Since losing 24-17 to Class AAAAAAA McEachern on Sept. 7, Cedar Grove has not been challenged. It responded to the loss with three consecutive shutouts – Lovett (45-0), Redan (52-0) and Towers (80-0). It gave up only a field goal to Westminster (30-3) and a pair of touchdowns to Pace (40-13), before shutouts against Stone Mountain (71-0) in the final regular season game and Hart County (49-0) in the first round of the playoffs. The Saints blanked Benedictine (55-0) in the quarterfinals to earn the semifinal berth against Pierce County (33-6). Cedar Grove features the nation’s top receiver Jadon Haselwood, a five-star recruit. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound senior was double-teamed in the semifinals against Pierce County, which opened up Cedar Grove’s run game. Robert Jones III, a 5-10, 195-pound senior answered the call, rushing for 295 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries to lead the Saints’ 310-yard night. Rashad Cheney (DT), Alvin Williams (WDE) and Isaiah Ratcliff (ILB) anchor the Saints fine-tuned defense.
The Peach County Trojans are riding momentum following their semifinal victory over Calhoun (22-7), which avenged the controversial 10-6 loss to the Jackets in last year’s title game. In the semifinal victory, Peach County traveled to Calhoun and served the home side its worse loss since Sept. 2, 2015 against a Trevor Lawrence-led Cartersville program (56-0) and snapped the champs’ 26-game winning streak as well. Peach County features a balanced offense that averages 155 receiving yards and 163 passing yards per game. Junior quarterback Jaydon Gibson is 166 of 232 passing for 2,197 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for nine touchdowns and 371 yards on 113 carries. Gibson favors a variety of receivers, including Terkel Jefferson (41 catches, 538 yards, four TDs), Justin Harris (12 catches, 191 yards, 1 TD) and Sergio Allen (four catches, 75 yards, 1 TD). Allen, a Clemson-commit, leads the team in tackles with 76 solos, 37 assisted and nine tackles for loss.
Bainbridge head coach Jeff Littleton led the Bearcats to a 24-21 win over Warner Robins in 2016, but his teams have been defeated by the Demons a combined 73-6 in the last two meetings. This year’s Bainbridge team, however, has proven its ability to respond to adversity throughout the playoffs, and familiarity with one another will be a factor in this game for both sidelines. Bainbridge is looking for its first state title since its maiden championship in 1982 and Warner Robins is looking for its fourth all-time and first since 2004. A rematch of this year’s finals is already booked for next year’s Region 1-AAAAA schedule, so this game will also have implications that will shape this budding rivalry going forward.
Bainbridge has ended up in the losing column on five separate occasions this season, and their latest defeat was a 38-0 landslide loss in region play to Warner Robins—the team they now face in the finals. A new Bainbridge team, however, may have emerged from that loss to the Demons. The Bearcats are now in possession of a six-game winning streak that includes their shocking 23-20 win over mighty Buford in the quarterfinals. Bainbridge went 0-2 against ranked opponents during the regular season, but the four ranked opponents they have faced in this year’s playoffs have been toppled one by one. Defensively, Bainbridge has been trending upwards, but it will be up to the young Bearcats offense to complement their efforts to keep pace with Warner Robins. Sophomore Caleb McDowell has accounted for six rushing touchdowns this postseason, and sophomore quarterback Quayde Hawkins went 24-of-35 passing for 245 yards, one touchdown and an interception in the semifinal victory.
Warner Robins took a 14-0 record to last year’s state championship, but was denied and soundly defeated by Rome 38-0. This year, the Demons met Rome in the semis and sent the Wolves packing with a 45-28 victory. Warner Robins met Bainbridge during the regular season and produced a 38-0 victory. The lopsided win featured a three-touchdown performance by senior quarterback Dylan Fromm, and a two-interception (one touchdown return) night by junior Jatavius Bryant. Defensively, Warner Robins held Bainbridge to just 49 rushing yards off 27 carries (1.8 ypc) and a subpar 5-of-18 passing for a mere 30 yards. If the same defensive intensity that Warner Robins has shown throughout the season shows up, then the Demons should be able to once again thwart their opponent, and take home the program’s first state title since 2004.
Since its 28-21 victory over Coffee to capture the 2017 title at home, Lee County has been playing like a defending champion that is determined to win again. This year, a familiar region foe, Northside-Warner Robins, stands in its way. Northside is one of nine teams in history to finish the regular season at .500 or below and make it to the finals. In the regular season, Lee County beat Northside at home 24-7 on the way to its region title. Northside-Warner Robins, however, is no stranger to postseason success after winning back-to-back titles in 2006-07 in Class AAAA and a Class AAAAA title in 2014. The programs have met six times and Northside-Warner Robins holds a 4-2 margin in the series that began in 2006.
It has been four seasons since Northside-Warner Roibins' 25-18 victory over Mays in the Class AAAAA championship at the Georgia Dome. In the years since, Northside lost in the first round in 2015, advanced to the semifinals in 2016 and lost in the second-round last year. This year, Northside’s 5-5 regular season record produced the worst mark since 1991’s 3-7 showing under head coach Stan Gann—yet the Eagles powered through the AAAAAA bracket to earn their championship berth. Quarterback Jadin Daniels has passed for 1,565 yards and 14 touchdowns on 125 of 203 passing. He has also rushed for 17 touchdowns and 1,549 yards on 206 carries. Senior Daniel Neal has 36 catches for 607 yards and seven touchdowns. Northside was the only team in Class AA-AAAAAAA to reach the semifinals in this years playoffs as neither an No. 1 or 2 seed. Northside joins Warner Robins and Peach County as middle Georgia teams playing for a championship this week.
In the past decade, Lee County has grown from an 0-10 team in 2008 to a defending state champion this year. Before last season, Lee had not advanced past the second round since its inaugural season in 1971. It’s been since Oct. 20, 2017 against Valdosta (31-28) since Lee County has lost a game. Since the loss, Lee has captured two region championships and a state title from last year’s victory over Coffee, but it hasn’t been easy. In the semifinals last year, Glynn Academy enjoyed a 31-7 lead after the first quarter, but Lee rallied to win 42-38. That victory instilled confidence that, after being down 14-0 and 21-7 to Coffee in the title game, it could still come back to win 28-21 in overtime. This year, Lee is simply manhandling the competition. Quarterback Kyle Toole is 198 of 296 passing for 2,939 yards and 33 touchdowns. Chauncey Magwood has 854 yards and six touchdowns on 59 catches. Shaundarious Kimbrough and Preston Simmons combined for 39 touchdowns.