The first round was dominated by the higher seeds as all No. 1’s advanced and home teams triumphed in 14 of the 16 matchups. The result fused a star-studded Sweet 16 lineup that will be packed with eight must-see matchups of a region champions looking to defend home turf.
Cedartown at Marist
Cedartown (10-1) is in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2002 and carries a six-game winning streak into its matchup with undefeated Marist. Cedartown’s only loss came to No. 1 Cartersville and this game will be a do-or-die measuring stick as they now face the classification’s No. 2 ranked team. Cedartown made the playoffs with a 2-win season in 2015 and finished 5-5 a year ago against the same schedule it dominated this year. Long-time Polk County coach Doyle Kelly took over the program this season and the Bulldogs are playing inspired football with back-to-back 47-17 victories to close the regular season and open the playoffs. This is 11-0 Marist’s 35th straight postseason appearance and a win would put the program in the quarterfinals for the fifth time in its last six seasons. Marist excels by controlling the tempo and has a distinct edge in experience not just historically, but by the competitive victories it has over teams like Lovett, Baylor, St. Pius, Woodward Academy, Gainesville and Blessed Trinity this season.
Cairo at Burke County
Don’t expect Cairo to assume the underdog role as the Syrupmakers take on 11-0 Burke County. Cairo has been in the playoffs 15 straight years and was a quarterfinalist a year ago before a 17-13 loss to Jefferson capped a 11-2 season. Last Friday, Cairo closed out a 26-20 victory against Spalding and that is something that this young team can grow from. Burke County’s key to victory will be its explosive offense that is putting up nearly 42 points per game. If Eric Parker’s squad strikes early, Cairo will have a tough time keeping pace and an even tougher time playing catchup. It will be up to the defense of Cairo keep the ball out of Burke County’s hands and control what should be an intense clashing of styles.
Troup at St. Pius
Every playoff game is a measuring stick, but this one in particular stands out. No. 1 seed St. Pius won a 44-31 first-round shootout over West Hall while Troup went to Heritage-Catoosa and smothered the Generals 31-7 in a game many expected to be a shootout. The Generals entered last Friday averaging 41.5 points per game and Troup’s defense had its best performance of the season. Now it is time to see if this was just the result of a playoff mismatch or if Troup has the defensive talent support its high-powered offense. St. Pius will have to stop Troup quarterback Montez Crowe and his stable of big play wide receivers. This will be the biggest challenge for St. Pius and the result of the game should answer whether or not the Golden Lions have the athleticism on defense that it takes to matchup with the classification’s more athletic offenses.
West Laurens at Woodward Academy
West Laurens will look to avoid a second round loss for a third straight year against 10-1 Woodward Academy on Friday. Woodward Academy is scoring a lot of points this season, but is also allowing a lot of points. This was evident in the first round as Richmond Academy was able to reach the endzone five times in a 48-35 defeat. West Laurnes was a 14-7 first-round winner and this football game will demand a more rapid pace.
Blessed Trinity at Cartersville
Class AAAA’s path to the state title goes through its two-time defending champs; Cartersville. The Purple Hurricanes have outscored Class AAAA opponents 377-47 this season and continue to show no weaknesses. Blessed Trinity’s Steele Chambers is a beast running the football and the junior will need the game of his career to keep the Titans close and the ball out of the hands of Cartersville’s record-setting quarterback and offense. Either way, this is Cartersville’s biggest challenge since Week 2’s matchup with Florida’s Bertram Trail. Blessed Trinity has known since the season started that Mount Cartersville would have to be conquered to capture the AAAA crown.
Thomson at Americus-Sumter
Last year’s Class AAAA runner-up Thomson is all that separates Americus-Sumter from its first 10-win season in program history. Thomson defeated North Clayton 48-8 in the first round, but North Clayton was greatly overmatched with an offense that produced just 87 points in all 10 of its regular season games combined. Americus-Sumter battled past a tough Howard team 27-14 and has the talent to score a home win Friday night in undoubtedly the biggest game in program history.
Jefferson at Ridgeland
Ridgeland is yet to play a close game this season. The undefeated Panthers have outscored opponents 534-84 and opened the playoffs with a 63-7 beat down of Chapel Hill. Jefferson hasn’t been able to pull out wins against the classification’s better teams this year and will have to create the formula to stop Ridgeland from scratch since no team has come close to doing it so far.
Baldwin at Mary Persons
Baldwin joined Troup as the only road teams to win last week and will visit Mary Persons which dazzled in a 27-0 opening round win over Carver-Columbus. Both teams boast capable defenses that have faced excellent offenses. Every matintriguing matchups, but this is just a great X’s and O’s matchup to cap off the Sweet 16 slate.
FIRST ROUND RESULTS
Cedartown 47, Northwest Whitfield 14
Marist 38, Madison County 14
Cairo 26, Spalding 20
Burke County 35, Salem 7
Troup 31, Heritage-Catoosa 7
St. Pius 44, West Hall 31
West Laurens 14, Northside-Columbus 7
Woodward Academy 48, Richmond Academy 35
Blessed Trinity 35, Oconee County 0
Cartersville 48, Pickens 21
Thomson 48, North Clayton 8
Americus-Sumter 27, Howard 14
Jefferson 29, White County 13
Ridgeland 63, Chapel Hill 7
Baldwin 21, Eastside 16
Mary Persons 27, Carver-Columbus 0