There have been 2,244 high school football games this season. Only seven remain. Here is a closer look at the state championship games coming to the Georgia Dome on Friday and Saturday.
*Defending champions: Norcross (Class AAAAAA) is trying to become the first repeat champion in the highest classification since Camden County (2008-09) and first from metro Atlanta since Parkview (2000-02). Buford (AAA) is in the finals for a record seventh consecutive time and is seeking its 10th state championship and ninth in 13 seasons. None of the other five 2012 champs survived.
*Teams to beat: Four No. 1-ranked teams made it through. They are North Gwinnett (AAAAAA), Tucker (AAAAA), Buford (AAA) and Lamar County (AA). Tucker and Buford have held the No. 1 spot since preseason.
*Unbeatens collide: Two games match undefeated teams – Tucker vs. Creekside (AAAAA) and Buford vs. Washington County (AAA). That’s not uncommon, but those will be the first since 2011.
*Underdogs: Marion County and Charlton County, opponents in the Class A public-school final, are the only teams remaining that were not ranked in the final regular-season poll. Marion County has never won a state title. Charlton County has won four but is coming off its first losing season since 1988. Charlton could be the first state champion with as many as four losses since Thomas County Central won with a 10-5 record in 1992.
*Never won: Schools that can win their first state titles in football are North Gwinnett, Creekside, Lamar County, Marion County, Calvary Day and Aquinas. And none of those is new to trying. Each has been playing football since at least 1990, although Marion County then was known as Tri-County High.
*How they got here: The semifinals games, many played in spells of pouring rain, provided high drama. Carrollton and Calvary Day won in overtime. Lamar County and Aquinas won on their final drives of the game. Tucker and Norcross also drove for winning touchdowns in the final minutes. Charlton County blocked an extra point with four seconds left to win by one. Griffin and even mighty Buford trailed in the second half, and North Gwinnett didn’t get the lead for good until late in the third quarter.
*Rematch: The Norcross-North Gwinnett final is a rematch of a Sept. 13 regular-season game won by North Gwinnett 36-17. Rematches are uncommon but not unprecedented in the state finals. In the most recent example, Tucker beat Marist 15-3 in 2008, reversing the regular-season outcome.
*Players: Four of the top 10 senior prospects in the state are in the finals, and all play defense. They are defensive ends Lorenzo Carter of Norcross and Dante Sawyer of North Gwinnett, defensive tackle Dontavius Russell of Carrollton and linebacker Korie Rogers of Buford. But most of the stars playing this weekend are not blue-chip recruits. Griffin quarterback Jaquez Parks has passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000. He has a 4.0 GPA and has been recruited by Harvard.
*Coaches: The 14 head coaches in the finals have a combined record of 1,646 wins, 508 losses and five ties. That’s a winning percentage of .764. Buford’s Jess Simpson can become the fourth coach in GHSA history to win six state titles. Charlton County’s Rich McWhorter can become the seventh to win five. Carrollton’s Rayvan Teague and Lamar County’s Franklin Stephens can join a list currently at 14 of coaches who have won state titles with more than one school. James Leonard of Aquinas can become the first to complete an unbeaten, untied season in Georgia as a first-time head coach since the 1950s.
*Coaches trivia: Tucker’s Bryan Lamar and Aquinas’ James Leonard are coaching at their alma maters. Norcross’s Keith Maloof was Lamar’s head coach at Tucker (1996-98). Creekside’s Olten Downs and Griffin’s Steve Devoursney won state titles as Georgia players, Downs at Shaw (2000) and Devoursney at R.E. Lee (1988). Marion County’s Mike Swaney was the offensive coordinator on that R.E. Lee team. North Gwinnett’s Bob Sphire is the oldest of the 14 at 56. Leonard is the youngest at 26.
*Forecast: 72 degrees and dry. That will be welcome relief for those who endured the rain and lightning that delayed several semifinal games. This is the sixth season since the GHSA moved the state finals off of high school fields and into the Georgia Dome.
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