By James Butler
ELCA is considered a favorite to at least reach the semifinals of the Class A Private School Playoffs.
Stockbridge, ranked No. 1 for the first time in anybody’s football poll, may be expected to run the table toward its first state title.
Spalding hopes to catch fire and make a run. Griffin wants to prove it still belongs on this stage. And then there’s schools like Sandy Creek, Jonesboro and Locust Grove who carry hopes to extend their season for five more weeks, starting Friday night in the first week of the Georgia High School Association playoffs.
So, what other Southern Crescent team has the best chance to reach its semifinals? How should we place them in terms of likelihood of winning a state crown? Here are the 10 teams in action this week and how they rank.
10. Fayette County: The 3-7 Tigers open at Buford. The Wolves have won a state championship in seven out of the last eight years. If Fayette County somehow gets by Buford — and that’s a gargantuan “if” — they will face the winner of Locust Grove and Worth County which may be a tad more manageable, and possibly Region 3-AAAA Champion Thomson in the quarterfinals (third round) – all on the road.
9. Lovejoy: Despite being 5-5 and facing 8-2 Newnan, Lovejoy has a good matchup with the Region 3-AAAAAA’s second seed. Lovejoy beat Newton who beat Region 3 Champion Westlake by 20. It is the second and third rounds that could prove troublesome for the Wildcats as they could face undefeated Mill Creek in Round 2 and either McEachern or Archer in Round 3.
8. Griffin: Bainbridge may be 10-0, but it is the first 10-win season for the Bearcats since 1993. Region 4-AAAA’s fourth-seed Griffin has been better at finishing games down the stretch of the season, so an upset would not be surprising. However, just like Lovejoy, potential opponents in the second (Sandy Creek) and third (St. Pius X) rounds would be difficult.
7. Spalding: The Jaguars are the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AAAA and has an easier opening round than their in-county rival Griffin. In Round 1 Spalding has the long drive south to play storied Cairo, who uncharacteristically has a losing record. Waiting for Spalding if it can defeat Cairo could be’ potential Round 2 opponent, No. 1 Woodward Academy, and potential quarterfinals opponents in Mary Persons and Marist that has them seventh on the list.
6. Locust Grove: Locust Grove puts it 9-1 record up against Region 1-AAAA four seed Worth County in a favorable matchup. Win, and the Wildcats will play the winner of the aforementioned Fayette County and Buford matchup — likely Buford. Locust Grove has had a better season than Fayette County, so logically the Wildcats would have a better chance against Buford and potentially against Thomson.
5. Drew: It might not seem logical that a fourth seed is placed at No. 5 on this list, but Drew has had competitive losses against Lowndes and Northgate, while first-round opponent Carver-Columbus was not competitive against the best team it played in Creekside. Win and Drew gets South Paulding or Loganville and likely either Northside Warner Robins, Stephenson, or Ware County afterwards. Based on the Titans’ talent, I think that path is more manageable than those of the schools listed before them.
4. Starr’s Mill: Region 4-AAAAA’s third seed Starr’s Mill will face a Northside Columbus team who is not as good as Carver-Columbus. Region 5 Champion Allatoona would likely be the Panthers’ second round opponent and they could see Houston County or Mays in the quarterfinal round. Those are three very good teams, but so far this season Starr’s Mill has shown to be very much on those teams’ level.
3. Jonesboro: The Region 4-AAAA champions get Thomas County Central in Round 1. In past years that would strike fear in opponents’ eyes, but the perennial state power Yellow Jackets are just 6-4 this season. Jonesboro should also feel confident in potential second round meetings with Carrollton or Stephens County, but it is a potential third-round matchup with undefeated Cartersville that would be the Cardinals biggest test. After winning its first region crown in 66 years, Jonesboro will be looking for its first playoff win since coach Clint Satterfield’s last Cardinals team be Hephizbah 18-17 in the first round.
2. Sandy Creek: The Patriots have flown under the radar after losses to Jonesboro and Region 5-AAAA counterpart Woodward Academy, but they get a favorable bracket. Sandy Creek hosts Region 8’s third seed North Hall and would get either Griffin or Bainbridge with a win. St. Pius X stands out among potential quarterfinal opponents, but Sandy Creek has the personnel and pedigree to feel confident if that matchup is to happen.
1. Stockbridge: Only two opponents have played the 10-0 and Region 4-AAAAA champions within a possession. Plus, just like their previous playoff runs, the Tigers’ offense has gotten better throughout the season and is complementing its trademark stingy defense. Stockbridge gets Columbus in Round 1, Gainesville or Alexander in Round 2, and either Glynn Academy, Carver-Atlanta, Jones County, or Dalton in Round 3. The Tigers have had tougher roads in the past.