The regular season was nice to Lassiter. The 30-year-old East Cobb school finished 10-0 earned its first No. 1 state ranking.
Now, the real fun begins. The playoffs start Friday and Saturday with 80 first-round games statewide in five classifications, and Lassiter is bringing in extra bleachers for its Class AAAAAA opener with Brookwood.
‘’As soon as one season is over, you start planning for the next one in January, and then you work 10 ½ months just to get to tonight,’’ said Lassiter coach Jep Irwin. “You’re just grateful for the chance to win a game or two, or if you get enough breaks and you’re good enough, maybe you can go all the way.’’
This is the first of five weekends that will culminate with seven championship games played at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 14-15. The Class A playoffs – which will be split into public- and private-school divisions for the first time – will begin next week.
Here is a closer look at the playoffs in each classification that is playing this weekend:
Best team: No. 3 Grayson. Since its shocking 22-7 defeat to Parkview on Sept. 14, the 2011 Class AAAAA champion has won seven straight games by an average score of 48-7. Lassiter (10-0) and Norcross (10-0) are undefeated, and Lowndes (9-1) and Camden County (9-1) are perennial forces with which to be reckoned.
Best first-round game: Colquitt County at McEachern. Colquitt, ranked No. 9, is a heck of a No. 4 seed. The Packers are 8-2 in road playoff games over the past three seasons while reaching the semifinals or better each time. Region 4’s champion, McEachern, is unranked, but a winner of eight straight games.
Best player: DE Robert Nkemdiche, Grayson. The nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit hasn’t put up the numbers (only four sacks) he did a year ago, but few opponents would say he’s not the most imposing force on the field in any game he plays. Also watch for QB Eddie Printz, Lassiter; CB/HB J.J. Green, Camden County; DE Carl Lawson, Milton; and RB Alvin Kamara, Norcross. Walton RB Tyren Jones, a preseason AJC Super 11 choice and formerly the leading candidate for state player of the year, is out with a knee injury against Parkview.
Best tidbit: The top quarter of the draw contains four of the top seven teams in the Top 10: No. 3 Grayson, No. 4 North Gwinnett, No. 6 Lowndes and No. 7 Lovejoy.
Best team: Northside-Warner Robins. Northside is 33-2 under third-year coach Kevin Kinsler and lost to eventual champion Tucker 17-16 in the 2011 Class AAAA quarterfinals. Also undefeated are M.L. King (10-0) and East Paulding (10-0), each seeing their first state title.
Best first-round game: Tucker at Creekview. Tucker finished third behind M.L. King and Stephenson in powerful Region 6, meaning its bid for a second straight state title (and third in six seasons) begins on the road. Creekview, a Cherokee County school that opened in 2006, has never won a playoff game but is 9-1.
Best player: QB Deshaun Watson, Gainesville. A junior who is committed to Clemson, Watson has passed for 2,598 yards and 33 touchdowns. Also watch for RB Kamani Thomas, East Paulding; WR Keshun Hill, Northside; DB Brendan Langley, Kell; and QB Adam Choice, Thomas County Central.
Best tidbit: M.L. King and Stephenson are DeKalb County schools known for developing college prospects but flaming out in the playoffs. They continue their pursuit of the elusive state title after dropping down from the highest classification this year.
Best team: Sandy Creek. The only unbeaten team in AAAA is riding a 52-3 wave over the past five seasons and is loaded with major D-1 prospects in CB Shaquille Wiggins (Georgia commit), OL Alan Knott (South Carolina) and WR Demarre Kitt (uncommitted).
Best first-round game: Dalton vs. Carver-Atlanta, Lakewood Stadium. Though neither is ranked, expect a close game that has some history. They’ve not played since 1967, when Dalton beat Carver 14-12 in Georgia’s first state championship game. Carver was the first former member of the Georgia Interscholastic Association, the governing body for all-black schools during segregation, to make a GHSA football championship game.
Five best players: QB Donquell Green, Burke County. The junior from the 2011 Class AAA champion has rushed for 1,461 yards and scored 28 touchdowns while passing for 929 yards. Also watch for DB/WR Vonn Bell, Ridgeland; DB Shaquille Wiggins, Sandy Creek; and RB Chaz Thornton, Stephens County.
Best tidbit: Three of the top five teams in the Top 10 are in the same quarter of the draw and could match No. 3 Burke County against No. 5 Griffin in the second round with the winner to face No. 1 Sandy Creek in the quarterfinals.
Best team: Thomson. The Bulldogs are 10-0 and ranked No. 1. But Buford, Carver-Columbus and Peach County have more recent state championships.
Best first-round game: Cedar Grove at Buford. Cedar Grove QB Johnathon McCrary needs 305 yards to break the state record for passing yards in a career.
Best player: RB Chris Jordan, Thomson. Jordan has rushed for 1,780 yards and 18 touchdowns. Also watch for McCrary, WR Demarcus Robinson, Peach County; and QB William Walker, Washington County.
Best tidbit: Buford is seeded No. 2 in its region instead of No. 1 because of two forfeits for the inadvertent use of an ineligible player. That gave the Wolves a tougher draw and left preseason No. 1 Peach County without a ranked team in its quarter.
Best team: Calhoun. The defending AA champion has won 63 of its last 66 games, losing three state finals to Buford, which is now in AAA. Brooks County (10-0) had an early-season upset of AAAAAA Valdosta.
Best first-round game: Cook at Lamar County. With 10 road playoff wins since 2000, Cook (7-3) is notorious as draw buster. Fifth-ranked Lamar (9-0-1) is coached by Franklin Stephens, who won a state title at Tucker last season.
Best player: Taylor Lamb, Calhoun. The nephew of head coach Hal Lamb has thrown for 2,364 yards and 25 touchdowns after leading the state with more than 3,500 passing yards in 2011. Also watch for QB Malcolm Parrish, Brooks County; RB/LB Juan Foster, Vidalia; and RB/DB Grant Haley, Lovett.
Best tidbit: No. 1 Calhoun and No. 2 Brooks County are seeded to play in the quarterfinals.