, with the teams previously ranked behind them — Brooks County, Dodge County, Heard County and Callaway — all moving up a spot.

For a breakdown of AA games played in Week 12, go here.

Here’s a glimpse at the updated rankings, with the previous week’s rankings in parenthesis:

1. (1) Benedictine (10-0)
2. (2) Hapeville Charter (9-1)
3. (3) Screven County (9-0)
4. (4) Thomasville (10-0)
5. (5) Rabun County (10-0)
6. (7) Brooks County (8-1)
7. (8) Dodge County (9-0)
8. (9) Heard County (9-1)
9. (10) Callaway (9-1)
10. (6) Jefferson County (9-1)

In brief

  • There were nine AA teams vying for four playoff spots via mini-games played on Monday, with Jeff Davis, Southwest-Macon, Washington County and Monticello emerging to qualify.
  • Southwest-Macon reached the playoffs as a No. 3 seed from Region 3 with a last-second touchdown to beat Washington County, which later survived to earn a No. 4 seed, blocking a Bleckley County extra point kick to win 10-9 in double overtime.
  • By emerging from its mini-game, Jeff Davis earned its first playoff spot since 2001. Jeff Davis faces Thomasville in the first round, so a monumental upset would be required to advance and coach Lance Helton acknowledges as much with this funny quote.
  • Here’s Monticello kicking its way into the playoffs in a mini-game against Putnam County.
  • Pepperell coach Rick Hurst is hoping to “Black Out the Jaguars” in Round 1 against Banks County. There’s a problem, however: Banks County is nicknamed the Leopards.
  • Benedictine’s Jonah Griffin earned Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Savannah Quarterback Club and media personality Tony Barnhardt presented him with the award.
  • From the previous week, Benedictine’s Travis Blackshear was named the Savannah Morning News’ Player of the Week following his 200-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Cadets’ 45-0 win over Metter.
  • Not the best angle, but here’s Benedictine converting on fourth-and-20.
  • Here’s highlights from WSAV of Benedictine’s win over Jeff Davis.
  • Rockmart’s Michael Gay has been invited to the Offense-Defense Bowl in New Orleans.
  • The Spencer Green Wave are in the playoffs for three straight years for the first time since 1957-59. This is also the third season coach Pierre Coffey has been with the team.
  • Here’s video from the Thomasville Times-Enterprise of Thomasville securing its first 10-0 season in 29 years.
  • Bailey Fisher’s 100th career touchdown pass earned him Blitz Play of the Week honors. Fisher accounted for seven of the Wildcats’ touchdowns on Friday, including five touchdown passes in the second quarter alone.
  • Insiights recently released full video of Thomasville’s come-from-behind win at Brooks County.
  • Complete coverage of Toombs County’s 33-22 win over Swainsboro can be found at ToombsNow.
  • Here’s a great highlight from WJBF of Screven County’s Armani Bunbury getting a pitch to Kim Hunter for a touchdown.
  • Class AA players who will play in Border Bowl V for Team Georgia are: Screven County’s QB Armani Bunbury, WR Tyquan Johnson, DL CJ Wright, DL Kendrick Cox, DL Davien Perry, LB Kashawn Robinson, DB Kim Hunter; Jefferson County’s QB Chardell Hales, WR Ty King, K Evans Hodges; Swainsboro’s RB Jalyn Williams; Washington County’s WR Jeremiah Swint, OL Mitch Lord, LB Braeden Wansley; Glenn Hills WR Willie Green; Harlem’s Waylin Bell.
  • WJBF has Region 4 highlights from Week 12. Bunbury’s pitch to Hunter mentioned two items above earned the No. 2 Play of the Week.
  • WTXL has highlights of Brooks County’s win over Berrien and Thomasville’s win over Fitzgerald.
  • WJCL’s highlights from Week 12 include Benedictine, Jeff Davis, Screven County, Jefferson County, Bacon County, Metter, Vidalia, Bryan County, Toombs County and Swainsboro.
  • Thomasville’s JT Rice broke the regular season touchdown passing record held by Mike Bobo and Dion Graham with his 19th touchdown pass of the season in the Bulldogs’ win over Fitzgerald. The Bulldogs also broke the all-time scoring record held by the 1974 team with 438 and counting.
  • Thomasville players did a cool thing last week.
  • Here’s a picture of the Region 4 championship trophy at Screven County, which the Gamecocks earned for the second year in a row.
  • Bleckley County went from nearly upsetting Dodge County before giving up a 21-7 lead to lose 30-27 two weeks ago, to coming up inches short of the goal line as time expired in last week’s game against Southwest-Macon to lose 26-21, to then losing 10-9 in double overtime to Washington County in the mini-game by getting the extra point blocked, which caused them to miss the playoffs. I’ve never seen so many bad breaks to end a season . The Royals finished 6-4 for their first winning season since 2013 and were oh-so-close to their first playoff berth since 2014.

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