So it’s just what we thought since the early part of the 2017 Class AAA football season. Cedar Grove. Greater Atlanta Christian. Peach County. Calhoun.
Each program is steeped in tradition. Each program has played better than the rest of the class since the beginning of the season. And now, each program has a chance to get to the championship game.
Buckle up. This semifinal thing is going to be interesting. This semifinal thing is the real deal:
No. 2 Peach County at No. 3 Greater Atlanta Christian
The Maxwell projections have the Peach County Trojans as a 10-point underdog, and because of key injuries, that projection might hold weight. Or will it?
The Trojans lost to GAC last season at home, 13-7, in the semifinals. This year, Peach County, and its loud and well-traveled fan base, will work its way to Norcross and the Spartan Sports Complex with hopes for its first state championship appearance since falling to Burke County on Dec. 10, 2011.
It has been widely reported that Kearis Jackson, Peach County’s star wideout and UGA commit, dislocated his wrist in the second-round victory against Pierce County. There were rumors, and even mentions by Jackson at the Westminster game, that he could play in the title game, if needed. But those rumors were put to rest after surgery that likely will sideline him for the rest of his high school career.
As if losing its star receiver wasn’t tough enough, Peach could be reeling from the loss of its leading (at the time) rusher, Chris Gibson. Gibson was injured Oct. 27 against Pike County, but senior back Trevon Woolfolk has filled the void rather well. Woolfolk, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior, has rushed for 1,085 yards and 19 touchdowns on 118 carries and has 150 yards receiving with one touchdown. He ran for for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries in the quarterfinal game against Westminster.
“I just knew it was my time,” Woolfolk told Michael Lough, who covered the game for the AJC. “God gave me my chance. It was my turn to show what I can do. The offense, we all play together as a group.”
Quarterback Antonio Gilbert is 181-of-264 passing for 2,705 yards and 21 touchdowns with just one interception. With Jackson out, junior Millard Thomas is the leading receiver with 533 yards and five touchdowns on 34 receptions. Through 12 games, Jackson had 852 yards and nine touchdowns on 47 receptions.
GAC features one of the best offensive lines in the class. Junior Michigan commitment Chris Hinton, Princeton commit Ford Roberts and Nate Richey have allowed the Spartans’ running game to flourish.
Clemson commitment and AJC Super 11 selection Kyler McMichael is the leading rusher for a Spartans offense that averages 266 rushing yards per game. McMichael has run for 1,382 yards and 23 touchdowns on 115 carries and has seven games with 100-plus yards. In the 51-14 victory against Jenkins in the quarterfinals, McMichael rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
The Spartans offense also throws the ball. Junior quarterback Josh Rose is 82-of-146 passing for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns with two interceptions. Coach Tim Hardy’s son, Jackson, is 43-of-63 passing for 676 yards and 12 touchdowns without an interception. Senior Max Burke leads receivers with 382 yards and seven touchdowns on 24 receptions for an average of 15.9 yards per catch.
My prediction: Peach County 28, GAC 21
No. 4 Calhoun at No. 1 Cedar Grove
The defending-champion Cedar Grove Saints are at the business end of the longest winning-streak in school history (23 games) and will enter their third consecutive semifinal appearance Friday against Calhoun at Godfrey Stadium in Decatur. The Saints defeated Calhoun 47-21 in last year’s quarterfinals.
Cedar Grove’s Xavier Dennis leads the offense. He has completed 104 of 147 passes for 1,624 yards and 26 touchdowns with two interceptions. Junior Jadon Haselwood leads receivers with 775 yards and 17 touchdowns on 43 receptions.
Cedar Grove will split the Calhoun defense between the run and pass game, which could prove to be a tall task to handle. The Saints’ Darrell Neal has rushed for 1,378 yards and 14 touchdowns on 151 carries for an average of 9.1 yards per touch. He is averaging 106 yards per game. Chevon Wright has added 540 yards and five touchdowns on 60 rushes.
Calhoun has reached the semifinals in eight of the last 10 seasons and has made six state title appearances. The Yellow Jackets won state titles in 2011 and 2014. It’s safe to say Calhoun is comfortable in this situation.
The Yellow Jackets are led by quarterback Gavin Gray, who has completed 204 of 314 passes for 3,060 yards and 30 touchdowns with six interceptions. The high-powered offense, which has amassed 3,245 yards passing, averages 249 passing yards per game.
The Yellow Jackets offense averages 132 rushing yards per game and has amassed 1,719 yards. Zach Fuller leads the Calhoun rushers with 1,152 yards and 18 touchdowns on 186 carries.
My prediction: Cedar Grove 35, Calhoun 28