The second round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs has arrived and three Floyd County-based teams remain in the race for their respective state championship games.
Last year, every team in the Rome-Floyd County area that reached the Sweet 16 lost. Will this year see a sweet result for some or all of these three teams? We break down who’s playing who where as win-or-go-home mentality rolls on.
Darlington (7-4) at Prince Avenue Christian (10-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday
The Darlington Tigers hit the road for a lengthy journey to Athens to battle 5-star University of Georgia quarterback commit Brock Vandagriff and the Prince Avenue Christian Wolverines.
The Wolverines are 10-1 this season, suffering their only loss on Sept. 11 at Class AA’s Rabun County Wildcats (we’ll get to them in a minute).
Led by Vandagriff under center, Prince Avenue Christian’s offense has been lethal, scoring at least 31 points in at least every game this season. Last week, the Wolverine offense torched Hebron Christian Academy for 63 points.
“We’re certainly aware of the challenge we’ve got in front of us,” Tigers head coach Tommy Atha said in a phone interview. “(Vandagriff) is everything that he’s advertised to be and he’s got a great cast around him. Everybody talks about how good they are offensively, they’re really good defensively as well. (It’s) just a great challenge and a great opportunity for us to go measure ourselves.”
Last week, Darlington’s defense faced then-Georgia’s top high-school passer in Mt. Pisgah’s Coleman Smith. Smith was limited to 36 yards in the first half of last Friday’s game, but rebounded for 252 passing yards with three interceptions.
Now, the Tigers will go up against the state’s new passing leader (by 18 yards) in Vandagriff. The 6-foot-3 senior is 184-of-261 with 3,038 passing yards with 37 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also has 67 carries for 367 yards and 12 rushing scores as well.
“You’ve got to try to keep everything in front of you,” Atha said. “He’s going to put the ball where it’s supposed to be and we’ve got to make sure we tackle well. We’ve got to try to mix some things up and try to get some pressure on him. They’re very good at what they do and we’ve just got to be sound and play our best defensive football of the year.”
Vandagriff’s receiving core is made up of talented senior receivers. Logan Johnson is the top Wolverine in receptions, yards and touchdowns with 54, 938 and 15, respectively.
“I thought we really cleaned some things up (last week),” Atha said. “You’re looking at a better defense in Prince Avenue and they’re very physical up front and their linebackers are really good.”
Last week for Darlington, junior quarterback Patrick Shelley threw 8-for-11 for exactly 100 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also had two rushing scores.
Senior running back Harrison Allen notched 27 rushes for 171 yards, accounting for the other touchdown.
Darlington is 1-2 all time against Prince Avenue Christian, last meeting in the 2017 Class A-Private Quarterfinals, a 31-18 win for PAC. Darlington’s lone win over the Wolverines came in the first round of the 2010 state playoffs 49-13.
“We’re playing well as a team,” Atha said. “We’re getting contributions from a lot of different guys and I think we’re balanced.”
Model (7-4) at Rabun County (10-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday
The Model Blue Devils, fresh off a Saturday night victory against the Washington Bulldogs, prepare for a 2.5 hour drive northeast to Tiger to face the No. 2-ranked Rabun County Wildcats, led by 5-star quarterback Gunner Stockton.
“Offensively, we’re going to see one of the best players in state and probably a top quarterback in the nation in regards to Gunner Stockton,” Blue Devils head coach Jeff Hunnicutt said. “We’ve got to try to limit him as much as we can.”
The Wildcats’ offense is led by 5-star ranked quarterback Gunner Stockton. Stockton has been white hot all season long with 2,621 passing yards with 40 touchdowns to just one interception.
He’s also extremely skilled on carrying the football too. Stockton leads Rabun County in rushing attempts with 129 with 1,159 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Stockton’s favorite target to throw to is senior receiver Adriel Clark, who has notched 58 catches for 1,252 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Class AA record for touchdown receptions is 27.
“(Stockton’s) going to have his yards and his plays with his feet, but they’ve got a good running back as well and a good receiving core, “ Hunnicutt said. “Defensively, they do some good things as well. Coach (Jaybo) Shaw does a great job up there.”
Rabun County defeated Haralson County 35-7 last week. Like Haralson County, Model’s M.O. is the run game, led by senior running back Joseph Wallace.
Speaking of Wallace, he picked up 192 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown in Model’s 28-14 win at Washington last Saturday in Atlanta.
Blue Devils quarterback Sam Silver recorded three rushing TDs, all from inside the red zone.
“Offensively, we need to limit (Stockton’s) possessions as far as their offense and try to keep the chains moving. The slow, methodical ground-and-pound that we’ve been fairly successful at the last three weeks,” Hunnicutt said. “Defensively, it’s one of the best offenses we’ll see. We’re playing each play because we’re given the opportunity.”
Last week’s playoff victory was the school’s first since 2014. Hunnicutt said Model looks to carry the momentum from the successful aspects of the Washington game.
“It’s going to take all three phases and we’re going to have to be mistake-free to go up there at Rabun and get a victory,” Hunnicutt said. “From the front seven perspective, defensively we’ve gone a great job in probably the last seven games of limiting teams to getting 100 yards rushing. Try to limit people running the ball at us and being effective running the ball offensively.”
Unlike the Washington game, Rabun County will be allowing spectators for the game in Tiger.
Model and Rabun County have never met before in football.
Rome (8-3) at River Ridge (10-0), 7:30 p.m. Friday
The Rome Wolves, riding a six-game win streak, travel east to Cherokee County to battle Region 7-AAAAAA champion River Ridge Knights. Friday’s contest will mark Rome’s sixth consecutive season reaching the Sweet 16.
Rome defeated Habersham County 35-14 last Friday at Barron Stadium, closing out what will likely be the 2020 home schedule undefeated at 6-0.
Senior running back EJ Lackey piled up 184 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. Lackey now has seven touchdowns in his previous two games.
While Rome’s rushing attack with Lackey, freshman Shaun Nelson and Bryson Hill has been pivotal to the Wolves’ six-game winning streak, the emergence of freshman quarterback Reece Fountain has brought consistent passing element to the offense.
Last week, Fountain went 14-of-17 for 206 yards with two touchdown passes, which put him just over 1,000 yards passing so far in 2020.
On the defensive side, Rome’s defense has been a consistent point throughout much of the year. During this win streak, the Wolves have given up more than 15 points once.
Senior Bryant Wilkinson leads in tackles, tackles for a loss and sacks with 98, 17 and 12, respectively.
Senior Jameion Leath is second on the defense in tackles with 78, followed by junior Jyrine Griffin with 76.
River Ridge, meanwhile, is coming off a 35-34 overtime win over Kennesaw Mountain in the first round.
In the first overtime, River Ridge scored a touchdown on its first play. Kennesaw Mountain responded in earnest with a TD, but elected to go for two for the win as opposed to the extra-point kick to try and send the game to a second OT.