Four Georgia high school football teams won state championships for the first time in their histories in 2012. They were Norcross, Gainesville, Jefferson and Eagle’s Landing Christian.
The trend toward new might be building steam again in 2013 as the football playoffs reach the semifinals tonight with 14 games statewide.
Ten of the 28 semifinal teams are one victory from playing in their first state championship games. They are Kell and Creekside in AAAAA, Callaway and Ringgold in AAA, Lamar County and Benedictine in AA and Aquinas, Mount Pisgah Christian, Calvary Day and Marion County in A.
Two others – McEachern and North Gwinnett – have been in championship games but never won. Those Class AAAAAA teams play each other tonight at McEachern.
From 2001 through 2005, there were only three first-time state champions. Over the past five seasons, there have been 11.
Here are some other things worth knowing about tonight’s 14 semifinal games.
*Heads or tails: The home team is 32-22 in semifinal games since 2008, when the semifinals were moved out of the Georgia Dome and back into high school stadiums. Six of the 14 semifinal games this year required a coin flip to decide the home team. That’s the GHSA requirement for playoff games between teams that are seeded the same from their regions. The coin flip winners were McEachern (over North Gwinnett), Creekside (Kell), Tucker (Gainesville), Buford (Callaway), Lamar C ounty (Benedictine) and Lovett (Brooks County).
*Defending champions: Norcross (AAAAAA), Gainesville (AAAAA), Buford (AAA) and ELCA (A private) – state champions from 2012 – remain in the running. Only once in GHSA playoff history did as many as three defending champions repeat. The chances increased last season, when the GHSA went to seven state champions from five.
*Favorites: Five of the six teams that finished the regular season ranked No. 1 have made it through. They are North Gwinnett (AAAAAA), Tucker (AAAAA), Buford (AAA), Lamar County (AA) and ELCA (A). Only Sandy Creek (AAAA) did not. The Patriots lost to No. 2 Griffin in the quarterfinals.
*Underdogs: McEachern and Ringgold are the only unranked teams in the semifinals outside of the Class A, which has eight semifinalists because of the public-private split. McEachern was ranked as high as No. 2 after a 7-0 start, so consider Ringgold the only real Cinderella. The northwest Georgia school had played varsity football since 1949 without winning a playoff game until this year. The computer Maxwell Ratings give Ringgold only a 1-in-500 chance of winning the AAA title.
*Top players: Six of the top 10 senior recruits in Georgia are in the semifinals, according to 247 Sports’ composite ratings. One of them is Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was named Thursday the Gatorade player of the year in Georgia. He has thrown for more than 3,560 yards and 46 touchdowns this season. Other top-10 recruits are Norcross defensive end Lorenzo Carter, Brooks County quarterback Malkom Parrish, North Gwinnett defensive end Dante Sawyer, Carrollton defensive tackle Dontavius Russell and Buford linebacker Korie Rogers.
*No pass zone: The trend toward more passing is undeniable in Georgia. Just see Watson, the state’s all-time leading passer. But it was certainly not mandatory to pass in last week’s quarterfinals. Marist did not attempt a single pass in its 42-20 victory over Burke County. Hawkinsville was 1-for-1 passing for 24 yards in a 23-8 victory over Clinch County. Irwin County was 1-for-1 for minus-2 yards in a 56-26 victory over Johnson County. Carrollton was 0-for-1 with an interception in a 24-14 victory over Stockbridge. Callaway threw two passes – one completed, the other intercepted – in a 35-21 victory over St. Pius. Most of the 28 semifinal teams have a 1,000-yard rusher.
*Five more quick story lines: Class AAAAA semifinalist Creekside has dedicated its season to De’Antre Turman, a starting defensive back who died of injuries suffered in a preseason scrimmage. … AA semifinalist Brooks County has dedicated its season to Jicarre Watkins, Johnie Parker and Shawn Waters, players who were killed in a car crash last summer. … Hawkinsville and Charlton County, opponents in the Class A public semifinals, had losing seasons in 2012. The last team to win a state title after a losing season was Chattahoochee in 2009. … Mike Forester of Mount Pisgah and James Leonard of Aquinas, opponents in the Class A private-school semifinals, are first-time head coaches with undefeated teams. The last first-time head coach with a perfect record in his first season was John Tillitski of Albany (12-0) in 1959. … Class A began holding separate state championships for public and private schools last season. Marist, Benedictine and Lovett are two victories from becoming the first private schools since 2003 to win a state title above Class A.
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