By Ryan Rohde
Champions will be crowned in Georiga, Florida and North Carolina this week. From Bolles to Pine Forest and to Camden County, newcomers and perennial powers alike will be featured throughout the region this weekend.
Class 6A Semifinals
Miami Northwestern Bulls (12-1) vs. Miramar Patriots (11-2), Dec. 12: Miramar has had its share of close games the past three weeks. The Patriots have ended the seasons for Carol City, Cypress Bay, and Deerfield Beach by a combined 11 points. QB Eugene Smith has been responsible for the fourth quarter magic that has the Patriots in the semifinals. Meanwhile, Northwestern is closing in on its third straight 6A title. The Bulls have been impressive this postseason by beating Columbus, Central and Killian. RB Daquan Hargrett has been impressive as usual and the Bulls defense held Killian to just 15 points last week. Miramar is going to need some more fourth quarter magic to take down the Northwestern this weekend.
Class 5A Semifinals
Lakeland Dreadnaughts (13-0) vs. Pine Forest Eagles (12-0), Dec. 12: Lakeland is one of the most successful programs in the nation, let alone the state. The ‘Naughts have won six state titles and two national titles as well. Last week, Lakeland used a myriad of running backs to post over 300 total rushing yards and four rushing scores. Meanwhile, the defense controlled the line of scrimmage and held an explosive Chamberlain team scoreless until 3:30 left in the third. Pine Forest has exceeded expectations after a 6-5 season a year ago. The offensive is potent with 21 points being its lowest output all season. The Eagles look to make a little history of their own as they try to continue their dream season.
Class 4A Semifinals
Plant Panthers (12-1) vs. Dwyer Panthers (12-1), Dec. 12: Plant has been just fine without star QB Aaron Murray. The Panthers took down top-seeded and Tampa area rival Armwood last weekend, 17-14. The Plant defense may be tops in the state. The unit has allowed just 28 points this postseason and has held strong while backup QB Philip Ely has thrown for 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns since Murray went down midseason. Dwyer features Palm Beach County player of the year Matt Elam. Elam has been ferocious on both sides of the ball. He has posted over 1,000 total yards as a receiver and running back and posted 82 tackles as a linebacker and defensive back. The Panthers will rely heavily on Elam if they want to take out Plant.
Class 2A Championship
Bolles Bulldogs (13-0) vs. Gulliver Prep (11-1), Dec. 13: The Bulldogs are going after their ninth title in school history this weekend. Last week, Bolles stunned nationally ranked Madison County, 21-7. Junior RB Jawan Jamison rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns in last week's semifinals. The defense did their part by keeping Madison County RB Chris Thompson in check while Jamison controlled the clock. Meanwhile, Gulliver Prep's offense has been explosive all year. QB Michael Strauss has completed over 73 percent of his passes and has thrown for 3,024 yards and 32 scores. RB Darian Mallary might be the most underrated back in the Miami area. The 5-7, 180 lbs. senior has put up over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns. Look for this one to go back and forth in a close battle.
Class 2B Championship
Trinity Catholic Celtics (12-1) vs. Pahokee Blue Devils (11-2), Dec. 13: Pahokee has long been the class of 2B. The Blue Devils have won the past two championships and three of the last four. Two of those games were played between these same two teams with Trinity winning the title in ’05 and Pahokee exacting revenge the next year. RB Vincent Smith has been solid all year and contributed 184 yards in last week's 30-0 win over Frostproof. The battle to watch will be Trinity’s offensive line against Pahokee’s massive defensive line. The Celtic front five has allowed just four sacks all season while opening holes for the ground game, which is averaging 7.2 yards a carry. The big guys up front have the task of controlling a Pahokee squad that allowed just 14 points all postseason long. This game will be won in the trenches.
Class AAAAA Championship
Peachtree Ridge Lions (12-2) vs. Camden County Wildcats (14-0), Dec. 13: Peachtree Ridge has returned to its second title game in three years. The last showing for the Lions ended with a co-championship when the game ended in a 14-14 tie to Roswell. This year’s version has relied on great defense. LSU commit LB Kevin Minter leads a defense that has posted two shutouts in the playoffs. Camden County has dominated opponents all season long and last week's semifinal was no different. The Wildcats outgained Newnan 122-19 in the first half and led 20-0 after the first quarter. QB Christian Milstead leads an offense that averages 44 points a contest. This game is set up for a grudge match of one great offense vs. one great defense.
Class AAAA Championship
Tucker Tigers (13-1) vs. Marist War Eagles (13-1), Dec. 12: Tucker will need to avenge its only loss of the season if it wants to win its first-ever state title. The Tigers fell to Marist, 38-0, on Sept. 26. Tiger RB Drayton Calhoun has tremendous speed and committed to LSU. Linebacker Jonathan Davis is a big-time prospect and has great sideline to sideline speed. Marist, meanwhile, has shown they can win with defense. The War Eagles won a very physical game over Rome, 19-17, to reach the championship. The Marist defense held Rome’s P.J. Green to just 33 yards rushing. These teams know each other all to well and don’t expect the same result as the regular season matchup.
Class AAA Championship
Cairo Syrupmakers (14-0) vs. Flowery Branch Falcons (12-2), Dec. 13: Cairo exacted a matter of revenge last week to reach the title game for the second consecutive year. The Syrupmakers defeated defending champs Carver-Columbus, 42-13, in a rematch of last season's title match. QB Angelo Pease threw two touchdowns and ran for two more. Cairo showed why they have been on top of the rankings all season long. Flowery Beach, meanwhile, has had quite a different road. The program commenced in '02 and had to win all of this year’s playoff games on the road, including last week's 28-0 win over LaGrange. The unranked Falcons are led by Georgia Tech commit FB Daniel Drummond, who ran for 248 yards on 22 carries in the semis. Drummond has not garnered the respect he deserved until his performance in the playoffs. That could change on Saturday.
Class AA Championship
Calhoun Yellow Jackets (12-2) vs. Buford Wolves (14-0), Dec. 12: Buford has been crushing teams all season on its way to a second consecutive title game. The Wolves have a chance to capture their fifth title this decade. Buford has also been making history and has had an easy time doing so. They are only the sixth GHSA team to reach 10 state championship games and could tie a state record for most wins in a decade. Meanwhile, Calhoun needed a goalline stand to preserve a win over Brooks County in a 38-35 win. The Yellow Jacket defense stopped Brooks County a half-yard short as time elapsed to secure a spot in the title game. QB Michael Johnson accounted for four touchdowns, including the game-winning one-yard run with 4:11 to play. Calhoun will need some more heroics if they plan on beating Buford.
Class A Championship
Wesleyan Wolves (12-2) vs. Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs (14-0), Dec. 13: ECI comes in as defending champs with a 29-game winning streak on the line. ECI running back Washaun Ealey is one of the most heralded in state history. The future Georgia Bulldog has rushed for nearly 8,000 yards in his career and has broken the state record for single season and career touchdowns. Wesleyan is making its first-ever trip to the finals. QB Conor Welton threw three touchdown passes in last week;s win over Lincoln County. The upstart Wolves have a big chance to make history in the Georgia Dome this weekend.
Class 4AA Championship
Jack Britt Buccaneers (13-1) vs. Richmond Raiders (11-3), Dec. 14: Richmond ended Independence’s streak of nine straight championship games with a 30-22 win last week. QB Tedarrius Wiley threw three touchdowns as the defense limited the high-scoring Independence team to just 14 points through three and half quarters. Richmond is playing in its first title game since '98. Britt will look to avenge its only loss of the year to Richmond on Sept. 27th. The Bucs can put up big numbers on offense, especially with offensive lineman Xavier Nixon opening holes for NC State commit QB Everett Proctor. The two conference rivals know each other well so expect a tight game.
To contact correspondent Ryan Rohde, send an e-mail to email@example.com.