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Today, we preview the Class AA and AAA state championships. Stay tuned all week as we countdown to championship weekend with previews of all eight matchups.  

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016



Benedictine (14-0)

Benedictine has been flawless this season recording a school-best 14 wins and on the verge of capturing their second state title, their first coming in 2014 against Greater Atlanta Christian. The powerful military all-boys school has poured in 43.7 points per game while allowing less than eight points per contest. Junior Nick Iannone orchestrates the offense with 1,673 yards passing and 23 touchdowns. The Cadets' run game, which averages close to 300 yards a night on the ground, is the engine of Coach Danny Britt's offense. Four players have over 500 yards rushing on the season led by Wesley Kennedy. The senior ran for 180 yards and four touchdowns on just eight carries in Benedictine's 49-10 semifinal rout of Callaway. For the season Kennedy has 1,157 yards on the ground along with 35 total touchdowns. Second on the team in rushing is junior Tyleek Collins. He exploded in the quarterfinals with four touchdowns in a 51-13 win over Pepperell. Junior Terrick Smalls is the third head of the vaunted rushing attack. He rumbled for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Callaway and has 695 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on the year. The defense is led by Chris Harris and Matthew Lowenthal who have over 200 tackles between them. Defensive end Adam King and defensive tackle Bailey Clark lead the Cadets in tackles for loss. Benedictine's balance on both sides of the ball has led to the Cadets not being challenged at all throughout their playoff run. They blew out Glenn Hills in the opening round of the playoffs 58-7 before crushing Banks County 49-0 in Round 2. Pepperell and Callaway met similar fates in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Fitzgerald is the last team to beat the Cadets, knocking them out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals last season 54-28, setting up for a heavyweight rematch in the finals.
Fitzgerald (13-1)
Fitzgerald has become a preeminent powerhouse, going 141-28-1 since 2004. The Purple Hurricanes have ridden a potent offense to the state championship for the second consecutive year and hope that this year they will be able to finish the journey with their first state title since 1948. Last year Coach Jason Strickland's group fell short to Pace Academy in the title game 42-21. This season, Fitzgerald's only loss came in Week 5 to Tift County, 35-28. Oklahoma State-commit J.D. King has been a handful for defenses to try and stop. He racked up 160 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries in Fitzgerald's semifinal victory over Hapeville Charter. He is joined by dual-threat quarterback James Graham as a leader of the offense. Graham completed 6-of-14 passes for 75 yards while adding 52 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Hapeville. Sophomores Damien Devine and Ethan Gordon have represented a bright future in the Hurricane backfield one King graduates, both backs playing big roles in Coach Strickland's offense. Donterious Milsap and Joshua Reliford lead Fitzgerald in tackles from their linebacker and safety position, respectively. The Purple Hurricanes' march back to the Dome has been an easy one. They rocked Dublin in the first round 42-7 and beat Rockmart 48-21 in the second round. Rabun County saw its undefeated season come to an end in the quarterfinals, losing 35-16. For Fitzgerald to beat the Cadets for the second time in two years, King will have to get off to a hot start. He rushed for 117 yards on 17 first half carries in the quarterfinals last year before finishing with 335 on 44 attempts in the Hurricanes' 54-28 win over the Cadets. Fitzgerald put the game away in the second half after trailing at halftime 21-20, by outscoring Benedictine 34-7.
It seems like destiny for Benedictine and Fitzgerald to meet in the state championship after both mowed through the competition in Class AA. The Cadets haven't lost a game since November 27, 2015 in the quarterfinals where the Purple Hurricanes ended their season 54-28. For Benedictine to exact revenge, they must contain J.D. King. The Oklahoma State-commit exploded for a career-high 335 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries as he powered the Hurricanes after trailing 21-20 at the half. For Fitzgerald, Benedictine's diverse rushing attack will be a problem. Tyleek Collins ran for 107 yards while Wesley Kennedy totaled 93 in defeat. Kennedy has gained 1,157 yards and scored 35 total touchdowns his senior season.



GAC (13-1)

Riding an 11-game winning streak, Greater Atlanta Christian is ready to capture its first state title behind the arm of Stanford-commit Davis Mills. The five-star quarterback was expected to miss three to four months with a dislocated knee just before the season started but instead returned by Game 3 against Valor Christian, Co., a nationally televised game and the Spartans' only loss of the season, 21-17. Mills quickly shook off any rust and has thrown for 2,730 yards, 34 touchdowns and just one interception. His knee looks just fine as well, rushing for 303 yards and eight scores on the ground. Kyler McMichael has excelled rushing the ball as well, taking some pressure off of Mills' shoulders. The junior has gained 1,416 yards and punched in 15 scores. Coach Tim Hardy's high-flying offense has averaged 37 points per game and thoroughly dominated Region 7-AAA, their closest game coming in their region opener against Union County, 35-12. Seniors Devin Thomas and Davis Markham lead the defense. Thomas, a linebacker, has a team-best 98 stops while Markham, a safety, has recorded 90 tackles. Greater Atlanta Christian has brought pressure with 19 sacks this year, but it's their ballhawking secondary that feasts on opponents' mistakes. The Spartans have 12 interceptions with Reid Smith (4), Trey Morrison (3) and Thomas (2) the main culprits of turning teams over. Coach Hardy has all facets of the game covered and should feel at ease if the championship comes down to special teams. Brooks Buce has a booming leg, hitting 11-of-18 with a long of 54 yards. Buce might be leaned on in a pinch as the Spartans has seen their road to the Dome get tougher by the week. In rounds one and two, Greater Atlanta Christian handled Pace Academy 35-17 and Worth County 34-21.  They had to travel to Hinesville however in the quarterfinals where they survived a wild triple overtime game with Liberty County, 44-38 and beat Peach County in the semis 13-7.
Cedar Grove (12-2)

Following an up-and-down 3-2 start to the season, the Cedar Grove Saints have righted the ship, pitching five shutouts during their nine game winning streak. Their last loss came on the road when Westminster embarrassed the Saints 42-21 on September 23. Coach Jimmy Smith's team responded by outscoring their next four opponents 196-0. In the first round of the playoffs, the Saints met Union County, a familiar face to state championship adversary Greater Atlanta Christian, who the Spartans beat 35-12. Cedar Grove topped GAC's 23-point win by wrecking the Panthers 63-17. In Round 2 it was Jenkins' turn to run into the DeKalb County buzz saw. The Saints went to Memorial Stadium in Savannah and dominated the Warriors 28-3. Calhoun was no match in the quarterfinals, falling 47-21 and in the semifinals, 13-0 Crisp County was smashed on their home field by the Saints 55-0. Cedar Grove enters the title game coming off their best showing off the season, firing on all cylinders. Oklahoma State-commit Jelani Woods has been unstoppable under center. The 6-foot-8 quarterback and double-double machine on the hardwood has thrown for 27 touchdowns the season with over 2,300 yards passing. He threw three touchdowns and ran in a score against Crisp County. Woods' favorite target this season has been sophomore Jadon Haselwood. The playmaking wide out has caught 12 touchdown passes. Grant Walker, a Georgia Southern-commit, has rushed for over 1,700 yards and has 17 touchdowns on the ground to balance the Saints' offensive attack. Defensively, DeAngelo Malone and Roderic Forts wreak havoc. Malone has 11.5 sacks and picked up a safety against Crisp County. He and Forts have over 50 tackles for a loss combined. Cedar Grove's one possible weakness is its lack of a kicking game. Solee Fofana made his first field goal of the season in the semifinals. This is Cedar Grove's first state championship appearance since 1991 when the Saints fell to Cartersville, 28-19.
Two big time quarterbacks will try to sling their teams to their respective programs' first ever state title. Davis Mills (Stanford) has been nearly flawless under center for Greater Atlanta Christian while 6-foot-8 Jelani Woods (Oklahoma State) is tough to bring down when he's in the pocket or on the move. The Saints are averaging 41.3 points and holding opponents to 11 points on average while the Spartans light up the scoreboard for 37 points on average and give up 14.9 points on defense. Greater Atlanta Christian will have to keep DeAngelo Malone out of the backfield while Cedar Grove must protect the ball through the air against the Spartans' opportunistic secondary. If the game comes down to kicking, GAC has the advantage with Brooks Buce's leg.

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