The state semifinals produced some expected and unexpected results as teams played for a spot in the state championship games in the Georgia Dome next weekend.
In Class 7A it was expected that Roswell and Grayson would advance and they both did by big margins. Roswell eliminated Westlake 28-0 and Grayson took care of Mill Creek 44-26. So the state title game sets up Roswell and Grayson who are no strangers there. Roswell is back for the second consecutive year and last won it all in 2006. Grayson won it in 2011.
The teams are 1-1 against each other with Grayson winning 24-14 in the 2009 playoffs. Roswell beat Grayson 30-26 in last year’s semifinal round.
Milton’s Pick: Grayson 42, Roswell 21
In Class 6A, Northside-Warner Robins and Tucker didn’t play one of their classic nail-biting games of the past in their series. Northside did jump out to a 7-0 lead on Tucker but turnovers doomed the Eagles as Tucker returned a fumble 44 yard for a touchdown in the third quarter as Tucker won 22-7. Valdosta’s defense held Dalton’s Ahmaad Turner to 57 yards rushing and took advantage of two muffed punts in the game to lead the Wildcats to a 27-6 win.
Tucker is in the state finals for the fourth time in eight years and looking for their first championship since 2011. Valdosta is back in the final for the first time since 2003. They last won it all in 1998. Valdosta and Tucker have never played.
Milton’s Pick: Valdosta 20, Tucker 16
The Class 5A semifinals turned out as expected as Buford once again showed their dominance in the semifinals as they defeated Kell 28-16 as Christian Tucker scored on a 3-yard run with 2:11 left to seal the win for the Wolves. Buford is now in the state finals for the 10th straight season. Rome defeated Stockbridge in the other semifinal game, 28-21 to play in their first state title game since the school opened in 1992. Rome was created from a merger of East and West Rome high schools.
Buford and Rome have never met. Rome enters the game with a 12-2 record. Their two losses were to Harrison (22-20) and Kell (33-30) which started their season at 1-2. Buford is 13-1. They lost their season opener to Roswell 24-7.
Milton’s Pick: As painful as this may be for me…..Buford 35, Rome 14 (This will be the battle of the Wolves)
In Class 4A, Cartersville and their all-world quarterback Trevor Lawrence dispatched Mary Persons (never liked that school name) 38-17. Lawrence passed for 253 yards and four touchdowns. Thomson beat Jefferson 27-6.
Cartersville is the defending state champions. Thomson is in the state championship game for the first time since 2002. In their only meeting, Cartersville defeated Thomson 21-13 in the 2012 Quarterfinals.
Milton’s Pick: Cartersville 33, Thomson 14
The results in Class 3A were a little unexpected for me. Both Peach County and Crisp County had been dominant teams during the season but Peach County could not solve Greater Atlanta Christian’s defense until the final two minutes as the Spartans hung on to defeat the Trojans 13-7. Cedar Grove completely destroyed Crisp County 55-0. The Saints jumped out to a 41-0 lead at halftime. Cedar Grove’s win in Cordele was the largest margin of victory by a visiting team in the state playoffs.
Cedar Grove is in the state finals for the first time since 1991. Greater Atlanta Christian advances to their third state final and seeking their first title. Cedar Grove and Greater Atlanta Christian have never played. They both played a common opponent in 2016 when they each played Westminster of Atlanta. Greater Atlanta Christian won 19-16 in overtime on August 26th. Cedar Grove lost to Westminster, 42-21 on September 23rd but haven’t lost a game since and haven’t allowed more than 21 points since the loss.
Milton’s Pick: Cedar Grove 41, Greater Atlanta Christian 17
The Class 2A semifinals happened as expected with Benedictine knocking off Callaway 49-10 and Fitzgerald defeated Hapeville Charter 42-21 to advance to the state 2A title game.
Benedictine is in the state finals for the second time in school history. They won it in 2014. Fitzgerald is playing in their fifth championship game and seeking their first title since 1948. The teams have met twice with Benedictine winning 51-7 in the 2013 playoffs. Fitzgerald defeated Benedictine 54-28 in the state quarterfinals last season.
It was totally unexpected in Class 1A (public) that Clinch County lost at home to McIntosh County Academy 24-8. Valentin Salazar made a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter to give the Buccaneers a 10-8 and they kept the Panthers out-of-synch the rest of the game for their first win in the semifinals. Macon County dominated Emanuel County Institute for a 48-26 win.
McIntosh County Academy is playing in its first state title game. Macon County is in the final for the first time since 1996. The teams have never met. Macon County has scored over 40 points in 10 games this season. McIntosh County Academy’s coach, Robby Robinson, is 140-79-1 in 19 seasons of coaching.
Milton’s Pick: Macon County 20, McIntosh County Academy 8
In the Class 1A (private) semifinals, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy broke open a tight game in the third quarter and eliminated Tattnall 42-21. Fellowship Christian had a 25-7 lead at halftime and hung on to defeat Prince Avenue Christian 31-28.
Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy is in the state final for the fourth time in five years. They are the defending state champions from last season. Fellowship Christian is in their first state championship game. ELCA is 3-1 all-time in the series and won the last meeting 47-7 in 2009.
Milton’s Pick: Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy 40, Fellowship Christian 12
Championship game fun facts:
The Wolves will win the Class 5A championship as both teams are known as the Wolves.
Purple Hurricanes will be blowing in the dome when Cartersville and Fitzgerald take the field.
Bulldogs will be barking for Thomson and Macon County
What’s a “Paladin”? I guess we will find out when Fellowship Christian plays ELCA.
This will be the last time the games will be played in the Georgia Dome. They are expected to move to the new Merceds-Benz Stadium in 2017 but nothing has been finalized.
All eight state championship games will be played in the Georgia Dome on Friday and Saturday. They will be shown on Georgia Public Television and online at GPB.org.