By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
The first round is in the books. Both top seeds – Athens Academy (barely) and Lincoln County – will move on. While the higher seeds went 6-2 on the public school side, the lower seeded teams split with the higher seeds on the private side.
Here are the quarterfinal match ups, followed by some observations from the first round and a look at how the regions fared as well.
No. 9 Wilkinson County at No. 1 Lincoln County
No. 5 Dooly County at No. 4 Seminole County
No. 11 Trion at No. 3 Emanuel County Institute
No. 7 Marion County at No. 2 Wilcox County
No. 9 Prince Avenue at No. 1 Athens Academy
No. 13 First Presbyterian Day at No. 12 Landmark Christian
No. 11 George Walton Academy at No. 3 Walker
No. 7 Savannah Christian at No. 2 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy
Top 4 public seeds roll, Commerce’s struggles continue
The top four seeds on the public side all cruised to wins in Round 1. No. 1 Lincoln County (21-0 over Hancock Central), No. 2 Wilcox County (42-14 over Greenville), No. 3 Emanuel County Institute (46-12 over Gordon Lee) and No. 4 Seminole County (36-7 over Commerce) all won by an average margin of nearly 30 points.
The biggest surprise was probably Seminole County’s blowout of No. 13 Commerce, a proud program that is sliding a bit. Seminole (9-2) handed the Tigers (5-6) their worst playoff loss since a 1991 loss to Oglethorpe County (36-8). Commerce, which won two state titles and 17 region championships since it began competing in football in 1909, is a mediocre 32-35 since 2007, and has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2006.
FPD over Brookstone biggest of four private school upsets
First Presbyterian (7-4), the No. 13 seed on the private school side, raced to a 21-0 lead and hung on to knock off No. 4 Brookstone (8-3), 49-33, in Columbus. The lower seed was victorious in three other private school first round contests.
No. 9 Prince Avenue Christian (9-2) took out No. 8 Darlington (7-4) in Rome, 42-21, as Bryce Huff ran for three touchdowns. No. 11 George Walton Academy (8-3) got 224 yards rushing and four touchdowns from junior Stanley “Boom” Williams, en route to a 38-12 win over No. 6 Aquinas (8-3). The Bulldogs rolled up more than 400 yards on the ground while holding the Irish’s Brendan Douglas, who committed to Georgia Tech, to just 56.
And Landmark (8-3) is at it again. The War Eagles, who won four road playoff games last season before falling to Savannah Christian in the state title game, defeated Calvary Day (9-2), 10-7, in Savannah, on the strength of 223 yards of total offense for junior running back Jeremiah Kirkland – 187 yards rushing on 31 carries and a touchdown, and 2 catches for 36 yards. The game wasn’t as close as it seemed as the Cavaliers didn’t score until there were 13 seconds left in the game.
Athens Academy, Walker remain perfect
The two undefeated teams in Class A remain that way after Round 1. Athens Academy (11-0), the No. 1 seed on the private school side, trailed 13-0 going into the fourth quarter but willed itself to a 17-13 win over Mt. Pisgah (6-5) to move into the quarterfinals. Sophomore receiver Eric Williams and senior quarterback Austin Schulte got the Spartans’ comeback going when they hooked up on a 61-yard touchdown to narrow the gap to 13-7 early in the fourth quarter.
Walker (11-0), the No. 3 seed, also trailed early – 7-6 at halftime – but rallied as well to take a 28-7 victory over Athens Christian (4-7). Senior Evan Kasian led the way for the Wolverines with 183 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 21 carries. It was the first playoff win in the 12-year history of the Walker program.
ELCA, Savannah Christian advance
No. 2 seed Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy and No. 7 Savannah Christian both built 28-point halftime leads and cruised to first round victories. ELCA (10-1) got 80 yards rushing on 8 carries from senior Keyante Green, a Purdue commit, and held off No. 15 Our Lady of Mercy (6-5), 42-14. Savannah Christian (8-3) drilled Holy Innocents (6-5) 35-17, behind senior Ivan Reese’s 87 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Savannah Christian, the defending Class A champions, will travel to McDonough next week to face ELCA in a game many believe will produce the eventual private school champion.
Trion triumphs, Wilkinson rallies, Marion dumps Charlton
Trion, the No. 11 seed, pulled the biggest upset on the public schools side as the Bulldogs (9-2) continued their best season since 2003 by blasting No. 6 Irwin Co., 31-6, in Ocilla, nearly five hours from home. Cory Bethune ran for two scores the passed for another the lead the way.
No. 9 Wilkinson County (8-3) got a late touchdown to prevail over No. 8 Miller County (8-3), 27-26, in Colquitt. No. 7 Marion County (9-2) brought the nightmare season for Charlton County (5-6) to an end as the Eagles prevailed 31-12 in Buena Vista. Charlton finished below .500 for the first time since 1989, the year prior to the arrival of head coach Rich McWhorter.
Region 8 has the bragging rights after the first round of the playoffs going 3-1 as Athens Academy, Prince Avenue and George Walton all advanced. Meanwhile, Region 2 went 1-3 as Wilcox County is now the only team from that league – made up of all public schools – left in the tournament. Here are the other records (*keep in mind that Region 5, Mercy-ELCA, and Region 7, Hancock Central-Lincoln County, were at a disadvantage as two teams faced each other in the first round):
Region 1: 1-1
Region 3: 2-1
Region 4: 2-2
*Region 5: 2-2
Region 6: 2-2
*Region 7: 3-2