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GABRIEL STOVALL: Playoff football begins in earnest and Spalding, Jonesboro among those looking to make history in play-in games

Jonesboro and quarterback Zerrick Cooper are looking to win the school's first region football title in over 65 years. (PHOTO: Michael Clifton |

Jonesboro and quarterback Zerrick Cooper are looking to win the school’s first region football title in over 65 years. (PHOTO: Michael Clifton |

The Spalding Jaguars hope to run into the postseason with a Region 4-AAAA title on their mantle. (PHOTO: Steve Knight)

The Spalding Jaguars hope to run into the postseason with a Region 4-AAAA title on their mantle. (PHOTO: Steve Knight)

It’s a bittersweet time to be a high school football fan.

Sweet because this is really the part of the season that it’s all about. This is what the teams play for. This is why they spend the spring and summer sweltering on practice fields and the winters grinding in the weight room.

It’s playoff time. Or, to be technical, play-in time.

This week’s slate of games are highlighted by teams with more to play for now than at any other juncture of the season.

Some are playing for region championships. Some, just for the chance to extend their season at least one more week with a playoff berth. And others are simply playing for pride and an opportunity to close out 2015 with some momentum that can hopefully carry into 2016.

In short, everyone is playing for something. Spalding is playing for the chance to show that it’s history making season is no regular season fluke. Eagle’s Landing is playing for the honor of its fallen coach.

Griffin is playing to defend its tradition and to show that the Bears have not fallen away from its championship pedigree.

Sandy Creek is playing to prove that two regular season losses — including being torched by Woodward Academy — won’t take anything away from its championship caliber.

Speaking of Woodward, the College Park school is playing for its first state championship since 1980. Meanwhile, North Clayton is playing to prove that coach James Soza is inching the Eagles closer to being what many in this area remembered North Clayton to be back in the early 2000s.

Big games plus big stakes are bound to create big moments. And although this is game 10 on the schedules — technically the last week in the regular season — in the words of Griffin coach Jarrett Laws: “The playoffs begin now.”

Before we take a peak at the some game capsules and predictions, take a glance at what will be the final Georgia Sportswriters Association all-class top 10 poll before play-ins:




School Points Last Week 

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Colquitt  County (15) 150 1

2. Grayson 134 2

3. Roswell 118 3

4. Archer 99 4

5. Mill Creek 91 5

6. McEachern 75 6

7. Camden County 55 7

8. Walton 42 8

9. Peachtree Ridge 32 9

10. Etowah 24 10

Others receiving votes:  Lee County 4, Lambert 1.

Dropped out: None.



School Points Last Week

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Northside-Warner Robins (15) 150 1

2. Stockbridge 126 2

3. Mays 120 3

4. Lanier 105 4

5. Jones County 84 5

6. Houston County 78 6

7. Coffee 52 7

8. Allatoona 44 8

9. Stephenson 34 9

10. Glynn Academy 16 10

Others receiving votes:  Northgate 12, Kell 2, Carver-Columbus 1, Ware County 1.

Dropped out: Northgate.



School Points Last Week

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Woodward Academy (12) 145 1

2. Cartersville (2) 135 2

3. Buford (1) 125 3

4. Mary Persons 103 4

5. Bainbridge 87 5

6. Jonesboro 74 6

7. Thomson 60 7

8. St. Pius X 41 8

9. Sandy Creek 21 9

10. Marist 15 10

Others receiving votes:  Burke County 8, Locust Grove 6, Stephens County 3, Spalding 2.

Dropped out: None.



School Points Last Week

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Calhoun (15) 150 1

2. Blessed Trinity 135 2

3. Central-Carroll 116 4

4. Cedar Grove 99 5

5. Elbert County 82 6

6. Dodge County 73 7

7. Jefferson 57 3

8. Adairsville 46 8

9. Callaway 24 10

10. Jackson 22 9

Others receiving votes: Oconee County 17, Laney 2, Hart County 1, Peach County 1.

Dropped out: None.



School Points Last Week

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Benedictine (15) 150 1

2. Greater Atlanta Christian 135 2

3. Darlington 118 3

4. Rabun County 96 4

5. Fitzgerald 80 5

6. Brooks County 67 6

7. Model 52 7

8. Pace Academy 47 8

9. Wesleyan 29 9

10. Screven County 23 10

Others receiving votes: Jefferson County 9, Lamar County 7, Macon County 6, Union County 5.

Dropped out: None.



School Points Last Week

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Mt. Paran Christian (13) 148 1

2. Prince Avenue Christian (2) 138 2

3. Aquinas  109 5

4. Marion County 100 4

5. Eagle’s Landing Christian 90 6

6. Savannah Christian 71 7

7. Calvary Day 50 8

8. Lincoln County 41 3

9. Clinch County 34 t10

10. Turner County 13 NR

Others receiving votes: Athens Academy 9, Emanuel County Institute 8, Landmark Christian 6, Pinecrest Academy 5, Charlton County 2, Irwin County 1.

Dropped out: Charlton County, Landmark Christian.


Now my weekly Pick Six predictions, starting with what we will consider the Southern Crescent game of the week.

LOCUST GROVE (9-0, 5-0) at No. 6 JONESBORO (8-1, 5-0): On a Friday night filled with intense matchups and marquee games, this might be the one with the most intrigue behind it. Locust Grove has been the bane of the Cardinals existence as far as postseason football goes for the last two years. And here’s why:

Nov. 8, 2013: With a win, a 6-3 Jonesboro squad gives coach Tim Floyd an unprecedented third straight state playoff appearance. The result? A 20-19 overtime loss to the upstart Wildcats that halted the Cardinals postseason aspirations.

Nov. 7, 2014: After a challenging year riddled with injuries — none bigger than being without then-junior quarterback Zerrick Cooper for an entire season — Jonesboro finally began to gain some ground, ripping off three straight and feeling pretty good about the play-in game rematch to Locust Grove. The result? 14-13, Locust Grove in a game that came down to the wire.

But this year is different because neither of these teams are trying to find themselves as was the case in the aforementioned games. While both of these teams are postseason bound, today is for Region 4-AAAA championship bragging rights. Both squads sport rugged, efficient offensive attacks, boasting two of the Southern Crescent’s best running backs — Jonesboro’s Montralius Mosley and Locust Grove’s Caleb Huntley. If Jonesboro wins tonight it’ll be its first football region title since 1949. Hard to pick this one, but I’ll go Cardinals at home in a tight one. JONESBORO 21, LOCUST GROVE 17


NORTHGATE (9-0, 4-0) at No. 2 STOCKBRIDGE (9-0, 4-0): Both of these teams are playoff bound. but only one, in my estimation, has the chops to be Georgia Dome bound. And that’s the home team. Stockbridge and Northgate will meet for the first time, and although both squads are undefeated, I don’t believe they’re in the same class, talent wise. But one thing I’ve learned in covering sports is no one goes undefeated through multiple games by accident. So the Vikings will no doubt present themselves as a more than worthy adversary for coach Kevin Whitley and company. But the speed and athleticism of Stockbridge should be able to have its way. STOCKBRIDGE 35, NORTHGATE 17.


EAGLE’S LANDING (6-3, 3-2) at SPALDING (8-1, 4-1): Spalding won the regular season matchup literally on the last play of the game. In the press box we were halfway joking that it would be awesome to see this game again. Well, looks like the Fairy Football Godmother took us seriously. Same two teams. Same venue — Memorial Stadium in Griffin — but this time with different stakes. Postseason stakes.

Healthy? Well, is any team truly healthy at this time of the season? Hungry? You bet. Eagle’s Landing wants to extend its special commemorative season in memory of coach Joe Teknipp. Spalding wants to continue one of its best seasons in school history. The Golden Eagles will no doubt have revenge on their minds. My Pick: EAGLE’S LANDING 17, SPALDING 14.


GRIFFIN (5-4, 3-2) at EASTSIDE (7-2, 4-1): Griffin coach Jarrett Laws has his Bears on a miniature redemption tour of sorts. It culminated with last week’s 27-0 win over Riverdale which won Griffin the right to rematch the Eastside Eagles Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The Covington school beat Griffin 37-12 back on September 11.

“Not many chances do you get the chance as a football team to go and right a wrong,” Laws said about Saturday’s game. I expect the Bears to make good on this opportunity. GRIFFIN 27, EASTSIDE 21.

DUTCHTOWN (5-4, 3-2) at STARR’S MILL (8-1, 5-1): Here’s one thing we know about a Starr’s Mill-Dutchtown game: It should be close. Starr’s Mill has a 4-0 record against the Bulldogs from Henry County, but check out the scores of those games:

27-26 (Nov. 4, 2011)

35-33 (Sept. 12, 2014)

17-14 (Nov. 7, 2014)

31-29 (Sept. 11, 2015)

Two of the games were region play-in games that prevented Dutchtown from making the postseason. Virtually all of the games were decided on the last play. I’m not sure it’s smart to pick anything differently. I’ll give Starr’s Mill and that dangerous running game the nod in another close one in the rain tonight. STARR’S MILL 35, DUTCHTOWN 27


DREW (6-3, 4-2) at WOODLAND (7-2, 4-1): Woodland’s only lost two games all year, and in both their usually stout defense faltered. First there was the 47-0 loss to Northgate midseason. Then a 42-28 setback to Stockbridge — a game where Woodland was actually controlling the action for most of the first half.

Now, loosing to those two teams isn’t the worst thing in the world. No. 2 Stockbridge and Northgate  are both undefeated and will play for a Region crown. So it stands to reason that the Wolfpack defense against the high-powered Drew offense will be a great matchup to watch. I’ve said all season the only thing keeping Drew from an undefeated season is its defense. The Titans haven’t scored less than 25 points all season. This game will be a grind early before Drew’s firepower overwhelms Woodland. DREW 38, WOODLAND 27


WESTMINSTER (5-4, 3-2) at NORTH CLAYTON (3-6, 3-2) North Clayton’s progress in coach James Soza’s third year is evident. You’ll be able to read more about that — win or lose — this weekend. The Eagles are a couple of fortuitous ball bounces away from being 6-3 instead of 3-6, so don’t be surprised if North Clayton pulls one out over Westminster today at Riverdale’s Southern Crescent Stadium. North Clayton played the Wildcats tight last year, and this season the talent, athleticism and experience is there to play them tough again, and perhaps even win.

Would it be an upset? Maybe. We’ll go there. Welcome back to the playoffs, North Clayton: NORTH CLAYTON 28, WESTMINSTER 24.

Here are the other non play-in game picks with winners in CAPS:

Fayette County at SANDY CREEK

ELCA at Mt. Vernon

Alcovy at LOVEJOY