The 64 teams that survived the first two rounds of state playoff action are converging in Columbus to compete for one of the eight state crowns that will be rewarded Saturday. The field includes six defending state champs, a mix of up-and-coming programs, and several teams that have turned Columbus into an annual Fall retreat.
In AAAAAAA, top-ranked East Coweta will begin its title defense against No. 3 Grayson at 9 a.m. on Thursday at Field #3. The Lady Indians had little trouble with North Cobb in the first round before outlasting Cherokee to earn the trip to Columbus. Second-ranked Mill Creek will face No. 4 Lowndes at 9 a.m. on Field #4. North Gwinnett, which won the 2016 state championship, will face Hillgrove on Field #2 at 9 a.m. Lassiter, which won a state championship in 2007, will play Brookwood in the first game of the championship bracket on Field #1 at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
Of the eight teams competing for the AAAAAA title, only four have won titles – Greenbrier (2004, 2014), Pope (2014), Harrison (2000) and Heritage (2000, 2002). Defending state champion Creekview was ousted by Pope in the first round, and Houston County, Allatoona, Evans and Dalton will all be searching for their first-ever state championship. Greenbrier takes on Pope on Field #5 on Thursday at 11 a.m. Harrison will face Heritage-Conyers on Field #6 at 11 a.m. Houston County will meet Allatoona at the Stadium Field and Evans will play Dalton at Field #8 at 11 a.m.
Locust Grove is back to defend its title after beating Wayne County in the championship game last year, and this year’s opening game against Buford will be a test right out of the gate. The teams will meet at 3 p.m. on Thursday on Field #5 in a rematch of last year’s first-round game which Locust Grove won 6-5. Buford, which won 10 state championships from 2007-2016 across four classifications, beat Woodland-Cartersville to advance to Columbus. Villa Rica will face Thomas County Central on Field #6 at 3 p.m. on Thursday. South Effingham will meet Loganville, which won a state title in 2001, at the Stadium field at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Bainbridge, which swept Statesboro to earn its berth in Columbus, meets Walnut Grove on Field #8 on Thursday.
In Class AAAA, defending-champion Northside-Columbus will play Heritage-Catoosa at 5 p.m. on Field #8 on Thursday to begin its trek for back-to-back titles. Former Class AAA resident Hampton will meet Oconee County at 5 p.m. on Field #5. Oconee County is looking for its ninth title and its first since a stretch of five AAA championships from 2004-2011 in AAA. Lafayette will face Perry on Field #6 at 5 p.m. on Thursday. West Laurens and Madison County will take over the Stadium at 5 p.m. on Thursday to begin their championship try.
Of the eight programs competing for a championship in Class AAA, only Calhoun has hoisted a title since the 2013 season, the Calhoun Yellow Jackets have tallied four state titles since 2013, only missing out in 2016 when East Jackson took the AAA title. Calhoun will face Brantley County on Field #4 at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Appling County will meet Franklin County on Field #1 at 5 p.m. Sonoraville and Worth County will face off on Field #2 at 5 p.m. on Thursday. Cook has Jefferson at Field #3 at 5 p.m. on Thursday.
Defending Class AA champion Rockmart lost to Banks County in the playoff bracket and now the Leopards have a date with 2016 champion Harlem on Field #1 at 3 p.m. on Friday. Heard County (2014 champion) will face Dodge County at 3 p.m. on Field #2. Jeff Davis and Social Circle will meet at 3 p.m. on Field #3 to begin the hunt for each program’s first-ever state championship. Also looking for their first-ever titles, Monticello and Vidalia will meet on Field #4 at 3 p.m. on Thursday.
In Class A-Public, Gordon Lee is looking for its ninth title—and second-consecutive—and will meet Schley County at 9 a.m. on Thursday on Field #5. Seminole County and Marion County will compete on Field #6 at 9 a.m. Bowdon and Lanier County will occupy the Stadium at 9 a.m. on Thursday and Trion and Telfair County are set for Field #8 at 9 a.m.
Defending Class A-Private champion Wesleyan will meet Mount Paran Christian at 11 a.m. on Thursday on Field #1 to begin its title defense. Stratford Academy has local-rival Mount de Sales, both Macon teams, on Field #2 at 11 a.m. on Thursday. Prince Avenue Christian will meet Tattnall Square on Field #3 at 11 a.m. and George Walton will face First Presbyterian Day at 11 a.m. on Field #4.