Here are some of the stories to watch this weekend in the Class AAAAA semifinals:
*Finish the drill: Northside-Warner Robins won back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007 but has not won one since, despite having a 59-6 record in the past five years. The playoff losses have been tough to swallow. The Eagles lost at Camden County 28-20 in the second round in the highest classification in 2008, then lost 31-3 to Camden in the final the next year. In 2010, the Eagles were 10-0 and ranked No. 1 all season but were stunned by Whitewater 28-21 in the first round. Then there was 2011, when Northside lost to Tucker 17-16 on a 100-yard fumble return with less than five minutes to play. This appears Northside’s best chance at reclaiming the championship since 2007, especially with playoff rival Tucker now out of the way.
*Offense vs. defense: The Northside-Ware County game likely will come down to whether Northside can put up points against one of the state’s top defenses. Ware County allows just 7.9 points per game, has held eight of 13 opponents to seven points or less and has not allowed more than 24 points in any game this season. Only AAAAAA Lovejoy (7.2) and AAA Buford (7.3) among remaining playoff teams give up fewer points. Northside averages 42.2 points per game and has scored at least 35 points in every game except for last week’s 23-20 victory over Tucker.
*First-time jitters: Whitewater is the new player on the big stage of the semifinals, appearing in the final four for the first time since the program began in 2004. The Wildcats will face a Gainesville program playing in the semifinals for the 19th time, which ranks fourth in state history. Gainesville is the only team in the state that has reached the semifinals at least 10 times but not won a GHSA championship. On the other side of the bracket, Northside will be playing in its eighth semifinal and Ware County in its sixth.
*Trying to stop Watson: Whitewater will have its hands full this week trying to contain Gainesville QB Deshaun Watson, perhaps the leading candidate for all-classification player of the year honors. Watson’s numbers have been staggering this season. He has passed for 3,480 yards and 46 touchdowns and rushed for 1,262 yards and 21 TDs. That’s 4,742 yards and 67 touchdowns overall. And he leads a Gainesville team is averaging 46.4 points for the season and 55 in the playoffs. For what it’s worth, Watson’s yardage numbers are almost identical to those of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (4,761), who could be on the verge of winning the Heisman Trophy.