By CHIP SAYE
For the AJC
Life in the playoffs isn’t easy for a No. 4 seed. It isn’t supposed to be.
Most of the 40 fourth-place teams that begin the playoffs tonight had to win a crucial game last week just to qualify for the postseason. All of them will be on the road this weekend, and all will face a region champion.
But there is reason for hope. Eight fourth-place teams won first-round games last year, including three each in Class AAAAA (Coffee, Woodstock and Lassiter) and AAAA (Hillgrove, Cedar Shoals and Mt. Zion-Jonesboro). And three of those teams went on to win in the second round, as well. Over the past five seasons, about six No. 4 seeds have won their first-round games each year. I’m picking only one this year, so I’ll probably be wrong on five or six of the 1 vs. 4 matchups.
Here’s a look at the one No. 4 seed I’m predicting will win, plus a few more that I think have a good chance.
Cook (at Northeast-Macon): The Hornets have been here before. Last year, they took their No. 4 seed to Appling County and came away with a 26-10 first-round victory. This year, they take on a Northeast-Macon team that finished in a three-way tie for first place with Henry County and Putnam County in a relatively weak Region 4-AA. Depending on how the tiebreakers had fallen into place, Northeast easily could have been a No. 3 seed. Cook’s 5-5 record is not impressive, but three of the losses were to the playoff teams from its strong region (Fitzgerald, Thomasville and Brooks County), and the others were to teams from higher classifications (AAAAA Tift County and AAAA Brunswick). I expect Cook to make it through to the second round and give Region 1-AA a first-round sweep.
Valdosta (at Newnan): The Wildcats’ next loss will be the final game at Valdosta for coach Rick Tomberlin, who was told after the team’s 57-15 loss to rival Lowndes that he won’t be returning in 2010. Valdosta hasn’t lost in the first round of the postseason since 1976, and it plays in the state’s strongest region. I’m going with Newnan, though, primarily because of its defense. The Cougars have allowed only 6.1 points per game and have recorded five shutouts.
Statesboro (at Lakeside-Evans): Statesboro isn’t used to being a No. 4 seed, but this Blue Devils team has not been as good as we’ve come to expect from Statesboro. Lakeside’s region went 0-4 in the first round of the playoffs last year, so its teams are suspect this time around. But Lakeside appears a bit better than those teams from last season and should hold off Statesboro.
Loganville (at Sandy Creek): The Red Devils were a No. 1 seed last year when they were knocked off in the first round by Hillgrove, so here’s their chance to turn the tables. Running back Storm Johnson leads a strong offense that is averaging 36 points per game. Loganville fell behind the leaders in Region 8-AAAA with its 1-2 start and had to scramble to reach the postseason. The Red Devils face a Sandy Creek team that has a history of early exits from the playoffs, but I don’t expect it to happen this time.
Flowery Branch (at Ridgeland): The Falcons have proved they can score, and that makes them dangerous. They averaged 44 points during the regular season and scored at least 34 in every game except their loss to No. 1-ranked Gainesville. The problem has been stopping people. The Falcons are allowing 25.6 points per game and gave up 51 and 49 in the past two games. Ridgeland had five shutouts in the regular season, and that defense will be severely tested tonight. But I’ll go with Ridgeland to survive.
Chattooga (at Lovett): The good news for Chattooga was that by being the No. 4 seed instead of the No. 3, it got to avoid playing Buford. Now it just has to beat the team that beat Buford 28-21. Chattooga is 9-1, its only loss to No. 1 Calhoun, and has been under the radar all season. I expect this to be one of the better first-round games in any classifications, with Lovett advancing to the second round.
Also: Look for perennial Class A powers Lincoln County and Clinch County to struggle with Trion and Marion County, respectively, before moving on to Round 2.
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The weekend predictions
Last week: 145-35 (.806); Overall: 1,497-377 (.799)
Union Grove–Windsor Forest
Richmond Acad.–Glynn Acad.
SW DeKalb–NW Whitfield
Thomas Co. Central–Alcovy
St. Pius–Franklin Co.
Woodward Acad.–Worth Co.
Brooks Co.–Putnam Co.
Jefferson Co.–Tattnall Co.
Lamar Co.–North Oconee
Swainsboro–McIntosh Co. Acad.
Chattahoochee Co.–Seminole Co.
Clinch Co.–Marion Co.
Holy Innocents’–Social Circle
Sav. Christian–Irwin Co.
Twiggs Co.–Sav. Country Day