The first round of the GHSA State football playoffs is split between Friday and Saturday with Classes 7A, 5A, 4A, 3A and 2A playing Friday and Classes 6A, A Private and A Public on Saturday.
The AJC has writers at Cambridge 50, South Paulding 29 and Westlake 45, Effingham County 3 on Saturday. Follow the links to see the Friday night recap, Todd Holcomb’s Friday and Saturday Night Wraps, the schedule/scores and the brackets.
Here are the Saturday recaps below.
Kennesaw Mountain 49, Lanier 21
The Mustangs advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time with a victory over visiting Lanier. The Longhorns started strong, taking an 8-0 lead with quarterback Carson Thomas’ run following Matthew Laughlin’s fumble recovery and reclaiming the lead after a pair of Mustangs scores with Thomas’ 9-yard pass to Reese Scott. Kennesaw Mountain quarterback Cayman Prangley, who threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Forehand in the opening frame and a 79-yarder to Jailen Taylor in the second, got his third touchdown just before the break for a 21-15 lead, and the Mustangs dominated the rest of the game. Taylor, Chance Arthur, Jah Welch and Bryan Simpkins each had second-half rushing scores for the Mustangs, and Ty Roldan was 7-for-7 on PATs. On defense, Daniel Sherrer recovered a Lanier fumble and Denis Nechyparenka had an interception. The Mustangs will host Westlake next week.
Langston Hughes 42, Glynn Academy 14
No. 3-ranked Hughes closed out its first-round game against Glynn Academy with four unanswered touchdowns to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the second year in a row. Quarterback Prentiss Nolan threw touchdown passes to Terrance Love (54 yards), Jelani Thurman (25 yards) and Rodney Shelley (34 yards), and Antonio Martin had rushing scores from seven and 13 yards out. Armani Tookes provided the final points of the night with a 39-yard run for the Panthers, who will host Shiloh next week following the Generals’ win over Allatoona.
Shiloh 19, Allatoona 14
Allatoona cut Shiloh’s lead to 19-14 with eight minutes remaining, but the Generals held on through the rest of the first-round matchup to secure the playoff win — the program’s first since 2000. Shiloh improves to 5-6 on the season, snapping a six-game Allatoona win streak with the victory, and will travel to top-seeded Langston Hughes for a second-round showdown next week.
Carrollton 47, Creekview 28
No. 7-ranked Carrollton pulled away from visiting Creekview with a 33-7 scoring run for a comfortable 47-28 victory. The Grizzlies got a pair of second-half touchdowns to get within 12 points (40-28) in the fourth quarter, but one last Trojan score quashed any hope of a comeback. The win marks the sixth in a row for Carrollton, which will play Alcovy next week with hopes of securing a sixth consecutive trip to the state quarterfinals.
Buford 38, Kell 14
Victor Venn scored on runs of 17, 13 and three yards to lead Buford past Kell. He finished with 15 carries for 91 yards. CJ Clinkscales had 12 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. Alex Mata kicked a 37-yard field goal for Buford.
Lovejoy 19, Richmond Hill 14
The Wildcats were first to strike in the first quarter when senior quarterback Stephin Craig hit Javon Kinchen for an 8-yard touchdown pass, followed by a 35-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Justin Etheridge to extend the lead to 13-0. Richmond tacked on seven points before the half and took a 14-13 lead in the third when Ty Goldrick hit Ravon Grant on a 71-yard touchdown pass. In the fourth, Craig connected with Keandre Hines for the go-ahead score, and a game-saving interception by Jekail Middlebrook sealed the victory. The narrow win for Lovejoy puts the Wildcats through to the second round where they await a matchup against Buford.
Johns Creek 31, Rome 27
On the road, against No. 6 Rome, unranked Johns Creek held serve and an 87-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Durham to Josh Thompson sealed the bracket-shattering upset. The Gladiators led 17-14 at the half after a 25-yard field goal from Martin Ball. Rome answered with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Reece Fountain to DK Daniel to lead 20-17 but Johns Creek scored minutes later on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Durham to Thompson. With 9:37 left in the game, Rome took a 27-24 lead on an 8-yard pass from Fountain to Daniel before the Johns Creek game-winning touchdown pass.
Dacula 36, Pope 12
Dacula is advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the sixth year in a row following its 36-12 victory over visiting Pope. The Falcons held a narrow 7-6 lead at the break before outscoring the Greyhounds by a margin of 29-6 in the second half, starting with Jonathan Williams’ recovery and return of a Pope punt blocked by Festus Davies. Two-way player Kyle Efford added a 16-yard pick-six later in the third quarter, and the dominant outing by the Falcons defense also featured both a fumble recovery and an interception by Jayden Bethea. On offense, quarterback Austin Adcock scored on a keeper in the first and connected with Percy Williams in the fourth for a 57-yard TD, and Matthew Haber’s 67-yard run provided the game’s final points. Dacula will face Brunswick next week.
Northside-Warner Robins 35, Lakeside-Evans 3
Northside-Warner Robins jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead before closing out its first playoff victory since 2018. Centavious Lowe recovered a fumble and later scored on a 22-yard touchdown run to put the Eagles up 7-0. Later in the first half, Cameran Brown, EJ Riley and TD Tucker added rushing scores.
Evans 19, Houston County 10
The Knights improved to 9-2 under first-year head coach Barrett Davis and defeated Houston County for the first time in school history. Evans was 0-7 all-time against the Bears prior to Saturday’s victory. Joseph Hampton rushed for a 60-yard touchdown and Kabian Klawa kicked a 38-yard field goal to put the Knights up 10-0 in the first quarter. Evans increased the lead to 19-0 before the half with a 48-yard touchdown pass from DJ Walton to Tyler Perry and a 45-yard Klawa field goal. Houston County cut it to 19-10 before a scoreless fourth quarter.
Lee County 59, Grovetown 12
No. 2 ranked Lee County built a 25-4 lead at the half and held the Warriors to a pair of field goals. Grovetown’s other points came on safeties in each of the first three quarters. Lee County will host the winner of Cambridge and South Paulding in the second round.
Brunswick 60, Tucker 26
After trailing 6-0 at the end of the first quarter, Brunswick took control. The Pirates led 23-20 at the half and 44-26 entering the fourth quarter. Brunswick will play Dacula in the second round.
Class A Public
Warren County 42, Chattahoochee County 7
Warren County led 14-7 at the half and outscored the Panthers 28-0 in the second half. Zian Wilson, Rashad Myers and Travis Moss all had rushing scores for the Screaming Devils.
Pelham 3, Screven County 0
Pelham used a field goal to advance past No. 4 seed Screven County to the second round for the sixth-straight season. The field goal was the first made field goal all season for the Hornets—who will host Warren County in the second round.
Metter 42, Seminole County 14
Josh Kelly (23, 1,1) rushed for three first-half touchdowns and Danny Cheley scored on a 73-yard run to give Metter a 28-7 halftime lead. Seminole County’s Tyree Rainey returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown right before the half to get the Indians on the board. Metter’s final two touchdowns came on a Danny Cheley blocked punt and 47-yard touchdown return and a 16-yard Cheley touchdown that made it 42-7 heading into the final frame. Metter improved to 11-0 and will host Schley County in the second round.
Brooks County 49, Montgomery County 13
No. 2 ranked Brooks County took a 28-7 lead into the third quarter and Jamal Sanders scored a 46-yard rushing touchdown to push the lead to 35-7 heading into the final frame. Omari Arnold tacked on a 28-yard touchdown that increased the lead to 42-7 with nine minutes left.
Schley County 50, Academy for Classical Education 10
No. 5 ranked Schley County (10-1) achieved its first double-digit win season in school history in convincing fashion over the visiting Gryphons. The Wildcats opened up a 22-3 lead in the first quarter and poured on four touchdowns in the second to go up 50-10 at the half.
Manchester 20, Georgia Military 8
Georgia Military (10-1) returned an interception for a touchdown on Manchester’s opening drive and got a safety in the third quarter for its only points as the visiting Blue Devils served them their first loss of the season. Cam Long punched in a 1-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to put Manchester up 7-6 and he completed a 34-yard touchdown pass to Zyjuan Gray just before the half to push the lead to 14-6. Manchester fumbled to open the second half and then fielded a punt at the 10-yard line before the Bulldogs chipped into the lead with a safety. Manchester’s Tre Dunlap returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown for the final score midway through the fourth quarter.
Trion 55, Social Circle 21
Trion’s Rob Brown (35) rushed for four touchdowns and and caught a touchdown pass from Kade Smith. Social Circle’s Logan Cross threw three touchdowns—including two to Mason Moore. Smith also found Nathan Willingham for a Trion touchdown and Toby Maddux ran in a touchdown with less than a minute left to push the lead to 55-21.
Irwin County 35, Johnson 7
Demarkus Lundy rushed for a 61 and 10-yard touchdown in the first half and hauled in a touchdown reception from Cody Soliday late in the third quarter to help build Irwin County’s 28-0 lead. Soliday also rushed for a touchdown and found Bo Payne for a score in the fourth quarter to give the Indians a 35-7 lead.
Emanuel County Institute 48, Terrell County 12
No. 10 ranked Emanuel County Institute missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002 last season and came out with authority with its 48-12 win over Terrell County. The Bulldogs improved to 9-2 with the win and will travel to undefeated Macon County (10-0) in the second round.
McIntosh County Academy 32, Mitchell County 6
No. 3 seed McIntosh County Academy scored its first playoff victory since 2016 and will host Manchester in the second round in what will be the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Wilcox County 36, Charlton County 26
Wilcox County led 22-14 at the half and Charlton County cut it to 22-20 on its opening drive of the third quarter. The Patriots answered with a 5-yard DayDay Lawson touchdown to push the lead to 29-20, but Charlton cut it to 29-26 on a Jaylen King touchdown pass to Kyler Williams (45) with eight minutes left. Wilcox County was able to seal the win with a 70-yard scoring drive that was capped with a 1-yard touchdown.
Macon County 35, Crawford County 0
No. 3 ranked Macon County (11-0) kept its perfect season alive. The Bulldogs led 21-0 at the half and added a 15-yard Marlon Mitchell touchdown run to take a 28-0 lead into the final frame.
Washington-Wilkes 28, Gordon Lee 7
Washington-Wilkes and Gordon Lee met for the first time since their 1966 semifinals showdown. The Tigers led 6-0 at the end of the first quarter and took a 14-7 lead into the half before closing out the victory. Washington-Wilkes will host No. 2 ranked Brooks County in the second round.
Lincoln County 36, Mt. Zion-Carroll 0
Lincoln County cruised past Mt. Zion-Carroll and tallied their third shutout of the season. The Red Devils will travel to two-time defending state champion Irwin County in the second round.
Bowdon 35, Commerce 0
Bowdon quarterback Robert McNeal finished the Red Devils’ first-round matchup against visiting Commerce with five total touchdowns to advance his team to their third-straight second-round appearance. McNeal scored twice on the ground and threw three touchdown passes, including a 75-yarder to Gage Stephens late in the third quarter for the final points of the game. The Red Devils will host Turner County next week and will try to secure their first trip to the quarterfinals since 2013.
Turner County 38, Dublin 36
Turner County trailed 36-22 at the end of the third quarter and outscored host Dublin 16-0 in the final frame. Ke’aarin Dawsey found the endzone with four minutes left on a 27-yard run to tie it 36-36 and Elijah Stephens converted the 2-point conversion to give the Titans the victory.
Class A Private
Athens Academy 27, Mt. Pisgah 21
The Spartans were the first on the board when Tre Hawkins scored off a 3-yard rush, but Mt. Pisgah knotted the game on its next possession. After another Patriot touchdown and a missed PAT, the Spartans retook the lead when Giovanni Newsome returned a punt 44 yards to the house. After a scoreless third, Jeremiah Wingfield extended the Spartans’ lead with a short touchdown run. With just over two minutes remaining, a Mt. Pisgah touchdown and two-point conversion sent the game into overtime where Athens Academy’s Sam Bush scored the game-winning rushing touchdown.
Fellowship Christian 42, George Walton Academy 7
Fellowship Christian led 35-0 at the half in a romp of George Walton. “It went the way you wanted it to,” Tim McFarlin said. “Every kid got in the game. It’s critical to our program to get all these kids experience in a state playoff game. These young guys are our scout team every week and are a big reason for our success. So, it was really wonderful to see the starters pulling for them and cheering for them on the sidelines.” After opening the scoring with a passing touchdown, the Paladins four straight rushing scores to take a 35-0 halftime lead.Junior quarterback Caleb McMickle, who threw for 106 yards in the first half, connected with senior Sam Albee on a 12-yard TD pass at 8:13 of the first quarter to open the scoring and Fellowship Christian had no trouble from there. Fellowship will host St. Anne Pacelli in the second round.
St. Anne Pacelli 28, Landmark Christian 14
St. Anne Pacelli took a 21-0 lead into the half and held a 28-7 lead over Landmark Christian until a late rushing touchdown by the War Eagles. The Vikings advance to face Fellowship Christian on the road in the second round in what will be the first-ever meeting between the programs.
Holy Innocents’ 32, North Cobb Christian 0
Top seed Holy Innocents’ took a 15-0 lead into the half and added a 28-yard field goal by Ethan Reuther to push the lead to 18-0 midway through the third quarter before running away with the 32-0 victory.
Mt. Vernon 14, Mt. Paran Christian 7
Trailing 7-0, Liam O’Toole scored on an 11-yard run to pull Mount Vernon even with Mount Paran. O’Toole’s 47-yard touchdown run with 10:36 left in the game sealed it. Mount Vernon will travel to Macon to face First Presbyterian in the second round.
Brookstone 14, Whitefield Academy 10
Brookstone rallied from a 10-0 deficit and defeated Whitefield Academy for the second time this season (29-28 Sept. 24). The Cougars scored on a Taft Middleton touchdown pass to Walter Blanchard with 7:15 left to make it a 10-7 lead. Brookstone forced a three-and-out and once the Cougars got the ball back, they converted a 4th and 7 before Blanchard ran in the game-winning score with just 27 seconds left. On the ensuing squib kick, Whitefield Academy mishandled it and Brookstone recovered to seal the victory.
Calvary Day 49, Mt. de Sales 7
A sound first-round victory for the Cavaliers puts them through to the second round where they will square off against Wesleyan. Sophomore quarterback Jake Merklinger was 13-of-15 passing for 149 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half. Freshman Edward Coleman and Mike Smith each caught two touchdowns, with Coleman totaling 41 receiving yards while Smith had 59. On defense, sophomore AJ Butts had eight solo tackles, five assists and two tackles for loss.
Athens Christian 42, St. Francis 39
Athens Christian celebrated its first playoff victory since joining the GHSA in 2000. The Eagles led 42-27 at the end of the third quarter. St. Francis cut it to 42-33 with six minutes left and missed the two-point conversion and added another touchdown with 1:05 left that made it 42-39.
Wesleyan 21, Christian Heritage 14
The Wolves struck early in the first following an interception that led to a 50-yard touchdown by Jamie Tremble on the next play. Wesleyan extended its lead in the second when sophomore Andrew Willis barreled into the end zone for a 1-yard score. The Wolves’ last points of the night came when senior quarterback Jett Miller connected with James Hufham for a 25-yard touchdown. Christian Heritage added two late scores but was unable to get any closer.
Darlington 42, Hebron Christian 17
Darlington used several big plays on both offense and defense to seize control early and win its Class A state playoff opener in comfortable fashion 42-17. “I’ll be honest with you, I thought coming in to this one that it would be a dogfight,” said Darlington coach Tommy Atha. “Hebron runs a split-back veer offense, and there is no way you can replicate what they do in practice. With the speed and the angles you need to stop that, it’s just hard to prepare for. You have to be disciplined and physical and play strong assignment football, and we did that tonight.” On offense, the Tigers got big plays all night long to build an early 21-3 lead and then never looked back. Hebron Christian (4-7), the No. 4 seed from Region 5-A, actually had Darlington on its heels early. The Lions opened the game with a squib kick that caught the Tigers off-guard, and Hebron recovered the loose ball at the Darlington 30. Six plays later, Nils Cole kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the Lions an early 3-0 lead. However, the Tigers took their first drive of the game 57 yards in nine plays, culminating with a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Patrick Shelley to running back Caleb Thompson. Ryland Scott’s PAT made it 7-3 with 4:58 left in the first quarter, and it was also the last time the Tigers had to come from behind. Hebron fumbled on the first play of its next drive, and the Tigers recovered at the 35 yard line. Three plays later, Thompson sprinted into the end zone from 15 yards out, and the extra point gave Darlington a 14-3 lead. Early in the second quarter, the Tigers capped off a 58-yard scoring drive with an electrifying 51-yard touchdown run by Thompson, and the PAT put them firmly in control, 21-3, with 8:52 left in the half. The Tigers defense then made a huge stand, stuffing Hebron on a fourth-down play from the Darlington 8. Three plays later, Shelley all but sealed the win with an 87-yard touchdown sprint that put the Tigers up 28-3. Lions quarterback Jack Luttrell hit Gavin Hall for a 30-yard TD pass right before the half to make it 28-10 at the break, but that’s as close as Hebron would get the rest of the night. Thompson capped off his big night with a 30-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to build the lead to 35-10, and Alan Cordero punched in a 1-yard touchdown dive with 2:03 left in the quarter to make it 42-10. Hebron’s last score of the night came on a 5-yard TD run by Ashton Smith late in the fourth quarter when both teams’ reserves were on the field. Thompson finished with 131 yards on 10 carries, plus the 23-yard TD reception. Shelley had 99 yards rushing and another 64 yards through the air. For the Darlington defense, three was the magic number — the Tigers collected three sacks, forced three Hebron turnovers, and stopped the Lions on three fourth-down attempts. After the game, Atha was excited to see how his team produced a dominating effort to open the postseason. “Playoff football is just different,” he said with a smile. “This is a special time of year, and it was great to see our team come out and play well.”
Savannah Country Day 21, Stratford Academy 19
Stratford Academy went up 13-0 in the second quarter, but a 22-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Barry Kleinpeter to Keith James near the end of the first half kept the Hornets in the game. After a scoreless third, Kleinpeter gave Savannah Country Day its first lead of the night off a quarterback sneak, and a rushing score from Michael Grandy extended the lead to 21-13 — a deficit the Eagles were unable to overcome after a score and failed two-point conversion. The Hornets advance into the second round where they’ll play Holy Innocents’.