2018 State Championship Preview


Colquitt County makes its fourth state championship appearance in the last five years, and sits one win away from the program’s third title in the same span. The Packers have racked up 36 playoff victories over the last 10 seasons—all under head coach Rush Propst. This year’s team has showcased extraordinary depth and a level of defensive production that is hard to imagine when looking at the lineup of challenging opponents that Colquitt County set out to conquer. North Gwinnett fell 45-0 in the quarterfinals, and the Packers prevailed in a 22-21 overtime classic against Archer in the semis. Kicker Ryan Fitzgerald’s five made field goals highlighted the win—and with such a capable defense, Colquitt County has no problem using his foot as a weapon to put points on the board. Quarterback Jaycee Harden and running backs Ty Leggett and Daijun Edwards pace a versatile, and well-balanced offense.

The excitement surrounding the Milton program has never been higher, and the Eagles are a win away from bringing home their first-ever state crown. Quarterback and Georgia Tech commit Jordan Yates has been a focal point of much of Milton’s success—especially over the last two seasons. Yates can beat teams through the air with his exceptional arm and can produce game-changing plays with his speed and running ability. It is this versatility that has kept Milton on top, or in striking distance, every single game they’ve played over the last two seasons. In fact, all three of last year’s losses—and both of this year’s defeats—have been decided by a touchdown or less. Milton proved in the semis, however, that it is also capable of creating wider margins. The Eagles opened up a 21-0 lead on Lowndes, and after the Vikings brought it within 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, Yates connected with Holden Shaw to tally the final score of their 28-17 victory.

*The last and only other time these teams met was in the 2014 quarterfinals—a highly entertaining game that Colquitt County claimed 42-35. A Milton win would not only even the series with the Packers, but would also snap a long ongoing trend in Georgia’s highest classification. Every state title since 2006 has been either a Gwinnett County school, or a team from Region 1, and the Eagles are a historic win away from snapping it. As for the Packers, their success this year has been widely considered, and a championship performance has the potential to lift them to the top of the majority of national polls.


It has been four seasons since Northside’s 25-18 victory over Mays in the Class AAAAA championship at the Georgia Dome. In the years since, Northside lost in the first round in 2015, advanced to the semifinals in 2016 and lost in the second-round last year. This year, Northside’s 5-5 regular season record produced the worst mark since 1991’s 3-7 showing under head coach Stan Gann—yet the Eagles powered through the AAAAAA bracket to earn their championship berth. Quarterback Jadin Daniels has passed for 1,565 yards and 14 touchdowns on 125 of 203 passing. He has also rushed for 17 touchdowns and 1,549 yards on 206 carries. Senior Daniel Neal has 36 catches for 607 yards and seven touchdowns. Northside was the only team in Class AA-AAAAAAA to reach the semifinals in this years playoffs as neither an No. 1 or 2 seed.  Northside joins Warner Robins and Peach County as middle Georgia teams playing for a championship this week.

In the past decade, Lee County has grown from an 0-10 team in 2008 to a defending state champion this year. Before last season, Lee had not advanced past the second round since its inaugural season in 1971. It’s been since Oct. 20, 2017 against Valdosta (31-28) since Lee County has lost a game. Since the loss, Lee has captured two region championships and a state title from last year’s victory over Coffee, but it hasn’t been easy. In the semifinals last year, Glynn Academy enjoyed a 31-7 lead after the first quarter, but Lee rallied to win 42-38. That victory instilled confidence that, after being down 14-0 and 21-7 to Coffee in the title game, it could still come back to win 28-21 in overtime. This year, Lee is simply manhandling the competition. Quarterback Kyle Toole is 198 of 296 passing for 2,939 yards and 33 touchdowns. Chauncey Magwood has 854 yards and six touchdowns on 59 catches. Shaundarious Kimbrough and Preston Simmons combined for 39 touchdowns.

*Since its 28-21 victory over Coffee to capture the 2017 title at home, Lee County has been playing like a defending champion that is determined to win again. This year, a familiar region foe, Northside-Warner Robins, stands in its way. Northside is one of nine teams in history to finish the regular season at .500 or below and make it to the finals. In the regular season, Lee County beat Northside at home 24-7 on the way to its region title. Northside-Warner Robins, however, is no stranger to postseason success after winning back-to-back titles in 2006-07 in Class AAAA and a Class AAAAA title in 2014. The programs have met six times and Northside-Warner Robins holds a 4-2 margin in the series that began in 2006.


Bainbridge has ended up in the losing column on five separate occasions this season, and their latest defeat was a 38-0 landslide loss in region play to Warner Robins—the team they now face in the finals. A new Bainbridge team, however, may have emerged from that loss to the Demons. The Bearcats are now in possession of a six-game winning streak that includes their shocking 23-20 win over mighty Buford in the quarterfinals. Bainbridge went 0-2 against ranked opponents during the regular season, but the four ranked opponents they have faced in this year’s playoffs have been toppled one by one. Defensively, Bainbridge has been trending upwards, but it will be up to the young Bearcats offense to complement their efforts to keep pace with Warner Robins. Sophomore Caleb McDowell has accounted for six rushing touchdowns this postseason, and sophomore quarterback Quayde Hawkins went 24-of-35 passing for 245 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the semifinal victory.

Warner Robins took a 14-0 record to last year’s state championship, but was denied and soundly defeated by Rome 38-0. This year, the Demons met Rome in the semis and sent the Wolves packing with a 45-28 victory. Warner Robins met Bainbridge during the regular season and produced a 38-0 victory. The lopsided win featured a three-touchdown performance by senior quarterback Dylan Fromm, and a two-interception (one touchdown return) night by junior Jatavius Bryant. Defensively, Warner Robins held Bainbridge to just 49 rushing yards off 27 carries (1.8 ypc) and a subpar 5-of-18 passing for a mere 30 yards. If the same defensive intensity that Warner Robins has shown throughout the season shows up, then the Demons should be able to once again thwart their opponent, and take home the program’s first state title since 2004.

*Bainbridge head coach Jeff Littleton led the Bearcats to a 24-21 win over Warner Robins in 2016, but his teams have been defeated by the Demons a combined 73-6 in the last two meetings. This year’s Bainbridge team, however, has proven its ability to respond to adversity throughout the playoffs, and familiarity with one another will be a factor in this game for both sidelines. Bainbridge is looking for its first state title since its maiden championship in 1982 and Warner Robins is looking for its fourth all-time and first since 2004. A rematch of this year’s finals is already booked for next year’s Region 1-AAAAA schedule, so this game will also have implications that will shape this budding rivalry going forward.


Cartersville was stunned in the second round by Blessed Trinity last year, and has followed a tremendous defense and gifted offense back to this winner-take-all rematch. Cartersville’s current senior class has seen the Purple Hurricanes win 55 games over the last four years, and the only loss during this span is last year’s 21-17 loss to Blessed Trinity. The opportunity to avenge that loss will be a fresh source of motivation as they line up against the Green and Gold on Wednesday. Cartersville’s current postseason run has put the Canes’ defensive talent on full display, and the team’s 17-14 win over Marist in the semis showed this dimension of their winning formula. When the War Eagles went up 14-10 before the half, the defense was able to keep Marist scoreless for the remainder of the game, and allow quarterback Tee Webb a chance to find Devonte Ross for the game-winning 37-yard touchdown pass with 7:51 left in the game.

Blessed Trinity is a win away from back-to-back state titles and the first undefeated season in program history. This year’s Titans are powered by the same star-studded Class of 2019 that led the school to its first state championship last season. Fast starts have been a signature of Blessed Trinity’s championship formula, and it has outscored its opponents 136-15 in that department during the first four rounds of this year’s playoffs.  Quarterback Jake Smith is a proven leader that has accounted for 21 passing touchdown and just one interception this season. Running back Steele Chambers can transform the Titans into a power running team if need be, and took 36 carries in Blessed Trinity’s 51-35 win over Troup in the semifinals. In addition to his season-high 244 rushing yards in the Titans’ latest victory, Chambers accounted for three rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown. All three of his pass attempts have resulted in touchdowns this season.

*Blessed Trinity’s knack for fast starts, and Cartersville’s top-notch defense will clash right away, and the rest of the game should be a tactical chess-like battle between two well-prepared, and experienced programs. Cartersville has a chance to resume its reign over Class AAAA and take home its third state title in the last four years. Blessed Trinity will be defending the first state title in its history, and is on the verge of completing the first undefeated season in school history. An outstanding quarterback matchup between Blessed Trinity senior Jake Smith and Cartersville junior Tee Webb can be expected. Blessed Trinity has routinely been able to neutralize top passing offenses—as they did in the first half of their semifinal win over Troup.


Since losing 24-17 to Class AAAAAAA McEachern on Sept. 7, Cedar Grove has not been challenged. It responded to the loss with three consecutive shutouts – Lovett (45-0), Redan (52-0) and Towers (80-0). It gave up only a field goal to Westminster (30-3) and a pair of touchdowns to Pace (40-13), before shutouts against Stone Mountain (71-0) in the final regular season game and Hart County (49-0) in the first round of the playoffs. The Saints blanked Benedictine (55-0) in the quarterfinals to earn the semifinal berth against Pierce County (33-6). Cedar Grove features the nation’s top receiver Jadon Haselwood, a five-star recruit. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound senior was double-teamed in the semifinals against Pierce County, which opened up Cedar Grove’s run game. Robert Jones III, a 5-10, 195-pound senior answered the call, rushing for 295 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to lead the Saints’ 310-yard night. Rashad Cheney (DT), Alvin Williams (WDE) and Isaiah Ratcliff (ILB) anchor the Saints fine-tuned defense.

The Trojans are riding momentum following their semifinal victory over Calhoun (22-7), which avenged the controversial 10-6 loss to the Jackets in last year’s title game. In the semifinal victory, Peach County traveled to Calhoun and served the home side its worse loss since Sept. 2, 2015 against a Trevor Lawrence-led Cartersville program (56-0) and  snapped the champs’ 26-game winning streak as well. Peach County features a balanced offense that averages 155 receiving yards and 163 passing yards per game. Junior quarterback Jaydon Gibson is 166 of 232 passing for 2,197 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for nine touchdowns and 371 yards on 113 carries. Gibson favors a variety of receivers, including Terkel Jefferson (41 catches, 538 yards, four TDs), Justin Harris (12 catches, 191 yards, 1 TD) and Sergio Allen (four catches, 75 yards, 1 TD). Allen, a Clemson-commit, leads the team in tackles with 76 solos, 37 assisted and nine tackles for loss.

*Calhoun won last year’s title with a 10-6 victory over Peach County in one of the two championship games played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium before the snowfall. A new champion will be crowned this year after Peach County’s  semifinal triumph over the defending champs. Cedar Grove, in its own bid for back-to-back state titles last season, advanced to the semifinals before falling to eventual champion Calhoun. Cedar Grove’s only state title came in 2016 with a 30-19 defeat of Greater Atlanta Christian. Peach County won titles in 2005-06 and 2009. Before entering region play, Peach County slipped to 2-2 by virtue of a difficult pre-region schedule and its losses came to AAAAAA Lee County and AAAA Mary Persons. Cedar Grove spent its first two weeks of the year on the road and won against Summerville (SC) and Hewitt-Trussville (AL) before losing to AAAAAAA McEachern 24-17, its only loss this year, before entering region play. Two battle-tested teams forge this finals matchup.


Heard County is in its first-ever state championship after surviving overtime against Fitzgerald in the semifinals. Tennessee-commit Aaron Beasley rushed for 260 yards and three touchdowns,  including a 15-yard score in overtime. Beasley, a 6-foot, 220-pound three-star recruit, followed his go-ahead touchdown with an interception to seal the victory. Beasley’s heroics were especially promising in retrospect as he had a costly turnover in last year’s semifinal loss to Hapeville Charter. Alijah Huzzie, a 6-foot-1, 182-pound back rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns in Heard’s semifinal victory. Behind Beasley and Huzzie, Heard County tallied 492 yards of offense, while holding a powerful Fitzgerald team to 317 yards. Head coach Tim Barron has been at Heard County since 2002 and has won seven region titles in the same span.

Rockmart is one victory shy of its first state title since 1950. The 14 wins accumulated this season have already eclipsed the 12-0 record used in the 1950 campaign for a new school record. It’s not just the win column, however, that this year’s Rockmart has conquered at a historic rate. The Yellow Jackets’ offense is on its own record-setting pace and carries an all-time best 45.8 points per game into the program’s first finals appearance in over seven decades. Senior quarterback Dylan Bailey and a running game that has accounted for 56 of the team’s 78 total touchdowns this season, complement a defense that has allowed just 8.5 ppg. Rockmart hosted Heard County in non-region action back on Sept. 7, and did all its scoring in the first half of a dominant 33-0 victory. Senior Zabrion Whatley rushed for two touchdowns, and accounted for 70 yards off just four carries.

*Heard County has never won a title. For Rockmart, it’s been since the 52-21 victory over Valdosta on Dec. 8, 1950 in Class A in a time when the first round was technically the semifinals. The teams met this year, in the regular season, and Heard County conceded the game at halftime following a lightning delay after trailing 33-0. It marked the low-point in the season for Heard County. Rockmart won 33-0 in that game which is listed as a Rockmart victory, not a forfeit. Since then, Heard County has been a different team and won 11 games — including wins over Callaway and Bremen — to take the title in one of AA toughest regions to setup a rematch with Rockmart. Heard County will be tasked with stopping a dynamic Rockmart offense that carries a school-record 45.8 ppg into the matchup.

CLASS A-Public 

Since arriving at Irwin County in 2014, head coach Buddy Nobles has led the Indians to three finals appearances and four region titles. Their 13-0 record is the best during this period and features a 21-3 win over finals opponent Clinch County. The Indians’ shutout over Miller County in the Sweet Sixteen set them up against Commerce where the team faced its toughest challenge of the postseason. The 23 points scored by the Tigers were the most given up by Irwin County during their trip to the finals. A go-ahead touchdown from Junior DJ Lundy, his third of the game, gave the Indians a 26-23 lead with just 31.6 seconds left in the game. Lundy continued to dominate on the ground against Pelham in the semifinals, scoring twice more to contribute to the 23-6 win. The Indians defense has been stellar, racking up four interceptions over the past two games. Senior Jay Stanley’s interception came during a potential Commerce game winning drive, while sophomore Gabriel Benyard has led with a pair of picks.

The Clinch County Panthers’ six-year streak of appearing in the state playoffs includes two region titles and a pair of state championships. Long time head coach Jim Dickerson, now in his 15th year at Clinch County, has won four state titles during his tenure. Helping him on his search for a fifth will be quarterback Tyler Morehead. The sophomore tossed a long go-ahead touchdown during the Panthers quarterfinals matchup against Mt. Zion, and piled on two touchdowns to extend the lead in the semifinals against second-ranked Marion County. He regularly finds his man Jeremiah Johnson whose big play ability and 6-foot-7 frame has provided Morehead with a reliable downfield threat. Senior Dantonio Robinson rushed for three second-half touchdowns in the quarterfinals and will continue to be a crucial part of the Panthers’ ground game. The Panthers defense hasn’t given up more than 28 points all season, holding five opponents to single digits.

*This year’s Class A-Public championship game features a rematch between 2017 finalists Clinch County and Irwin County. Last season, the Clinch County Panthers walked away with their seventh football title in school history following a 21-12 win over the Indians. Now, Clinch County’s journey to the finals gives the Panthers a chance to claim their third title in four years. After a first round bye, Clinch County has outscored opponents 104-44 in the postseason, 23 of which came in their semifinal’s matchup against second-ranked Marion County. Irwin County has been great at keeping opponents out of the end zone as well with only 29 points given up by its defense following a first round bye. The Indians defeated the Panthers 21-3 during the regular season, Clinch County’s only loss on the year, proving they can deny the defending champions their repeat in the class.

CLASS A-Private

Athens Academy returns to the Class A-Private finals for the second year in a row to once again attempt to dethrone three-time defending champ ELCA. Fueling the Spartans run to the championship game has been the productiveness of running back Len’neth Whitehead, who has racked up six touchdowns in the last three games. The junior’s most important run of the postseason came during the quarterfinal’s matchup against Calvary Day. Following a Cavalier fourth-quarter touchdown, Len’neth dashed into the end zone after a long kickoff return to put his team on top. Sophomore quarterback Palmer Bush has connected with sophomore Deion Colzie for two touchdowns in the playoffs, a strong dimension when paired with the explosive run game. Following a 27-13 playoff victory over Mt. Vernon, Athens Academy narrowly won both of their following games against Calvary Day and Prince Avenue by six and seven points, respectively. The Spartans defense will have to generate even more resistance to keep the game close against ELCA’s powerful attack.

Since taking over as head coach of ELCA, Jonathan Gess has accumulated a decorative resume with the Chargers. Aside from nine straight region titles, Gess has led his team to four state championships and is within arm’s reach of a fourth straight. During their run to the finals, the Chargers have outscored opponents 160-41, similar to their prolific finals run last season. Linebacker Johnathan Youngblood has played a key role in keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone. The senior snagged two interceptions in the semifinals matchup against second-ranked Savannah Christian, returning one 46 yards for a touchdown. The Chargers run game, fueled by junior Keaton Mitchell, accounts for the state’s highest scoring unit. Mitchell rushed for his 47th touchdown of the season in the semifinals, while senior quarterback Brayden Rush ran for 250 yards and five touchdowns. Showing their offensive power, the Chargers have eclipsed the 70-point mark three times this season.

*During last year’s Class A-Private title game, ELCA defeated Athens Academy 41-3 to claim the schools’ third consecutive title and fourth in school history. The three points put up by the Spartans were the only points allowed by ELCA during their prolific postseason run. This year, the Chargers defense has allowed 41 points against them in the postseason, but their 160 points scored has kept them on an unstoppable pace. In contrast, Athens Academy’s last two games were each decided by a touchdown or less. Don’t let the seeds fool you; the Spartans will have to keep up with the defending champs’ offense if they want to conclude their undefeated season with their first football title in school history.



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