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Previewing Friday night's semifinal games
This Friday night, Whitewater and Sandy Creek High Schools will host state semifinal playoff games, while Landmark takes their act on the road. Before 11 p.m. fans will know if their plans for next weekend will involve a trip to downtown Atlanta for a championship game.
Whitewater Wildcats (12-1) vs. Gainesville Red Elephants (10-3)
Whitewater is on a 12 game winning streak and if they get lucky number 13 they will be in the state championship game next Friday night. The Wildcats beat Allatoona last week 24-3.
From the beginning both teams keyed in on each others run game, neither team could find a rhythm and it was scoreless at the end of the first. The Wildcats broke through in the second quarter when senior Kendall Conley (135 yards rushing and two touchdowns) scored from a yard out to make the game 7-0. Late in the quarter sophomore Jay Ashley scored from 15 yards out on a broken play and the Cats took a 14-0 lead to half. The story remained the same in the second half, Whitewater controlled the game with a strong running attack combined with the stellar play of sophomore Christian Wafford and senior Jared Vincent. Conley has rushed for over 2,000 yards this season. The defense held Allatoona’s 1,000 yard rusher to 72 yards.
“The defense and offense have both played great. You can’t get to where we are without both,” said Whitewater head coach Amos McCreary. “The offense doing what they are doing [averaging 34.6 points per game] keeps the defense off the field, which keeps them rested and keeps the pressure off. Our kids play as hard as they can play and good things can happen.”
McCreary credited the work of defensive coordinator Dennis Goss and offensive coordinator Wes Hardin, as well as the work of all the coaches, in getting the team and program to where it is today.
“It really is a combination of everything and we’re tickled to be where we are.”
Where the Wildcats are is one game away from playing for the Class AAAAA championship. Standing in their way is a team of Red Elephants.
Do not let that record fool you. Gainesville is for real. They are the team that knocked Sandy Creek out of the AAA playoffs last year and then lost to the eventual state champion Burke County Bears. Their three losses this season were by a combined eight points and two of them were to playoff teams in their respective classifications. Since Gainesville’s 35-34 loss to Flowery Branch, the Red Elephants have won three state playoff games: 41-14 over Rome, 61-42 over Kell and 64-13 over Harris County. In last week’s win, quarterback Deshaun Watson was 31 of 39 passing for 417 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Whitewater’s secondary will be sure to key in on receiver Caleb Hayman (seven catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns last week).
“They are a scoring machine,” said McCreary. “We’ll be looking to slow them down.” McCreary likened playing against Gainesville’s quarterback Watson to playing Cam Newton when he played for Westlake High School. Whitewater beat Westlake that year and hopes to best another superb quarterback and his team this Friday.
In the stats, Gainesville has scored more points (603-450) but Whitewater has allowed less (177-288).
The winner of this game meets the winner of Northside, Warner Robins and Ware County at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14 at the Georgia Dome.
Sandy Creek Patriots (13-0) vs. Monroe Area Purple Hurricanes (12-1)
If you read the message boards, many considered top ranked Sandy Creek’s quarterfinal game last week against the third ranked Burke County Bears to be a de facto state championship game. You won’t hear anything like that from Sandy Creek’s coaches or players. They know they have two full games left before they can say they’ve reached their goal. Still, last Friday’s 31-20 win over the Bears was a big win for the Patriots. Burke Couty presented Sandy Creek with their biggest challenge of the season and, unlike many games for the Patriots this season, this game wasn’t firmly in their grasp until late in the fourth quarter.
Burke County struck first when their star quarterback Donquell “Gator” Green rushed 44 yards for a touchdown with six minutes remaining in the first quarter. The Patriots answered with an 83 yard drive that took four and a half minutes off the clock and ended with a five yard touchdown catch by Demarre Kitt (nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns). In the second quarter, the momentum was Sandy Creek’s as the Bears made a series of costly penalties and the Patriots’ Juwan Pulliam intercepted a pass on the Burke County 36. Sandy Creek’s Delvin Weems (97 yards rushing on 16 carries) made an incredible second effort for a first down on a fourth down and ran 22 yards for a touchdown on the next play to give Sandy Creek a 14-7 lead. The Patriots followed several minutes later with a 26 yard field goal from Mitchell McMillin. Just when it looked like Sandy Creek would pull away for good, Burke County scored on a 25 yard pass on a trick play. Sandy Creek blocked the extra point and led 17-13 at the half.
Halfway through the third quarter Burke County scored on a 65 yard touchdown pass to take a 20-13 lead. The Bears fans were getting loud and Sandy Creek wasn’t getting much in the way of offense. Things changed at the start of the fourth quarter when Patriots quarterback Cole Garvin (12 of 22 passing for 207 yards and two touchdowns) connected on a pass play to Kitt who ran 74 yards down the Burke County sideline to give Sandy Creek a 24-20 lead. Six minutes later Eric Swinney (13 rushes for 77 yards rushing) ran 33 yards for the final touchdown for Sandy Creek.
“The defense did a great job tonight, outside of a couple of lapses,” said Sandy Creek head coach Chip Walker. “Demarre got the momentum back for us and our offensive line and backs were able to pound the ball after that. I just can’t say enough about this team, these coaches, these fans and this program.”
Monroe Area has one loss on their schedule this year - a 35-0 shutout at the hands of Eastside (which Sandy Creek beat 55-0 on Nov. 16). Since the loss to Eastside, Monroe Area has found a way to win in the playoffs. They beat Shaw 21-14, Grady 21-20 in overtime and South Effingham 47-8. The Patriots have and edge in points scored (580-514) and points allowed (129-188). Sandy Creek faced the Purple Hurricanes in their 2010 championship season and won 41-0.
The winner of this game meets the winner of Ridgeland and Marist at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15.
Class A Private
Landmark Christian War Eagles (9-3) @ Prince Avenue Christian School (10-2)
This is the second straight season that Landmark has started the season 1-2 and has found themselves in the state semifinals. A win on Friday night would put them back in the Class A title game for the second straight year.
Landmark carried a slim 14-7 lead into halftime of their game with First Presbyterian Day Vikings last week, but then broke the game open behind the running of junior running back Jeremiah Kirkland, who finished the game with 226 yards and four touchdowns on the night due in large part to great blocking of his offensive line. Senior wide receiver Joshua Nobles finished his home career with a receiving touchdown and three receptions for 47 yards.
Defensively the War Eagle defensive line comprised of seniors Reed McGuire and Jacob Cobb along with sophomore Drew McMurrain making his first varsity start help stifle the high powered visitors offense all night long. McGuire and Cobb led the team in tackles for loss and sacks on the night. Junior linebacker Nolan Bryant recorded his first interception of the season to stop a Vikings drive and give the ball to the Landmark offense in great position. The brother tandem of junior linebacker William Higbie and senior defensive back Cole Higbie were the leading tacklers on the night for the War Eagles defense.
Prince Avenue Christian has two losses on their schedule and they avenged one of them last week. The Vikings lost to previously undefeated Athens Academy 14-7 on Oct. 5. Last week, the Vikings won 24-7. They got 127 yards rushing from running back Carl Mattox. Their other loss was 17-14 to George Walton Academy, which is playing at Eagle’s Landing Christian on Friday for the other spot in the Class A Private state final.
This is also Prince Avenue’s second straight year in the state semifinal. Landmark Christian and Prince Avenue have never met before. The Vikings have an edge on points scored (426-353) and points allowed (145-204).
(Kennington Smith and Jacob Renie assisted with this story.)