This week’s installment of the History Channel series: Mankind, The Story of All of Us, detailed the circumstances of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World. Columbus, as we all learned in grade school, took off across the Atlantic Ocean not knowing what he’d find, or, frankly, if he’d find anything other than water.
Which brings us to the Class AAAA quarterfinals. Three of the eight teams this week are looking to find land. Yes, Stockbridge, South Effingham and Ridgeland are … wait for it … in uncharted waters. None of the three has previously advanced this far.
Is that meaningful? Probably not as meaningful as talent and preparation, as well as the draw of the bracket. But it will be interesting to see how they fare. I’d rate Ridgeland as the most likely of the three to land in the semifinals. Whatever happens, this is a red-letter weekend in AAAA football.
The state quarterfinals in Class AAAA:
South Effingham (8-4) at Monroe Area (11-1): Shootout alert. South Effingham and explosive running back Josh Mercer average 31.2 points per game. Monroe Area, with quarterback Stanton Truitt (1,300 yards rushing, 690 passing) and running back Kwan Brooks (1,711 rushing yards) average 38.9 points per game. Monroe Area survived overtime last week to advance. Prediction: Monroe Area 36-28.
No. 3 Burke County (11-1) at No. 1 Sandy Creek (12-0): In a matchup befitting a state final between the last two Class AAA champions, the Bears visit Sandy Creek by virtue of a coin flip. Sandy Creek’s defense, which has allowed just 38 points in the last six games, faces one of the state’s most dynamic players in Burke’s Donquell Green (1,626 rushing yards, 1,202 passing yards), who has accounted for 40 touchdowns on offense and defense and is also dangerous on returns. The host Patriots counter with the most well-rounded offense in AAAA. Running backs Eric Swinney (1,226 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Delvin Weems (884, 15) provide balance for quarterback Cole Garvin (2,087 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and receiver Demarre Kitt (53 catches, 881 yards, 8 Tds). Prediction: Sandy Creek 32-26.
Mary Persons (10-2) at No. 9 Ridgeland (11-1): Mary Persons, one of three teams to need overtime last week to advance, did it the hard way, going on the road and shutting out Cairo. Now, the Bulldogs get a trip to the other end of the state, where Ridgeland awaits. Behind running backs Darrell Bridges (1,919 yards, 33 touchdowns) and Vonn Bell (922, 12) the Panthers have scored at least 35 points in every game, have topped 40 points nine times in 12 games. Prediction: Ridgeland, 38-21.
No. 2 Marist (11-1) at No. 4 Stockbridge (11-1): Stockbridge has reeled off 11 straight wins since a season-opening loss to M.L. King, and last week’s 42-21 win over Wayne County was the first time the Tigers have allowed 20 points since that first game. Quarterback Trenton Earl and running back Malik Bryan have combined for more than 2,800 yards of offense. They’ll face likely their stiffest test to date against Marist, which has five shutouts and has allowed 14 points or less five other times in regulation. The War Eagles survived a five-overtime nail-biter against Carrollton last week and face another top-10 opponent this time around. Prediction: Marist, 23-19.