Here are five questions that will be answered in the Georgia Dome next week in the Class AAAAA final:
Which team will win its first title? Either Gainesville or Ware County will take home its first state championship when they meet at 8:30 p.m. Friday. This is the third trip to the championship game for Ware County, which lost to Northside-Warner Robins in 2007 and Carrollton in 1961. Gainesville will be making its seventh trip to the final and its first since losing to Peach County 13-12 in 2009. Neither coach – Ware County’s Ed Dudley nor Gainesville’s Bruce Miller – has ever won a state championship.
Can anyone stop Deshaun Watson? Gainesville’s quarterback continues to put up staggering numbers. He surpassed 5,000 combined yards passing and rushing for the season in a 28-14 victory over Whitewater on Friday with 227 yards passing and 94 rushing, according to the Gainesville Times. Those numbers increase his season totals to 3,707 yards passing and 1,356 passing, and he has had a hand in 69 touchdowns. Gainesville is averaging 45.1 points per game for the season and 48.5 in the playoffs.
Will Zach Stanford be watching? Stanford, who was Metter’s quarterback from 2001-2004, holds the state record for career passing yards with 9,062. But not for long. Watson has 9,046 (unofficially) after Gainesville’s victory over Whitewater and needs just 17 to break the record. And if he doesn’t get the record in the championship game – Watson is averaging 265 yards per game this season – he surely will put it pretty far out of reach next year in his senior season.
Can Ware County’s defense do it one more time? If anyone can slow down Gainesville’s offense, it might be Ware County. The Gators’ defense ranks among the state’s best, allowing an average of 8.6 points per game with five shutouts. Ware County limited Stephenson to 63 yards of total offense in a 14-0 victory in the quarterfinals, then held Northside to a season low in points in a 24-17 overtime victory in the semifinals on Friday. Richmond Hill’s 24 points were the most scored against the Gators this season.
Will Ware County get some respect? Ware County has been one of the most under-the-radar region champions in AAAAA this season. The Gators have won 13 consecutive games since a season-opening loss to AAAAAA Coffee but haven’t been ranked higher than No. 6. In fact, Ware County has been ranked higher than fifth for only two weeks week since losing in the state final to Northside in 2007 and finishing No. 2 that year. The Gators have reached at least the second round of the playoffs every year since 2007.