By CHIP SAYE
For the AJC
The road was particularly harsh for the lower-seeded teams in the first round of the playoffs last weekend. Fourth-seeded teams won only three of 40 games, down from eight in 2008 and the average of six over the previous five seasons. No. 3 seeds fared slightly better, winning 10 of 40, giving home teams a 67-13 record for the week.
Now we look to Round 2, where the competition gets tougher, and the picks get more difficult. Here are some of the stories worth watching in tonight’s games:
Region 1-AA is 4-0: Fitzgerald, Thomasville, Brooks County and Cook swept their Region 4-AA opponents last week, making 1-AA the only region in the state to go 4-0 in the first round. Things aren’t likely to go as well tonight. Fitzgerald should take care of Swainsboro to advance to the quarterfinals, but Thomasville (vs. Jefferson County), Brooks County (vs. Charlton County) and Cook (vs. Appling County) all have their work cut out for them. I expect all three to lose, but Thomasville and Brooks County could make things interesting.
Intriguing matchup for Round 3: Victories by Lassiter and Colquitt County would set up a third-round Class AAAAA game between Lassiter coach Chip Lindsey and his former boss, Colquitt County’s Rush Propst. Before coming to Lassiter, Lindsey was the offensive coordinator at Alabama’s Hoover High School, where Propst was the head coach. Lassiter should survive South Gwinnett in a game that could be reminiscent of their last playoff meeting in 1999, when David Greene led South Gwinnett to a 45-42 victory in the first round. But I don’t expect Colquitt to get past Stephenson, which is aiming for its sixth appearance in the quarterfinals this decade.
Toughest pick of the week: I’ve gone back and forth all week on the Commerce-Darlington game. Both teams enter the game 7-4. Both teams have won six of their past seven after 1-3 starts. Both have gone 3-4 against playoff teams, including lopsided losses to Wesleyan. Darlington has struggled a bit in its past couple of games after wrapping up the Region 6-A championship, losing to Trion in the regular-season finale and then beating Warren County 16-14 in the first round. So I’ll go with No. 2-seed Commerce, which is the hotter team at the moment.
Easiest pick of the week: Most times, the closest thing to a lock you can find is Buford. Not this week. The Wolves are playing an 11-0 Jefferson team coached by T. McFerrin, who has a lot of experience beating teams from Gwinnett County from his days as the South Gwinnett coach. I do think Buford will win, but there are safer picks out there. The one I keep coming back to is Dunwoody at Gainesville. Dunwoody acquitted itself well in the Region 5-AAA championship game against St. Pius and had a surprisingly easy victory against Elbert County in the first round. But I don’t see how the Wildcats can slow Gainesville, which has the state’s second-highest scoring average (46.8 points) as well as the top defense (6.3 points) in Class AAA.
No. 4 seeds: Can the three No. 4 seeds that won last weekend make it two upsets in a row? Yes, no and maybe. Yes for Flowery Branch, the runner-up in Class AAA last year. The Falcons are better than your typical No. 4 seed, and they should move into the quarterfinals by beating Grady. The no is Cook, whose road should end tonight at Appling County. That leaves Brookwood as the maybe. The Broncos upset McEachern in the first round, which I didn’t think would happen, and now travel to Peachtree Ridge, the Class AAAAA runner-up in 2008. I’m picking Peachtree Ridge, but I won’t be shocked if Brookwood wins again.
No. 3 seeds: Ten No. 3 seeds escaped the first round, but I see only two making it to the quarterfinals — Liberty County and Westminster. But don’t count out Rockdale County against Hiram (another difficult pick) or defending Class AAAA champion Tucker, which plays at Sandy Creek.
And don’t forget: I can’t fail to mention the biggest battle of heavyweights on tonight’s schedule, Lowndes at Camden County. Last year, Camden County used its second-round victory against the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AAAAA (Northside-Warner Robins) as its springboard to the state championship. The Wildcats are facing the same situation this year, but this time it’s Lowndes advancing to the quarterfinals, and perhaps a lot further.
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Last week: 71-9 (.888); Season: 1,569-385 (.803)
SW DeKalb–Clarke Central
Thomas Co. Cent.–Richmond Acad.
Peach Co.–Washington Co.
St. Pius–North Hall
Charlton Co.–Brooks Co.
Sav. Christian–Miller Co.
Twiggs Co.–Chattahoochee Co.