GHSA Football Playoffs Roundups: Quarterfinals

One year after Carrollton sent Walton home in the Class 7A quarterfinals, the Raiders returned the favor, defeating the Region 2 champion Trojans 56-35 behind the stellar play of quarterback Jeremy Hecklinski — along with a four-touchdown performance from running back Makari Bodiford — to secure a semifinal showdown with Camden County at home.

The undefeated Raiders had to make the trip to Carrollton after losing the coin flip, but Hecklinski insisted he and his teammates didn’t view the result as a disadvantage.

“We’re happy we lost this coin flip,” he asserted. “We wanted to come here.”

Hecklinski finished the first half a near-perfect 17-of-18 for almost 300 yards and four total touchdowns — three in the air and one on the ground — including a scoring strike to Bodiford that capped an 11-play, 83-yard drive with which the Raiders ate up the remainder of the opening half to hold a 35-21 edge at the break.

“Since we lost this game last year, we’ve been talking about winning the middle part of games,” explained head coach Daniel Brunner. “That’s where we lost it last year, and I think we executed extremely well.”

The Raiders’ performance wasn’t without flaws; Walton fumbled the ball four times on the night, but recovered all but the first one, which came moments after the Trojans got on the board with a touchdown pass from Julian Lewis to Jordan White late in the opening frame. Carrollton ultimately turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession, however, and Hecklinski connected with senior TE Hunter Teal to go up 21-7 shortly after for the first of three second-quarter touchdown passes.

For Carrollton, sophomore Kimauri Farmer found the end zone twice, including on the opening drive of the second half, but Hecklinski’s bomb to Cameran Loyd moments later set up an Austin Williams TD run to extend Walton’s lead to 42-28, and Ashton Woods’ tackle in the backfield led to another Carrollton punt on the Trojans’ next drive. A pair of touchdown runs from Bodiford and two sacks from Justin Krueger in the fourth then sealed the Walton victory.

“They did what I know they can do,” lauded Coach Brunner. “If we don’t get in our own way, we can score on every possession, and that’s what they did tonight. At the end of the day, if we do what I know we can, I don’t know if this offense can be stopped.”

The 13-0 Raiders will continue their quest for their first-ever state title next week at home against Camden County following the Wildcats’ upset of reigning Class 7A champion Mill Creek.

The AJC has writers at Camden County at Mill Creek, Colquitt County at Milton, Buford at Grayson and Irwin County at Prince Avenue Christian. Follow the links to the brackets or Todd Holcomb’s Friday Night Wrap.

Class 6A

Woodward Academy 20, Gainesville 17

The tenth-ranked War Eagles eliminated top-ranked Gainesville with a 20-17 comeback victory to advance to the semifinals. The Red Elephants led 17-7 at the break, but played the second half without starting quarterback Baxter Wright and running back Gavin Hall, both of whom were injured earlier in the game. Woodward Academy then got a pair of field goals from Hudson Hanges and the game-winning touchdown on a 17-yarder from Landon Walker to Josiah Abdullah with 2:31 to go before Andrew Hines sealed the win with an interception. Abdullah also had the first touchdown of the game with an 85-yard return on the opening kickoff.

Marist 48, Roswell 21

After back-to-back quarterfinals exists, No. 7-ranked Marist is back in the semifinals. The Region 4 champion War Eagles traveled to Region 7 one-seed Roswell Friday night and trailed the Hornets 7-0 before going on a 27-0 run lasting into the third quarter. Roswell made it a two-score game early in the fourth, but Marist added a pair of touchdowns to put the game away. The War Eagles will face Thomas County Central next week.

Thomas County Central 19, Rome 16

Drew Reneau kicked the ball through the uprights for his fourth made field goal of the night on the final play of the game to send No. 2-ranked Thomas County Central to the state semifinals for the first time since 2007. The 19-16 final was the Yellow Jackets’ only lead of the night; Rome quarterback Reece Fountain put the Wolves on the board on the opening drive of the game with a rushing score, and Jacob Fisher answered the first of Reneau’s field goals with one of his own from 34 yards out for a 10-3 Rome lead heading into the second. Reneau then provided the only points of the frame with a 37-yarder, and Fisher’s second made field goal put the Wolves up 13-6 early in the second half. Yellow Jackets quarterback Jaylen Johnson connected with Tre Benton to knot the game with 1:56 remaining in the third before Fisher reclaimed the lead from 34 yards out to close the frame, and Reneau hit the game-tying and game-winning field goals in the fourth to secure the win.

Douglas County 59, Lee County 45

The No. 3-ranked Tigers are back in the semifinals for the first time since 1988 following a 59-45 victory over visiting Lee County. The home team led throughout, taking an early 21-0 lead in the opening frame and holding a narrow 31-28 edge at the break. The Tigers were first to score in the second half, and the Trojans quickly answered, but they were outscored 21-10 the rest of the way. Douglas County will face Woodward Academy next week in the semifinals, when the Tigers will attempt to earn their first trip to the state title game since 1964.

Class 5A

Cartersville 35, Jenkins 0

Cartersville defeated Jenkins to reach the state semifinals for the second consecutive season. The host Purple Hurricanes scored on a rushing TD with four minutes remaining in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead. In the second quarter, Cartersville recorded a two-yard rushing touchdown and a 40-yard rushing touchdown to lead 21-0 at halftime. With seven minutes remaining in the third quarter, Cartersville scored on a one-yard run to lead 28-0. Two minutes later, the Purple Hurricanes tallied a 30-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 35. Cartersville will take on Coffee in the semifinals next week. Both teams faced each other in the quarterfinals last year, and Cartersville earned a 56-28 victory.

Coffee 30, Cass 0

Tyrese Hansley recorded two rushing touchdowns in the second half to lead Coffee over Cass in the quarterfinals. The host Trojans scored nine points in the first quarter after recording a safety and touchdown pass. It was a 16-0 lead at halftime after Coffee tallied a rushing touchdown with 11 minutes remaining in the second quarter. With nearly four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Hansley scored on a three-year run which was set up by a 50-yard run by Fred Brown. Hansley scored again with 16 seconds remaining in the third quarter running 13 yards for the touchdown. The Trojans have reached the semifinals for the first time since 2020. Coffee’s defense has been elite all season, recording six shutouts and allowing just 14 points in three playoff games.

Creekside 35, Warner Robins 14

Vinson Berry threw for 288 yards and four touchdowns to lead Creekside over Warner Robins. The visiting Seminoles took the lead early in the when Berry threw his first TD on a fourth-down play in the first quarter. Warner Robins took the lead later in the first with the TD pass, but Creekside would get the lead right back when Berry completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Corey Mims early in the second quarter. Berry would connect with Mims again later in the quarter for a 30-yard touchdown pass to give Creekside the 20-7 lead at halftime. In the third quarter, Roderick McCrary scored on an eight-yard run to increase Creekside’s lead to 21. The last Creekside scored would come early in the fourth quarter when Tavion Strickland scored on a 10-yard run. Creekside notched 393 yards of total offense while Warner Robins had 312. The Seminoles will play in the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

Jefferson 35, Harris County 12

Sammy Brown rushed for 261 yards and four touchdowns to give Jefferson the win over Harris County. Harris County took the lead in the first quarter, but the visiting Dragons got things going later in the quarter when Brown scored a 31-yard touchdown. Brown would score again with 7:14 remaining in the first half to increase Jefferson’s lead to eight. Harris County scored their second and final TD later in the quarter, and the score was 14-12 at halftime. In the third quarter, Gavin Markey threw a touchdown pass to Zay Minish, and the play was set up by a Justin Beatty interception. Early in the fourth quarter, Brown scored two more touchdowns to finish his night. The Dragons advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2020. They will play Creekside, and it will be the first time the teams have met on the football field.

Class 4A

Perry 34, Stephenson 20

Perry scored 27 points in a row to take control following an early 7-0 deficit and cruised to a road win over Stephenson. The Panthers led 14-7 at halftime and 27-7 going into the fourth quarter. They got two touchdown runs by Ahmad Gordon, two touchdown passes by Colter Ginn and two field goals by Zach Peacock. Devin Ingram started the scoring for Stephenson with a 10-yard run and added a 24-yard TD on the ground in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars also got a three-yard touchdown run from Matte Barton.

Benedictine 48, North Oconee 26

Bryce Baker had touchdown runs of 28, 12, four and 41 yards as Benedictine rolled over visiting North Oconee. The Cadets trailed 6-0 early but took leads of 7-6 after one quarter, 21-13 at halftime and 27-13 going into the fourth quarter. Benedictine quarterback Luke Kromenhoek had one touchdown run and tossed a 14-yard scoring strike to La’Don Bryant before Ack Edwards capped off the point production with a two-yard plunge late in the fourth quarter. For North Oconee, Harrison Faulkner had a touchdown run and threw a 26-yard TD pass to Landon Roldan. The Titans also got scores on the ground from Max Wilson and Tate Titshaw.

Starr’s Mill 35, Central-Carroll 29

With the game tied at 29-29, Starr’s Mill quarterback Logan Inagawa launched a 41-yard Hail Mary that Lincoln Delaere caught in the endzone as time expired, giving the Panthers a dramatic road victory. Starr’s Mill led 10-0 after one quarter and 15-0 at halftime before things got crazy in the second half. Central-Caroll pulled to within 22-13 going into the fourth and eventually tied the score with a touchdown followed by a two-point conversion run from Jonaz Walton at the 56-second mark. Unfortunately for the Lions, that was followed by the Panthers’ heroic last-minute drive. Starr’s Mill also got a 26-yard scoring strike from Inagawa to Lathan Hunter, two touchdown runs by Dorsey Benefield and a pair of field goals by Hunter Meeks.

Stockbridge 35, Spalding 14

Jayden Scott had three touchdown runs–including from 43 and 21 yards out–as visiting Stockbridge cruised past Spalding. The Tigers’ lead was 14-0 both after one quarter and at halftime before they extended it to 21-0 going into the fourth. Spalding finally got on the scoreboard with a 48-yard pass from Cur’Tavian to Cedric Evans, but Stockbridge’s Jayden Howard returned the ensuing onside kick 51 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers also got a 16-yard scoring strike from Cobey Thompkins to Ryan Johnson, while the Jaguars tacked on their second touchdown in the form of a 36-yard connection between Clark and Kywon Davis.

Class 3A

Cedar Grove 28, Mary Persons 14

Since 2015, Cedar Grove has been in the semifinals in each season sans 2020 when the Saints lost in the quarterfinals. In that span, Cedar Grove has won four state championships – 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2021 before losing in the championship game last season. After upending Mary Persons on the road, Cedar Grove is back in the penultimate game once again. Cedar Grove trailed 7-6 after the first quarter but took a 14-7 lead into halftime. The Saints extended the lead to 28-14 by the end of the third quarter. Cedar Grove will play host to Calvary Day in the semifinals.

Savannah Christian 42, Lumpkin County 21

Zo Smalls had three rushing touchdowns to lead Savannah Christian into the semifinals for the first time since 2018. He opened scoring on a short touchdown run early in the game to put the Raiders up. He found the end zone again on a 10-yard run with eight minutes left in the first half to extend the lead and Kenry Wall scored on a 2-yard run to expand the margin to 21-3. Cal Faulkner passed to Nolan Matthews on a 5-yarder with seven minutes left in the third quarter. But one minute later, Smalls scored on a 11-yard run to put Savannah Chrisitan up 28-14. Jaden Miles scored on a 32-yard run with six minutes left in the game to put the Raiders up 35-21. Wall scored on a 41-yard run with five minutes left in the game to secure the victory. The Raiders will travel to Carver-Columbus for the semifinals.

Calvary Day 42, Wesleyan 21

Calvary Day held Wesleyan scoreless in the second half to secure the victory after trailing 21-14 at the half. Trailing 7-0, Calvary Day quarterback Jake Merklinger scored on a 5-yard run to tie the game. Trevor Strowbridge scored on a 13-yard run to tie the game at 14. Wesleyan took the halftime lead on a 33-yard pass from Ben Brown to Jamie Tremble but could manage no more offensive production. Merklinger scored on a 1-yard run with 10 minutes left in the third quarter and passed to Caden Arnold (15 yards) to take the lead for good late in the third quarter. Merklinger passed to Michael Smith on a 24-yard touchdown to extend the lead and capped scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run with seven minutes left in the game. Calvary Day will travel to Cedar Grove in the semifinals.

Carver-Columbus 18, Monroe Area 14

Carver-Columbus is in the semifinals for the first time since losing in the Class 4A championship game in 2021 under head coach Corey Joyner, who left two seasons ago. Head coach Pierre Coffey led the Tigers to the quarterfinals in his inaugural season last year. The Tigers will host Savannah Christian in the semifinals.

Class 2A

Rockmart 45, Toombs County 21

Rockmart (11-2) led 10-7 after the first quarter but took command of the game and held a 31-7 lead in the third on its way to a home win over Toombs County (11-2). The Yellow Jackets, the top seed from Region 7, led 10-0 in the first quarter after a 25-yard Jose Alegria field goal and a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tristan Anderson. Rockmart quarterback Calliyon Thompson threw for two touchdowns and ran for two scores. Thompson found Nahzir Turner for a 15-yard touchdown in the second quarter and hit Turner again for a 13-yard score in the third. Thompson had touchdown runs of 7 yards in the second quarter and 2 yards in the third. Brent Washington rushed for a 1-yard touchdown late in the game to cap the scoring for Rockmart. T.J. Stanley threw three touchdowns for Toombs County, the No. 2 seed from Region 3. Rockmart will host Region 1 No. 1 Cook next Friday in the semifinals.

Fitzgerald 17, Callaway 14

Fitzgerald’s Calvin Tillman intercepted Callaway quarterback DeShun Coleman in the end zone on a pass intended for Treyonn Tucker with 1:41 remaining, and the Purple Hurricanes (10-3) then ran out the clock to defeat Callaway (9-3) on the road. Fitzgerald, the No. 2 seed from Region 1, took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 13-yard run from Tylar Williams. The scoring drive was set up by a Callaway fumble on the Fitzgerald 1-yard line that was picked up by Fitzgerald’s Jay Alexander and returned to the Purple Hurricanes’ 45. Callaway, the top seed from Region 5, tied the game 7-7 later in the quarter on a 1-yard run by Tyren Buggs. At the 9:53 mark of the second quarter, the Cavaliers took a 14-7 lead when Coleman found Tucker on a 40-yard touchdown pass. Fitzgerald made it a 14-10 halftime score, however, with just 36 seconds remaining in the half when Griffin Cox made a 24-yard field goal. It remained a 14-10 Callaway lead until late in the third quarter, when Fitzgerald regained the lead on a 3-yard touchdown run from Laphabion Boone with 24 seconds left in the third. Fitzgerald will travel to Region 3 No. 1 Pierce County next Friday in the semifinals.

Pierce County 49, Fellowship Christian 17

Pierce County, the No. 1 seed from Region 3, won at home over Fellowship Christian, the No. 1 seed from Region 8. Quarterback Caden McGatha rushed for four touchdowns for the Bears (12-1). McGatha had scoring runs of 35 and 12 yards in the first quarter, a 13-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter and a 21-yard touchdown run early in the fourth. McGatha also threw a 7-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to Joe Drew, who earlier in the period had a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown. Pierce County led Fellowship Christian (10-3) 35-10 at halftime. Pierce County will host Region 1 No. 2 Fitzgerald next Friday in the semifinals.

Cook 23, Columbia 20

Host Cook led 20-0 in the second quarter and thwarted a comeback when Reshauld Tippins intercepted a Columbia pass at the 1-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. The Hornets (11-2), the top seed from Region 1, led 6-0 in the first quarter after an 11-yard touchdown rush from Tereon Jones. Tippins added to the lead early in the second quarter when he returned a fumble by Columbia quarterback Cameron Graves 36 yards for a touchdown, and after a Columbia punt, Hornets quarterback Drew Folsom found Ny’Shaun Wallace on a 15-yard touchdown to give Cook a 20-0 lead. Columbia (9-4), the No. 2 seed from Region 5, made it a 20-8 halftime score on a 16-yard Cameron Graves touchdown pass to Jadan Baugh and Graves two-point conversion throw to Jaleel Baugh. Jadan Baugh scored his second touchdown on a 52-yard rush in the third quarter to make the score 20-14 Cook, and Cook answered with a 20-yard field goal late in the third from Brooks Moore to lead 23-14. Jadan Baugh scored his third touchdown on a 90-yard run in the fourth quarter to pull the Eagles to within three points. Cook will travel to Region 7 No. 1 Rockmart next Friday in the semifinals.  

Class A Division I

Bryan County 24, Commerce 16

Before this season, Bryan County had never been past the first round of the playoffs so the Redskins decided to just keep things going and is featuring in the semifinals for the first time in program history. The game was tied at 8 entering the fourth quarter and Bryan County scored on a pass with nine minutes left in the game and a short run with less than a minute remaining to secure the victory. Bryan County will travel to top-ranked Prince Avenue Christian in the semifinals.

Swainsboro 34, Elbert County 28

After losing in the state championship game last season, Swainsboro was left wanting more. Swainsboro trailed 14-8 after the first quarter and tied the game at the half. Swainsboro’s Bryson Tarver intercepted a pass from quarterback Jayvn Hickman to thwart the final Elbert County drive. The Tigers led 26-21 entering the fourth quarter. Swainsboro will travel to Brooks County for the semifinals.

Brooks County 39, Rabun County 13

After a scoreless first quarter, George Lamons scored on a 3-yard run to put Brooks County ahead. The Trojans scored on a 19-yard pass with six minutes before half to extend the lead. Brooks led 17-0 at the half. The Trojans entered the fourth quarter nursing a 19-7 lead but scored on with five minutes, three minutes and one minute left in the game to expand the margin and put the game away.

Class A Division II

Manchester 21, Clinch County 17 

Manchester advances to the semifinals for the first time since 1996, the year they won their only state championship in school history. Qua Cooper of Manchester scored the game’s first touchdown.  It was a stout defensive game the rest of the first half as both teams scored seven points each. Clinch County came out on a long 75-play drive to take their first lead of the game in the second half. After a mishandled snap from Manchester, Clinch County extended their lead to 17-7 on a 30-yard field goal from Joshua Zuniga. After Clinch County controlled for most of the game, Manchester scored twice with less than three minutes in the game. RB Darius ran it in to cut the deficit to 17-14. The Blue Devils recovered the ensuing onside kick and marched down the field for the final touchdown. Clinch County lost in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season after winning 10+ games in 2022 and 2023.

Telfair County 38, Macon County 14 

Telfair County makes history and advances to the semifinals for the first time in program history after defeating Macon County. Telfair County jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and never surrendered the lead. The Trojans led for a wire-to-wire victory and reached 30 points for the fifth time this season. Before head coach Matt Burleson took over the program, the Trojans had won one game in two years. Coach Burleson has led Telfair County to ten wins for the second time in program history and one of their best seasons ever. Macon County fell short of making the semifinals for the eighth consecutive season and last won a state title in 2015.

Bowdon 55, Dooly County 28

Defending state champion Bowdon advances to the semifinals after a dominant second half. It was a tight game between Dooly County and Bowdon in the first half as they combined for 34 points and traded scores. After an early 3rd quarter score from Dooly County, Bowdon’s offense hit another level. They scored 14 unanswered in the 3rd quarter and scored 35 points in the second half cruising to a 27-point victory. Dooly County reached their first eight-win season since 2014 but exited in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season.

Schley County 28, Early County 24

Schley County advanced to the semifinals for the second consecutive year and matched their win total from last season. Schley County held an early 7-0 lead, and Early County took the lead in the second quarter after a 64-yard touchdown run from Ty Stovall and a Astyn Grimes 41 yard touchdown pass to Kendarrious Boyd. Grimes and Stovall both finished with two touchdowns on the night. It was a game that featured five lead changes. Early County held a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter after a Grimes rushing touchdown, Schley County scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to punch their ticket to the Final Four. Early County made it to the quarterfinals in the first year under Frank Killingsworth.

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