We’re about two months in, and I can see several potential state champions. Hope you’ll answer today’s poll: Which teams do you believe can win the state title this season? You can vote for as many teams as you like.
Here are those that, giving some benefit of the doubt, I think can win –
North Gwinnett – Dominant wins over Camden County and Norcross make North the team to beat. The 50-47 shootout with Mill Creek also shows that North can be had. Mill Creek was there despite three turnovers and failing to cover an onside kick. One question mark for North Gwinnett is its running game. C.J. Leggett is very good, but North has been held to 10 yards rushing twice (Grayson, Norcross). It’s not so much a weakest as it is style. North is a passing team. Hayden Sphire has 22 TD passes. He also has eight interceptions. A good passing game is not as consistent or reliable as a good run game. That’s one reason why no predominantly passing team has won a state title in Georgia’s highest classification in over 40 years. Can North beat those odds? Yes.
Norcross – The 28-0 victory over Collins Hill – a team that threw for more than 400 yards the week before in beating Peachtree Ridge – was a statement for the defending champs. Also note the progress of QB A.J. Bush. The transfer from Milton was not ready for the moment of B.T. Washington in the opener. He was 10-for-24 with an interception and was no threat to run. Against Collins Hill, he was 9-for-14 for 205 yards, and he rushed for 56 yards. If Bush becomes a consistently good quarterback, Norcorss is going to be hard to stop. One final note: The No. 2 seed from Region 7 will be favored to reach the semifinals. It’s a sweet draw. Check it out.
Colquitt County – The Packers have all the tools – good coaching, a history of winning in the playoffs, good balance of run/pass, good defense. Their schedule from start to finish prepares them well for the post-season, and this year, they’re going to get more home playoff games and a nice draw – if they win the region for a change. Junior RB Sihiem King (671 yards rushing, 258 yards receiving) is making a name for himself. The only fly in the soup is the season-ending injury to all-state DE Jamiyus Pittman. That hurts.
Lovejoy – Lovejoy is well-rounded with an athletic, aggressive defense and the potential to be very good both running and passing. WR Preston Williams is very hard to defend. But Lovejoy needs to be steadier at quarterback and healthier in general. Two preseason all-state players, DeMarquis Gates and Jeremiah Kirkland, have missed significant time. Lovejoy probably will be seeded to face Region 7’s champion (likely North Gwinnett) in the quarterfinals. Could toss would decide home field.
McEachern – Another team that doesn’t pass that well. There probably aren’t two better players in one backfield than RB Taj Griffin and QB Ty Clemons, though. This week’s game with North Cobb will be a test, especially for the defense. McEachern has allowed four touchdowns in a game three times this season. This is also a program that hasn’t advanced past the second round since 1999. What is this year’s projected second-round opponent? Camden County.
Archer – I have a hard time believing that a program that has never won a playoff game can win Georgia’s highest classification. Although isn’t that what Peachtree Ridge did in 2006? And P.R. was a No. 4 seed. I do think Archer is underrated, not in the polls but in the minds of the public. Region 8 is suddenly underrated. Just because Grayson and Brookwood and Parkview have taken steps back doesn’t mean that winning this region isn’t still an accomplishment, especially if the Tigers beat Grayson and run the table 10-0.
Camden County – Talented team that should continue to improve as it adjusts to coaching staff changes. But at some point, the Wildcats will need to pass. Camden is 20-for-45 passing this season. Most of those completions have gone to running backs. Camden needs to win the region or face a potential trip to the Region 4 winner (McEachern, North Cobb) in the second round.
FYI, this is what the playoff draw is projected to look like –
(R2 #4) Luella at (R4 #1) McEachern
(R3 #3) East Coweta at (R1 #2) Camden County
(R7 #4) Peachtree Ridge at (R5 #1) Etowah
(R6 #3) South Forsyth at (R8 #2) Dacula
(R4 #4) Marietta at (R2 #1) Lovejoy
(R1 #3) Lowndes at (R3 #2) Newnan
(R5 #4) Walton at (R7 #1) North Gwinnett
(R8 #3) Grayson at (R6 #2) West Forsyth
(R1 #4) Valdosta at (R3 #1) Hughes
(R4 #3) Hillgrove at (R2 #2) Newton
(R8 #4) Brookwood at (R6 #1) Alpharetta
(R5 #3) Lassiter at (R7 #2) Norcross
(R3 #4) Douglas County at (R1 #1) Colquitt County
(R2 #3) Alcovy at (R4 #2) North Cobb
(R6 #4) Lambert at (R8 #1) Archer
(R7 #3) Collins Hill at (R5 #2) Milton