High School Sports

Five Middle Georgia teams take part in GHSA semifinal action

Mary Persons’ Caleb Etheridge (58).
Mary Persons’ Caleb Etheridge (58). photo@macon.com

Class 6A Northside vs. Tucker (Hallford Stadium, Clarkston)

On Northside: 11-2, second in Region 1-6A; beat Grovetown 52-0, Langston Hughes 38-10, Glynn Academy 42-20.

On Tucker: 12-1, first in Region 4-6A; beat Bradwell Institute 48-15, Harrison 23-7, Mays 28-21.

Series record: Northside leads 2-1.

Last meeting: Northside won 23-20 in 2012.

Next round: Valdosta (12-1, first in Region 1-6A) or Dalton (13-0, first in Region 6-6A), 8 p.m., Dec. 9, Georgia Dome

Scouting report: This is the fourth playoff meeting and third semifinal meeting between the Eagles and Tigers, and is likely to be as close as the other matchups. They were memorable because of three second-half touchdown passes by injured Marques Ivory in Northside’s 2007 win (31-28), a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the final two minutes in Tucker’s 2011 win (17-16) and Glenn Smith’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Keshun Hill with 24 seconds left in Northside’s 2012 win (23-20). The Tigers haven’t had a losing season since 1991 and have won at least 10 games 17 times since then, including the perfect 15-0 season in 2011. Even? Northside has scored five more points and given up seven more points this season, and the Eagles have held one more team (seven) to single-digit point totals, and both teams have six games of 40 points or more. The Tigers had some breaks in a seven-game region schedule, compared to four brutal battles for the Eagles. Tucker runs out of the wing-T but can throw it well. Xavier Shephard has completed 57.2 percent for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns, with three interceptions. Taurean Taylor has 1,201 yards rushing and Chris Broadwater 874, and they have teamed for 34 touchdowns on the ground. The teams are similar in approach on both sides, with Tucker’s defense also balanced with eight player averaging at least four tackles a game.

Class 4A Mary Persons at Cartersville

On Mary Persons: 11-2, first in Region 2-4A; beat North Clayton 45-12, Heritage-Catoosa 38-21, Blessed Trinity 28-27.

On Cartersville: 13-0, first in Region 5-4A; beat Chestatee 77-14, Burke County 35-7, Woodward Academy 26-15.

Series record: Cartersville leads 1-0.

Last meeting: Cartersville won 21-17 in 1991.

Next round: Jefferson (12-1, first in Region 8-4A) or Thomson (13-0, first in Region 3-4A), 4:30 p.m., Dec. 10, Georgia Dome.

Scouting report: Cartersville has been the team to beat in Class 4A, having sat at No. 1 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association poll from the start. The Purple Hurricanes have left nine opponents black and blue with nine points or less, shutting out three teams. Their 56-0 win over Calhoun, expected to be a Class 3A power, early on was an attention-getter. The first meeting was a classic, on Dec. 6, 1991, with Mary Persons getting a last-second first-half field goal from Chris Hopkins for a 17-7 lead. Cartersville, which had a transfer from Mary Persons named Lee Belknap, scored after a third-quarter turnover and won it on a 19-yard pass play with 6:44 left in the game. This year’s Cartersville team has been a little more dominant, led by national top-5 quarterback Trevor Lawrence (3,450 yards and 45 passing touchdowns). So Mary Persons will face in one season two of the top quarterbacks in the nation, starting with Houston County’s Jake Fromm. The Purple Hurricanes, who have allowed 107 points, also know about a home-field advantage. They’ve won 17 straight at Weinman Stadium and 25 of the past 26, but 1-2 in semifinals the past few years. And Cartersville has won 28 straight overall. Mary Persons is healthy and brings a defense that has faced just about every kind of offense possible and made adjustments.

Class 3A Greater Atlanta Christian at Peach County

On Greater Atlanta Christian: 12-1, first in Region 7-3A; beat Pace Academy 35-17, Worth County 34-21, Liberty County 44-38 in triple-overtime.

On Peach County: 11-1, first in Region 4-3A; beat Tattnall County 42-13, North Murray 49-7, Westminster 27-17.

Series record: First meeting.

Next round: Crisp County (13-0, first in Region 1-3A) or Cedar Grove (11-2, second in Region 5-3A), 1 p.m., Dec. 9, Georgia Dome.

Scouting report: GAC quarterback Davis Mills has passed for 2,507 yards and has only one interception. “Quarterback knows what to do with the football before it’s snapped,” Peach County head coach Chad Campbell said. “(That’s) why he’s going to Stanford.” So the Trojans, like Mary Persons, will face two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in one season, having taken on Jake Fromm of Houston County in the Trojans’ opener. Peach County, however, has 20 sacks and nine interceptions. Peach County quarterback Antonio Gilbert is one of the more underrated in the state at his position and has run the Trojans’ weapon-filled offense very well. They’ll face a defense that mixes it up, especially in the secondary, and is aggressive, collecting 17 sacks and 11 interceptions. GAC’s lone loss is to a Class 5A finalist from Colorado, and the Spartans beat Westminster — Peach County’s victim last week — 19-16 in overtime in late August. Last week’s 44-38 triple-overtime win was one of only four wins by fewer than 20 points. Both teams have superb place-kickers, Mitchell Fineran and Omar Cervantes of Peach County and Brooks Buce of GAC. And it’s an easy call that this game could come down to a field goal or field position from a late kickoff.

Class 1A Public ECI at Macon County

On ECI: 11-0, first in Region 3B-1A; beat Miller County 49-14, Irwin County 44-25.

On Macon County: 10-2, first in Region 4B-1A, No. 1 seed; beat Turner County 47-37, Manchester 28-14.

Series record: First meeting.

Next round: No. 2 Clinch County (11-1, first in Region 2-1A) or No. 6 McIntosh County Academy (9-2, second in Region 3A-1A), 10 a.m. Dec. 10, Georgia Dome.

Scouting report: The first piece of suspense is if the lights at Adams-Maffett Field will make it through the night, which they haven’t done for two straight home games. But the offenses will try to light things up, the teams having combined for more than 1,100 points this season. ECI is fairly balanced, with quarterback Rhett Gay passing for more than 2,000 yards — becoming the first in program history to do so — and the visiting Bulldogs rushing for a few hundred yards more. Gay is very accurate and not afraid to run. ECI avenged a 2015 semifinal loss to Irwin County last week with a 44-25 win, beating a team Macon County topped 57-15 in early September. Macon County’s K’Hari Lane has 3,429 yards passing and 50 touchdowns, leaving him four behind the single-season mark set in 2009 by Hutson Mason. Macon County had a stronger schedule, but ECI is used to playing in late November and early December.

Class 1A Private Tattnall Square at Eagle’s Landing Christian

On Tattnall: 12-0, first in Region 7-1A, No. 5 seed; beat Stratford 13-7, beat Calvary Day 28-14.

On ELCA: 12-0, first in Region 5-1A, No. 1 seed; beat FPD 59-7, beat Wesleyan 35-13.

Series record: First meeting.

Scouting report: It’s the upstart taking on the defending champion in McDonough on Friday. ELCA has won 20 straight, while Tattnall is 12-0 following an offseason coaching change. This is the second straight year Tattnall head coach Chance Jones has gone up against ELCA in the semifinals, with Jones serving last year as Prince Avenue Christian’s offensive coordinator in a 35-14 loss to the Chargers. Only one Class 1A team has played ELCA close during the Chargers’ winning streak, and that team (Wesleyan) lost 35-13 in a rematch last week. Tattnall’s wing-T is a bit of a departure from the spread many small schools in the Atlanta area run, but ELCA also has a run game that is hard to stop.

Next round: No. 2 Prince Avenue Christian (12-0, first in Region 8-1A) or No. 3 Fellowship Christian (12-0, first in Region 6-1A), 10 a.m., Dec. 9, Georgia Dome.

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