Without two-time defending state champion Cartersville in the picture, Class AAAA’s postseason is layered with unanswered questions
Marist at Burke County
This will be the final battle of unbeaten teams of the season for Class AAAA. Both Marist and Burke County have advanced to the quarterfinals with perfect 12-0 records. Burke County has never finished a season undefeated and its 2011 state crown came with a 14-1 record. Marist has state titles in 2003 and 1989, but only the 1989 season was a perfect run to the crown. Despite the identical records, Marist has an advantage when it comes to tougher competition. In the Sweet 16, the War Eagles faced a physical and talented Cedartown squad and used 244 rushing yards to pace a 31-18 win. Kyle Hamilton changed the game with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter and special teams are another strong point of a Marist program that has reached the playoffs 36 straight seasons. Marist rarely turns the ball over, but producing turnovers is something Burke County’s defense has been able to do all year. Last round, Burke County forced Cairo into six turnovers and took advantage of the free possessions to fuel a 41-23 win. Every game on Burke County’s schedule has been decided by double digits except for a 27-24 win over Thomson on Oct. 27. Marist only has a pair of single digit victories (St. Pius 17-14, Blessed Trinity 25-24).
St. Pius at Woodward Academy
This will be the 22nd meeting between the two programs and second all-time playoff matchup. In 2014, St. Pius won a 28-21 semifinal matchup with Woodward Academy before falling the next week in the state championship 55-10 to a superior Buford squad. Overall, however, Woodward Academy has been the team to dominate this matchup winning 15 of the 21 previous meetings. St. Pius has heated up since starting the season 0-5 and rides a seven-game winning streak into tonight’s matchup. Woodward Academy hasn’t lost since its 17-14 defeat to Marist and has an eight-game winning streak on the line. Woodward Academy’s offense has been unstoppable in the back half of the season and the defense continues to improve. Last week, Woodward Academy took a 28-10 lead into halftime on the back of Tahj Gary’s three rushing touchdowns. Gary scored on runs of 69, 62 and 20 yards in the first half. Gary led Woodward in both rushing and passing yardage with 114 yards receiving on three catches and 152 yards rushing on five attempts. Quarterback Mike Wright added rushing touchdowns of 29 and 4 yards for Woodward. St. Pius proved to have the firepower in its second round victory over Troup and gutted out a 43-35 win. After scoring touchdowns on its first two possessions, St. Pius found itself down 21-14 with just under seven minutes to go in the first half. St. Pius was able to tie the game late in the second quarter, but Troup still managed to take a 28-27 lead into halftime. St. Pius struck first in the third, but Troup responded with a 27-yard touchdown catch from Jamari Thrash to set up a 35-34 score going into the fourth quarter. St. Pius stepped up its intensity and shut out the visiting Tigers in the final quarter while scoring a touchdown (missed PAT) and a field goal to secure its 43-35 victory.
Blessed Trinity at Thomson
Blessed Trinity’s 21-17 win over Cartersville was without a doubt the best game that the Titans have played all season. Cartersville managed just one offensive touchdown and Blessed Trinity was able to close out both halves with clutch scores while never losing control of the game. Now it will be Thomson’s turn to try to pull off a massive upset as Blessed Trinity proved to be the team to beat. Thomson defeated Americus-Sumter 35-34 in overtime last week thanks to a missed PAT. This game will be the measuring stick for the quarterfinals as we will get a chance to see how Blessed Trinity stacks up against one of Class AAAA’s top tier teams.
Jefferson at Mary Persons
I expect this quarterfinal matchup to be an outstanding football game but I would give the upper hand to Mary Persons in this Elite 8 showdown. Jefferson comes off an impressive 28-21 in over Ridgeland, which gave the Panthers their only loss of the season. Mary Persons dispatched No. 3 seed Baldwin 39-14 in the second round and that followed a 27-0 beat down of Carver-Columbus in the first round. This is the first time in school history that the teams have faced.