By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Class A took a break this weekend and will join in other classifications in the round of 16 next week. Here is a look at the championship schedule Dec. 13-14, as well as a deeper look at four more interesting match ups in the first round:
For fans of those playoff favorites who have no fear of the power of a “jinx,” as well as fans who are thinking positive thoughts about their dark horse team’s chances of making it to the Georgia Dome, the Georgia High School Association is helping you plan ahead with the announcement of the times for the championship games.
The private school title game will lead Championship Weekend, Friday, Dec. 13 at 2:30 p.m. The Class AAA (5:30 p.m.) and AAAAA (8:30 p.m.) games will follow. The public school championship will launch Saturday’s four-game lineup at 11:30 a.m., followed by AA (2:30 p.m.), AAAA (5:30 p.m.) and AAAAAA (8:30 p.m.).
No. 9 Charlton County (6-4) at No. 8 Commerce (7-3). These two storied programs have never met before, most likely due to the distance between them. Charlton County will make the five-hour trip from Folkston in the state’s southeast corner, to Commerce in the northeast corner. After struggling a bit the past few seasons, Commerce won seven games during the regular season for the first time since 2006 under first-year head coach Michael Brown. The Tigers went 2-2 in their non-region games , beating two bad teams Class AAA East Jackson (1-9) and AAA Banks County (0-10), while losing to two very good AA teams, defending champion Jefferson (9-2) and surging Rabun County (8-3). Charlton finished with a sub-.500 record last season for the first time in the 23-year tenure of head coach Rich McWhorter. The team improved this season and is looking to avoid another first round KO, after losing to Marion County last season, 31-12.
No. 11 Mitchell County (8-2) at No. 6 Hawkinsville (7-3). This is also a first-time meeting for two teams with proud traditions. Both missed the post season last year. Mitchell County began the year 1-3 but reeled off five straight wins before falling to No. 1 public school seed Seminole County (10-0), 18-12, for the Region 1 championship in the regular season finale. The Eagles hope to advance past the first round for the first time since 2003, when the school was known as Mitchell-Baker High School, after merging with Baker County from 1981 to 2006. The last time Mitchell County went past the first round was 1980. Hawkinsville is back in the post season after a two-year absence. The Red Devils are one of the hottest teams in Class A, having won their last four games, including a 14-10 victory over Region 4 champion Marion County, the No. 2 seed on the public side. The last time the Red Devils made it past the first round was 2006.
No. 12 Brookstone (6-4) at No. 5 Prince Avenue Christian (9-1). Last year’s private school runners-up, Prince Avenue, has not missed a beat under new coach Jeff Herron. His version of the wing-T, which he brought with him from Camden County, has been held under 40 points just twice this season while the Wolverine defense is yielding just 10 points per game. Prince Avenue is the Region 8 champion for the second time in three seasons. Brookstone, one of the state’s most consistent programs, is in the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The Cougars from Columbus hope to advance past the first round for the first time since an 11-1 finish in 2008. Brookstone and Prince Avenue have never met.
No. 14 Savannah Christian (5-4-1) at No. 3 Aquinas (10-0). The Irish are one of four undefeated teams in Class A – No. 1 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy and No. 2 Mount Pisgah Christian on the private side, and No. 1 Seminole County on the public side. Aquinas has shown that it was not the Brendan Douglas show, now that the bruising linebacker/running back is running over people for UGA in the Southeastern Conference. Junior Ruben Garnett has become the main weapon on the field, while first-year head coach James Leonard has effectively stepped in for Matt Lezotte, who established a winning tradition at the program in just four seasons. Savannah Christian won the last combined state championship in 2011 when the Raiders finished 15-0. They started the season 2-0-1, which included a 17-9 win over Prince Avenue, the Wolverines’ only loss this season. Savannah Christian lost four in a row in the middle of the season but closed strong with three straight victories. The Raiders are 2-0 all-time against Aquinas – 28-12 in 1990 and 14-3 in 1991.