Class AA state championship preview

Photo by Perry McIntyre


13-1, Region 6 No. 1 seed

Lovett returns to the finals for the first time since 2007, when the Lions were handled by Buford 50-0. Coach Mike Muschamp’s squad will try to bring a state championship trophy back to Lovett’s Buckhead campus for the first time since 1970. It would be Lovett’s second football state championship.

Running back/defensive back Grant Haley leads the Lions on both sides of the ball with his unique playmaking ability. The Vanderbilt commitment has rushed for 1,420 yards and 23 scores this year, both tops on the team, while leading the defense with six interceptions. The senior has also returned a punt for a score and is the Lions’ main kickoff returner (nine for 147 yards).

Jay Harris and quarterback Willie Candler are also major components in the Lions’ running attack, which rushed for 3,600 yards and 46 scores this season. Harris carried the ball 110 times for 851 yards and six scores, while Candler ran it 140 times for 495 yards and seven touchdowns.

Lovett is predominately a running team, but Candler is efficient through the air. The junior signal-caller is 80 for 140 passing for 1,228 yards and 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions. The Lions’ leading receiver is senior Jack McGranahan, who has 26 catches for 469 yards and five touchdowns.

Lovett was more than impressive in its 35-12 domination of Brooks County in the semifinals. The Lions roared to a 21-0 lead over the Trojans, which had won 10 straight games heading into the semis. Haley rushed for three scores while the Lovett defense held a strong Brooks County rushing attack to just 70 yards.

Muschamp’s team played one of the tougher schedules in all of GHSA football this season, facing multiple teams from higher classifications and beating all of them except Washington County, which is in the Class AAA finals.


Lamar County

14-0, Region 4 No. 1 seed

Coach Franklin Stephens has brought consistent winning to Lamar County in just two years at the middle Georgia school. Last year’s 12 wins tied the most in program history (which began in 1970) while this year’s haul of 14 victories set the school record. This is the Trojans’ first appearance in the state finals.

Lamar County won a tight 10-7 semifinal over a previously-undefeated Benedictine squad last week in Barnesville. Kicker Tyler Scandrett made a 24-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Cadets, which led the game 7-0 at the half. Ironically, one year ago, Lamar County kicked a field goal to beat Benedictine in the second round.

Quarterback Lance Austin and the Trojans’ offense drove the ball from their own six-yard line in the final 7:23 for the game-winning kick. Stephens’ defense held the Cadets to just 37 yards in the second half. In the third quarter, Lamar County tied the game on a 17-yard fake field goal pass from Austin to Ray Lions.

Three Trojans are committed to Georgia Tech: Austin, brother Lawrence and wide receiver/safety Qua Searcy. Lawrence plays fullback for the Trojans and had rushed for 1,324 yards and 19 touchdowns heading into to semifinals, while Lance had thrown for 803 yards and 11 scores while grinding out 967 yards and 19 touchdowns out of the Trojans’ wing-T formation. The trio also leads the Trojans on defense.

The Lamar County defense held all opponents to 20 points or less through a 35-24 win over defending state champion Jefferson in the quarterfinals. Thomasville managed 20 points in the second round, but no other team scored more than 15 prior to that.

Stephens is one of the state’s most successful coaches, with 90 wins, six semifinals appearances and two state championships in just seven seasons.




This is a rematch of last year’s state quarterfinals, which was won by Lamar County 35-28 on the Riverbank at Lovett. Lamar County’s athletic defense will try to stop Lovett’s Grant Haley, who is the Lions’ top offensive threat. However, if the Trojans commit too many troops to stopping the run, Lovett QB Willie Candler can burn them through the air. Candler is an effective passer, and has an outstanding receiver in Jack McGranahan to throw to in addition to Haley.

Meanwhile, Lovett’s run defense will be severely tested by Lamar County’s Wing-T offense. The Lions’ defense gave up just 70 rushing yards last week to a good Brooks County rushing offense. However, Lovett gave up 177 yards on the ground to Laney in a tight quarterfinals win. Like Candler, Trojans QB Lance Austin can throw the ball effectively. Haley and Lamar County WR/DB Qua Searcy are the playmakers on defense.

Lovett coach Mike Muschamp’s defense has been the surprise of the year for Lovett. Other than a 35-33 win over Laney in the quarterfinals, Lovett has not given up more than 21 points to a Class AA school all season. The Lions have held five teams – including Class AAA playoff teams St. Pius X and Blessed Trinity – to single digits. It is not a dominating unit – it allows 4.8 yards per carry – but it is opportunistic and smart. The Lions forced 21 interceptions this season.

Lamar County is equally as capable on defense. The Trojans’ biggest test Saturday will be containing Haley and the Lions’ running attack. Coach Franklin Stephens’ team controlled Benedictine’s rushing attach last week, but Lovett is a bit more balanced than the Cadets. Beating Lovett’s offensive line and getting penetration will be crucial for Lamar County’s stop troops.

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