By Ryan Rohde
Championships will be won this weekend in Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia. Meanwhile, semifinal play continues in Georgia, Kentucky and Florida. With some of the country's most elite squads going head-to-head, it certainly makes for one of the best exciting weekends of the season. SportsPower correspondent Ryan Rohde has highlighted the best of the best championship and semifinal matchups in each state.
Class 6A Championship
Prattville Lions (12-1) vs. Hoover Bucs (13-1), Dec. 6: These two teams have combined to win seven of the last eight state titles, including the past six. Prattville is going for the three-peat and will face a familiar foe in Hoover. This is the third time the teams will meet in the title game since '04, with each team taking one title apiece. The Lions have dominant since the season commenced. The offense is led by QB Sam Gibson, who has over 1,500 total yards, and RB Jarodis Williams, who has rushed for 1,300 yards and 19 scores. The Lions' defense has been the backbone for Prattville. LB La’angel Albright leads the team with 122 tackles and DL Alex Page has added 16 sacks. Meanwhile, Hoover has been the dominant force in Northern Alabama for the past decade and this year is no different. QB Simon Probst has been steady all season and threw for 200 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 28-7 win over Huntsville. Both teams play a similar style of ball and this matchup has the makings to be a classic.
Class 4A Division I Championship
Byrnes Rebels (13-1) vs. Sumter Gamecocks (12-2), Dec. 6: The Rebels are back in familiar territory playing in their sixth title game in the last seven years. Byrnes avenged its only regular season loss to Dorman last week, 24-13. RB Marcus Lattimore is one of the most talented backs in the country and it showed last week when he had 38 carries for 238 yards and two touchdowns against Dorman. QB Chas Dodd has thrown for 2,500 yards and 18 touchdowns, while his defense is playing its best ball of the year. Historically, Sumter is a successful program and is now making its eighth state title game appearance. RB Roderick McDowell is a Clemson commit and has rushed for 1,778 yards and 23 touchdowns so far, including 178 yards and a score last week. For the first time, the title game will not be played in the state capital of Columbia, as the showdown has been moved to Clemson.
South Panola Tigers (14-0) vs. Meridian Wildcats (13-1), Dec. 5: South Panola brings the nation's longest winning streak of 89 games into Friday night's contest. The Tigers will try and capture their sixth straight state title. The Tigers havn't been as dominant as in years gone by, as evidenced by a close call to Tupelo in the regular season and a three-point win against Madison Central last weekend, so Meridian is well aware about the opportunity this weekend. The road to the six-peat will not be any easier as star running back Nicolas Parker and standout LB David Connor were both injured in the semifinals, but do expect both to play. Meanwhile, Meridian was a semifinalst last season and they hope to take that final step. QB Tyler Russell is one of the best in the state. Russell has thrown for 3,041 yards and 39 scores to date. Wideouts Marcus McQuarley, JJ Harbin and Chris Smith are Russell’s top targets and complete the best passing attack in the state. This game is going to be an interesting contrast in styles as South Panola will look to its running game while Meridian should feature a potent air assault.
AAA Division 6 Championship
Oscar Smith Tigers (14-0) vs. Osbourn Eagles (9-4), Dec. 6: Oscar Smith has been one of the most consistent squads in Virginia all season. The Tigers averaged over 40 points a game during the regular season while the defense posted six shutouts. Junior QB Phillip Sims is touted as one of the best prospects of 2010 and UVA commit Tim Smith is a dangerous downfield threat. For all of the team's success, this is their first appearance in the state Div. 6 title game. On the other side, Osbourn is the absolute underdog. The Eagles are coming together at the right time and have won six straight games. At one point this season, the Eagles had a record of 3-4 with fears of not making the playoffs. However, Osbourn is a program with experience, as they took home the title in '06. The Eagles have beaten undefeated teams in three consecutive weeks to reach the title game, including last week's blowout against Varina. In that game, the Eagle defense held dynamic back Tre Johnson to 16 yards on 13 carries. Johnson is the leading rusher in the Richmond area with 1,950 yards and 21 TDs. Osbourn is the hottest team in the state right now and will try to take down its fourth consecutive undefeated opponent. But, Oscar Smith is one of the most talented squads in the nation and Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium is going to be pandemonium on Saturday night.
Maryville Rebels (14-0) vs. Hillsboro Burros (12-2), Dec. 6: Maryville is one of the most formidable programs in Tennessee history. The Rebels have won 12 state titles, including the last four. The squad's quest for a fifth straight championship pits them against a familiar foe. Three of Byrnes' 12 state titles have came against Hillsboro, the most recent taking place in '06. In this year's battle, both teams feature great defenses. Maryville’s DE Justin Smith was recently named Tennessee’s Mr. Football for 4A lineman. The Rebels have not allowed more than 17 points in a game all season. Meanwhile, Burros DB Eric Gordon leads their stingy defense. Gordon has recently committed to Tennessee and is regarded as one of the best in the Southeast. Both teams know each other well and it should be a close one.
St. Xavier Tigers (12-0) vs. Trinity Shamrocks (12-1), Dec. 5: One of the best rivalries in the country now spills over into the playoffs. The two most dominant teams in the state have won a combined 29 state championships. The game routinely draws upwards of 30,000 in the regular season and the teams routinely meet in the state title game. While this year may be a little different, it certainly shapes up to be no less intense. Trinity has won three consecutive state titles and six out of the last seven, including of a victory over the Tigers in last year’s championship game. The streak was interrupted by St. X in ’04. The Tigers exacted some revenge earlier this year, crushing the Shamocks, 30-6, in the regular season. St. X has put up big numbers over the course of the season, averaging over 50 points a game. RB Rolandan Finch has averaged 10 yards a carry and has 28 touchdowns. The Shamrocks bring a potent offense as well. RB Tim Phillips put up 216 yards last week and QB Cameron Smyth threw three touchdowns in a 63-15 win over Eastern. Expect another huge crowd and add another chapter to this storied rivalry.
Class AAA Championship
South Charleston Black Eagles (13-0) vs. George Washington Patriots (12-1), Dec. 6: The first meeting between these two juggernauts came down to one point and you can expect more of the same this time around. George Washington opened eyes this year by making it to the state finals and only losing that one game to South Charleston in the regular season. QB Taylor Norman has stepped up as a first-year starter and has thrown for over 1,500 yards and 23 touchdowns. The running back duo of Greg Jones and Felix Mollett have each rushed for over a thousand yards and have combined for 19 scores. All the while, South Charleston comes in with a very balanced run game led by near thousand yard rusher Aaron Slusher. QB Marcell Brown and WR Aaron Dobson form one elite pass-catch duo. Both teams know each other all too well, so expect another low scoring battle that comes down to the fourth quarter.
Newnan Cougars (13-0) vs. Camden County Wildcats (13-0), Dec. 5: These two squads have been at the top of the pack all season. Defense is the name of the game for Newnan. The Cougars shut down North Gwinnett in last week’s quarterfinal, holding the Bulldogs to just three points. Newnan has a big chip on its shoulder as this team hasn’t reached the title game since '81. Camden County is a very experienced team with 15 starters back from last season's semifinal squad. The Wildcats have not had an easy to road to this point. They had to beat Northside (28-20) and then a rolling Woostock team (18-17). Camden’s offense has been explosive all season but might be without RB Greg Baker, who is nursing a sore ankle. It's going to be abnormally cold in Georgia this weekend, perfect weather for an excellent football game.
Peachtree Ridge Lions (11-2) vs. Grayson Rams (13-0), Dec. 5: Two of the youngest programs in the state play for the chance to win a title. Grayson is 60-30 overall since beginning its football program eight years ago, which is the best eight-year start to a program in Gwinnett County history. The Rams defeated mighty Lowndes last week, 17-7, and have been underestimated all season. Peachtree Ridge is also a young program, but they have been to this stage before. The Lions captured a share of the state title two years ago after going on a similar run. The Lions play their best ball when it matters most. They avenged a regular season loss to Harrison in round two and shutout Coffee last weekend.Look for both teams to control the ball in a low-scoring grudge match.
Class 4A Region Finals
Plant Panthers (11-1) vs. Armwood Hawks (12-0), Dec. 5: It's a rematch of the annual regular season game between two of Tampa's best. Armwood won the first showdown, 9-2, in week 1, and both teams haven’t lost since. Plant is without star QB Aaron Murray, who broke his leg midway through the season. Backup QB Phillip Ely has filled in beautifully for his teammate and has thrown for 1,600 yards and 19 scores. All the while, the defense has allowed just 14 points total in the playoffs. Armwood QB Mywan Jackson is a great dual threat. He has thrown for 1,500 yards while rushing for almost another grand. He leads an offense that has posted 80 combined points in the playoffs. These two teams always play each other tight and this one should be no different.
Class 2A State Semifinals
Madison County Cowboys (12-0) vs. Bolles Bulldogs (12-0), Dec. 5: The winner of this game will be the frontrunner to win the title game. Both schools have historically dominated Class 2A and are doing the same this season. The Bulldogs have won their games by an average score of 55-10, including the playoffs. Running backs Stephan Barnett and Jawan Jamison provide an explosive punch in the backfield. The Cowboys counter with their own duo of Cory Adkins and Chris Thompson. Look for a lot of points to be scored in what could be a shootout.
Class 5A Region Finals
Lakeland Dreadnaughts (12-0) vs. Chamberlain Chiefs (11-1), Dec. 5: Lakeland is historically one of the most successful programs in Florida. The Dreadnaughts have won six state titles and two national championships. This year's Lakeland squad is battle-tested and has won a number of close games, including last week's come-from-behind win against defending champ Osceola. RB Aaron Truedell led Lakeland last week with three touchdowns, while the defense shut out Osceola in the second half. On the other side, Chamberlain's only loss came to Tampa power Plant. The Chiefs have been strong throughout the season. QB Dontae Aycock is one of the best playmakers in the state and has accounted for over 2,700 total yards and 32 touchdowns. Lakeland’s strong defense will have to account for Aycock if they want to win. This could be a classic between two Tampa area schools.
To contact correspondent Ryan Rohde, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.