Farewell regular season. It was good to know ye. Now the real fun starts. Here are some odds, ends and musings on the Class AAAA brackets:
Toughest bracket: The GHSA didn’t name or otherwise designate the bracket sections, so I will. The toughest is the Southwest Regional, (so designated because it’s on the bottom left portion of the bracket on the GHSA website). Three of the top five teams in the GHSF Daily final regular-season rankings are there – No. 1 Sandy Creek, No. 3 Burke County and No. 5 Griffin. It also features 9-1 Carver and running back Montravious Taylor and Eastside, which just ripped previously unbeaten Monroe Area 35-0. One of those top five teams will be out after the second round.
De ja vu: Jonesboro traveled to Albany and played Westover on Sept. 7. Sparked by a 75-yard kickoff return by Patrick Petty, the Cardinals overcame an early deficit and won 34-12. The Cardinals get to make the trip again this week with their season on the line.
Most likely 4th seed to advance: Notice I didn’t say best fourth seed. I think that’s Eastside, but the Eagles face the steepest uphill battle in AAAA with a first-round game at Sandy Creek. The fourth seed that appears most likely to advance is Riverdale. The Raiders enter the playoffs having won three of four.
They played No. 6 Jonesboro within a touchdown and seem to have smoothed out the defensive kinks that showed up in the middle of the season.
Best potential first-round pairing of quarterbacks: Shaw and Chandler Whittlesey visit Monroe Area and Stanton Truitt, who missed the final three games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Potential because Truitt is questionable to play this week. Whittlesey has given opponents fits for most of the year, and with him making plays the Raiders were within 31-26 of Sandy Creek in the third quarter on Oct. 12. They’re the only team that has scored 20 against the Patriots.
One score away club: Five teams in AAAA finished 9-1 and within one score of either winning or tying in their loss. Burke lost 21-14 to Thomson, which is expected to make noise in AAA. Marist lost 21-17 to AAAAA mainstay Thomas County Central. Ridgeland lost 42-35 to Calhoun, the odds-on favorite in AA.
The most initeresting of the group are Griffin and Jonesboro. Griffin beat Jonesboro 34-33 in a big fourth-quarter comeback that was the Cardinals’ only loss. The Bears lost two weeks later to Stockbridge on a buzzer-beating field goal. It was a game in which Griffin was out-played but clawed even with a fourth-quarter score. Reverse either of those two results, and the AAAA brackets look different. Griffin, for instance, would avoid a potential second-round matchup against Burke County if they’d beaten Stockbridge.
And finally, predictions to make the semifinal round: In the aforementioned Southwest Regional, Sandy Creek and Burke advance to the quarters, where the Patriots win a nail-biter. In the Northwest Regional, Monroe Area beats Jonesboro in a quarterfinal shootout. In the Northeast, Vonn Bell and Ridgeland make the semis with a win over Mary Persons. In the Southeast, Marist survives a second round scare against Carrollton then handles Stockbridge to earn a semifinal berth.