Quick observations on the AAAA semifinals: The gnat line is the dividing line between still playing and season over — the four semifinalists are the region champs from Regions 5, 6, 7 and 8 — and this is not the usual suspects.
Yes, Sandy Creek and Marist are playoff mainstays with two state championships each, all of those since 1998. Ridgeland and Monroe Area have numerous recent playoff appearances, but nothing in their past duplicates the success they’re enjoying this year.
The champions from Regions 7 (Ridgeland) and 8 (Monroe Area) have set school records for victories and have dynamic playmakers leading the way.
And now, something else new: Coin flips for home-field advantage.
In Monroe Area’s case, the coin flip for its game against No. 1 Sandy Creek is set for Sunday in Thomaston, when the two schools will hash out the details of the game. This was made necessary because neither school’s stadium has the required seating capacity of 4,000. Both are mulling their options.
Monroe Area has already made inquiries into having temporary seating brought in. GHSA rules allow this, but require that the host school bear the burden of the cost outside of using game revenue.
“It’s expensive,” said Monroe Area coach Matt Fligg. “But if we get a chance to host it, and we can’t because of the stadium capacity, that’d be a big deal in Monroe.”
Pick your poison: Ridgeland, meanwhile, just keeps putting up withering numbers on offense. The Panthers won their 12th straight game Friday behind 212 yards and four touchdowns from fullback Darrell Bridges, who surpassed 2,000 yards for the season. Key on him, and you’re facing the prospect of big-time prospect Vonn Bell running free.
“To be honest, we’ve been doing this all year,” said Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis. “It puts a lot of stress on the defenses. They can’t focus on one kid.”
The Panthers won the coin flip with Marist Saturday morning and will host the semifinal game.
Ridgeland’s challenge? A Marist defense that has held 11 of 13 opponents to two touchdowns or less in regulation and has five shutouts. The War Eagles held Stockbridge to 31 net rushing yards Friday night in a 15-7 win, according to the Henry Herald. The Tigers’ touchdown came after Marist fumbled a punt to give Stockbridge the ball at the Marist 20.
Speed out: In Sandy Creek’s lexicon, the play that turned Friday’s game against Burke is called a “speed out”, and it illustrates how the Patriots keep opposing defenses honest. Junior receiver Demarre Kitt sprints downfield then cuts toward the sideline. With the ball delivered on time, Kitt spins back toward the middle of the field, and if there is no safety help and he has just one defender covering him, that defender faces a do-or-die play. Friday, it was die; Kitt spun away and raced the final 60 yards for the go-ahead score.
“They either make the tackle or they miss,” said Kitt. “Most of the time they miss.”