Of the 20 teams that have reached the semifinals, 15 were ranked in the preseason and can’t be called a true Cinderella. Five were unranked and given little chance before the season of sticking around this long.
Here is a look at each by the GHSF Daily staff:
Rockdale County (AAAA): The Bulldogs were 5-5 last season and started this year 1-3. Then, to ensure that no one would predict them to reach the final four, they nipped winless Monroe Area 18-15 in the 10th game. Since then, it’s been three decisive playoff victories on the road – Banneker (41-18), Hiram (21-7) and Westside (23-7).
Darlington (A): The Tigers were 6-5 last season and started 0-3. This is the private school in Rome that lost star quarterback Nash Nance to Calhoun, the No. 1-ranked team in Class AA. Darlington won its region but lost to Trion in the 10th game. Who saw this coming? Not us. Coach Tommy Atha has Darlington in the semifinals for the first time since the state championship season of 1998.
Clarke Central (AAAA): Talk about a blast from the past. Clarke Central was North Georgia’s top program in the largest class from the mid-1970s through the mid-’80s under Billy Henderson, a Hall of Fame coach, but hadn’t won a playoff game since 1997. The program hadn’t hit bottom, just become mediocre. Leroy Ryals has improved the school’s victory total each since he arrived in 2006. Still, Clarke Central was 8-2 in the regular season.
Colquitt County (AAAAA): Colquitt is the only semifinalist that is coming off a losing season. Colquitt was 4-6 in Rush Propst’s first season in Moultrie, but the coach who won five state titles at Hoover of Alabama has the program in the semifinals for the first time since 1998. Colquitt finished in third place in powerful Region 1-AAAAA.
Eastside (AAA): The Eagles of Covington lost most of their starters from last season’s region champions. That included player of the year Justin Wray. Eastside started 1-2, losing to its Newton County rivals, but has won 10 straight. Remember that this is a program that suffered consecutive 0-10 seasons in 2004-05.
Here is the preseason ranking of the other 15 semifinal teams:
No. 1 – Buford (AA)
No. 2 – Calhoun (AA), Gainesville (AAA), Wilcox County (A)
No. 3 – Flowery Branch (AAA), Clinch County (A)
No. 4 – Camden County (AAAAA), Fitzgerald (AA)
No. 5 – Sandy Creek (AAAA)
No. 6 – Griffin (AAAA)
No. 7 – Northside (AAAAA), Peach County (AAA), Lovett (AA)
No. 8 – Savannah Christian (A)
No. 10 – Newnan (AAAAA)