For the first time since I started doing predictions in 2014, I made it through the first two rounds unscathed. So it’s only natural that my predictions took an irreparable hit in the quarterfinals. I incorrectly picked the winner in three of four games, with both my state champion and runner-up eliminated. Brooks County is the lone survivor and I had them losing to Screven County in this round.
With my predictions officially dead, an autopsy is in order. So what did I get wrong?
(For a recap of Friday’s AA quarterfinals games, go here.)
We’ll start with the Hapeville Charter Hornets. Before the regular season ended, I explored how I thought the region standings would shape up to form the playoff brackets. I quickly determined that the No. 2-ranked Hornets and top-ranked Benedictine Cadets were on a collision course to meet in the quarterfinals. I knew right then that was a matchup that could very well determine the AA champion.
I predicted Benedictine would win. Obviously, I was wrong and I will gladly own up to that. But my incorrect prediction is where the crow-eating ends. Anyone who claims that I didn’t give Hapeville Charter a chance to win hasn’t been reading this blog. The Hornets winning is by no means an upset and it shouldn’t be considered one. This is no Cinderella story. This was two of the state’s best teams going up against each other way too early in the playoffs, with the better team moving on.
One thing was always obvious heading into this game — the Hornets are loaded with all-state, D-I talent. But talent alone doesn’t guarantee success on the field. However, the Hornets executed their game plan in Savannah on both sides of the ball and when superior talent combines with superior execution, the other team doesn’t have a chance. Thus, the Hornets won 31-17.
Before the tournament began, I said the winner of the Hapeville Charter-Benedictine game would win the state championship. I still believe that’s the case. The Hornets are locked in and have one of the best defenses in the state, regardless of classification. The offense does a lot more than just hold its end up and is an equal force for the opposition.
While the Hornets weren’t a surprise, one team I will admit caught me off guard is the Rabun County Wildcats. I didn’t think they’d win, but that’s not what’s shocking to me. It’s the fact that they bulldozed through No. 3 Screven County the same way they have all of their opponents this season by hanging up a crooked score, winning 56-14. And that was against one of the state’s best defenses.
I was falsely under the impression that the Wildcats were victims of being a highly competitive team but without equal competition to match in 8-AA, which produced just one other team with a winning record — Elbert County (9-3), which they beat 35-7. Heading into the postseason, they had played just three teams that finished above .500, with Mount Pisgah Christian (8-3) and White County (7-4) being the other two.
While it’s true that they are victims of lack of competition, they proved on Friday they can rise to a challenge when faced with one.
Wildcats quarterback Bailey Fisher, who is on the AJC’s Player of the Year watch list, continues to put up video game-like numbers, scoring 7 more touchdowns against the Gamecocks. And with the high-powered offense that’s become the staple of Lee Shaw-coached teams, it’s easy to overlook how dominant the Wildcats’ defense has been. Playoff opponents have scored 6, 2 and 14 points against them, in that order. They haven’t given up more than 14 points since they beat White County 49-26 in their third game of the season.
With Rabun County maintaining its regular-season dominance against playoff opponents this deep into the tournament, I don’t know what to make of their semifinals matchup against the Brooks County Trojans.
The Trojans are the one team I was right on making it this far. And the way they won — a 31-0 shutout on the road against an athletic, high-powered Callaway team averaging 37 points coming in — makes it perhaps even more impressive than Hapeville Charter’s victory.
Defensive dominance is nothing new for Brooks County. This was the Trojans’ fifth shutout of the season. They’ve only given up more than two scores four times this season. Offensively, the Trojans have scored 31 or more points in eight of their last nine games and are averaging 35 points in the playoffs.
Finally, there’s the Heard County Braves. I should have known better than to pick against a team led by one of the most talented players in the state, regardless of classification. Quarterback Emory Jones, a five-star recruit and Ohio State commitment, played such a vital role for the Braves on both sides of the ball in their 28-14 win over Thomasville. He accounted for three touchdowns on offense and sealed the game with a late interception, nearly returning it to the house for a fourth score.
Like the Hornets, the Braves’ only loss is to an Alabama school, meaning they’re undefeated against Peach State teams. They’re also on a 10-game win streak. While their defense hasn’t put up dominant numbers like the other three remaining finalists, the unit compliments Jones and the offense and functions as part of a complete team.
I’ve said this previously, but this truly was the hardest bracket to predict in the years since I’ve been doing this, regardless of sport. In most cases, I at least have the majority of teams pegged when it comes to reaching the quarters, semis and finals. But this year’s field was so deep with talented, complete teams it really was impossible to see which way these games would go, given the available data and lack of comparables.
I say all of this not as an excuse for my lack of expertise or ability to see into the future, but as a nod to how strong AA truly is. I’ll argue with anyone that AA is the deepest classification in the state.
And with that, I’ll lay to rest my predictions bracket until basketball season. It was a good run, but it sure crashed hard.
- GHSF Daily reviewed the quarterfinals for all classifications, including AA.
- The Hapeville Charter community is all in on supporting the football Hornets’ for their road trip to Heard County for the semifinals. School officials moved both the boys and girls varsity basketball teams’ Friday games to Thursday so fans won’t be forced to choose between the events.
- Two weeks ago, the AJC reported Benedictine is leaving AA for AAA next school year. Yesterday it was announced Bremen will be joining AA in 2018-19. Bremen comes from AAA, where this season it finished 9-2 and entered the playoffs ranked No. 8. As an athletics department, Bremen is currently No. 8 in the AAA Georgia Athletics Director’s Cup and finished No. 11 in AAA last season.
- Here’s a cool story told in pictures of Brook County’s 31-0 win over Callaway.
- A plethora of 6-AA football players were selected to play in the Georgia Minority Coaches All-Star Game, which takes place at 1 p.m. on Dec. 29 at Lakewood Stadium.
- Benedictine quarterback Nick Iannone recently reflected on the Cadets’ remarkable run during the span of his prep career.
- WSAV has highlights of Hapeville Charter’s win over Benedictine, as does NFHS Network.
- The Blitz has highlights of Rabun County’s blowout win over Screven County. Also, here’s a great post-game interview featuring a number of bold — yet justified — statements from Wildcats coach Lee Shaw.
- Freshman linebacker James Wood of Jeff Davis was selected to play in the 2017 Georgia Elite Classic.
- Bill Renje profiles Hapeville Charter quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams for Southern Crescent Buzz.
- Armuchee receiver/defensive back Tae Allen has been selected to play in the Georgia Northwest All-Star Bowl on Dec. 16.
- Chattooga tackle Dustin Pope was recently invited to compete in the GACA Football All-Star Classic, which will be played on Dec. 28 at Freedom Field in Warner Robbins.
Follow the AJC’s Class AA coverage on Twitter.