Playoff Primer: Cobb powers face tall tasks

Jon Barash

Here is a brief look at some of the more interesting first-round games of the football state playoffs. While some of the early playoff games appear to be one-sided and the outcomes fairly predictable, the following games look like they will all be competitive.


Marietta at Lovejoy

The Wildcats from Clayton County have made the state finals the past two seasons: the AAAA final in 2011 and the AAAAAA final last year. Lovejoy, however, is still looking for its first state title.

Marietta, on the other hand, won Cobb County’s last state football title in 1967, but struggled in recent years until coach Scott Burton came in and turned the Blue Devils around. Last year, the two programs played in the second round with Lovejoy cruising to a 36-15 win.

Despite the loss of QB Anthony Jennings (now at LSU), Marietta looks better than it has been in quite some time in Burton’s fourth season. Most expect Lovejoy to win convincingly, but Marietta can move the ball and is battle-tested.


Walton at Collins Hill

Another Cobb County team faces a tough road game as coach Rocky Hildalgo’s bunch travels to Gwinnett. The Raiders will not be shell-shocked in playing an elite Region 7 team as Walton has been to the playoffs almost yearly over the past two decades. The Raiders got valuable experience opening up the season with Peachtree Ridge and Hillgrove.

Collins Hill, meanwhile, is a bit of a surprise after earning the No. 2 seed in Region 7. The Eagles are the only team to have beaten North Gwinnett, which was at the top of the polls for weeks. Coach Kevin Reach’s squad suffered its only defeat to Norcross.

Walton has the talent to play with Collins Hill, but can it keep up with the Eagles’ high-powered offense? The teams have not met since Collins Hill’s 16-13 win over Walton in the 1999 playoffs.


Stephenson at Flowery Branch

This one will be a contrast in styles as Stephenson brings a strong running attack, led by Vandy-commit Dallas Rivers, and seven Division-1 commitments to Hall County where the Jaguars face the Falcons’ prolific passing offense.

Quarterback Jackson McDonald will try to throw the ball all over the field against Stephenson’s athletic defense. McDonald threw for 254 yards last week against Gainesville and tallied five total touchdowns.


Eagle’s Landing at Mary Persons

Both schools lie just off I-75 between Atlanta and Macon. Both teams were in and out of the rankings this season and both have the potential to make a deep run in the Class AAAA playoffs.

The Golden Eagles are in the playoffs for just the third time and have a chance at winning their first playoff game ever under coach Joe Teknipp (according to Teknipp has orchestrated a remarkable turnaround at the Henry County school after winning just three games in the previous four seasons.


North Oconee at Woodward Academy

The Titans began the season in the top 10 before losing to a Woodward rival – St. Pius X – in the season-opener. The War Eagles, meanwhile, took losses to Lovett and Blessed Trinity prior to earning their way into the top 10 with five straight wins.

Senior Terry Googer leads Woodward as a dual-threat player. He is projected to be either a WR or TE at South Carolina next season.


Westminster at Jefferson

Jefferson won the state title last year but have taken a slight step down following the departures of QB Bryant Shirreffs and coach T. McFerrin. However, the Dragons come into the playoffs ranked No. 8 in Class AA.

They will face a worthy first-round foe in Westminster, which has played a rigorous schedule but emerged from it to make the playoffs from a quality Region 6.

The Wildcats are 5-5, but three of those losses are to Class AAA playoff teams and the other two came to highly-ranked GAC and Lovett.

Jefferson plays Shirreffs brother, Evan, at QB and also features RB Tristen Jackson, who starred on last year’s championship squad. Westminster counters with junior DE Russell Ude, who has interest from multiple Division 1 programs, including Georgia Tech and Miami.

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