Once a team has made it this far anything is possible, and that means that six area high school football programs now have a legitimate shot at a state title.
The quarterfinal round of the postseason will get underway this Friday with more northeast Georgia representatives present than possibly any other campaign -- and Buford, Gainesville, Jefferson, Mill Creek, North Gwinnett and North Hall will be relishing their respective chances to progress.
Three of the third round playoff battles will take place over the airwaves of the Jacobs Media family of broadcast stations.
After storming through the second half of its Class AAAAA second round defeat of Kell, earning its first road playoff win in eight years, Gainesville will look for a second straight away victory this week when the Red Elephants travel to face Harris County in a game broadcast on 1240 AM.
Gainesville put up 40 second half points in last week's 61-42 win, coming from two touchdowns behind at the half to earn its fifth straight quarterfinal berth and first in Class AAAAA. This week, the Red Elephants (9-3) face a red-hot Harris County team that has won eight straight contests and has reached the state quarterfinals for the first time in program history. The Tigers (8-4) claimed the Region 1-AAAAA title this season and controlled much of their second round, 31-21 defeat of Warner Robins.
Harris County -- which has only posted eight winning seasons in its history -- took advantage of three Warner Robins fumbles to build a 31-7 lead and got big performances from running back Esaias Chapman (181 yards, 3 TDs on 30 carries) and Football Bowl Subdivision recruit and defensive end Jay Ellison (two sacks, forced fumble, all in the second half).
While Gainesville is gunning for its second straight semifinal berth, North Hall is looking to jump back into the "final four" for the first time since 2007 when the Trojans play host to Peach County in a game broadcast live on 102.9 FM.
The Trojans (10-2) battled past Morgan County 13-9 last week, shutting down the visitors' imposing ground game in the second half en route to North Hall's ninth straight home playoff victory. On Friday, the Trojans will take on a Peach County team that has played for the Class AAA championship in two of the last three seasons, winning the 2009 crown (defeating Gainesville) and finishing as runner-up last season (to Burke County).
Peach County (11-1) -- also nicknamed the Trojans -- entered the 2012 postseason as the No. 2 seed from Region 2-AAA. In last week's 43-15 second round destruction of Pierce County, Peach County showed plenty of offensive balance, as Keyshawn Lowe rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and Greg Williams passed for 179 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Peach County has been a road warrior team over the past few seasons, winning away from home in the quarterfinal round in each of the last three campaigns.
Buford showed last week that it doesn't mind traveling from Tom Riden Stadium, shutting down North Oconee in a 13-0 win in Bogart. This week, the Wolves (9-3) will head south to battle familiar foe Carver, Columbus (11-1) in a game broadcast live on 550 AM.
The Tigers are 1-2 against Buford -- including a 28-13 loss in last year's Class AAA semifinals in Columbus.
Carver's only loss this season came to Class AAAAAA quarterfinalist Colquitt County. The Tigers, who claimed the Region 2-AAA title this season, easily defeated Rockmart in the second round, 45-16. Carver quarterback Torrance McGee finished 8 of 9 passing for 146 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with two rushing TDs in the win. Carver running backs Danny Ryles, Brandon Thomas and Noah Hickey also each played well in helping the Tigers to 480 yards of offense.
Buford, meanwhile, continued to live with its defense last week, putting up its fifth shutout of the year. The Wolves will face a Carver team putting up an average of 35 points per game.
Those three contests are far from the only quarterfinal action taking place this week, however. In Class AA, Jefferson will play host to Fitzgerald in the Dragons' first state quarterfinal match-up since 1977.
The Purple Hurricanes (10-2) are the No. 2 seed from Region 1-AA, whose only losses came to Monroe (Albany) -- which lost in AAAA second round -- and Brooks County -- which is also in Class AA quarterfinals. This is the 13th consecutive year Fitzgerald High has made the state tournament. In the last four seasons, the Purple Hurricanes have reached the Class AA semifinals in 2008 and '09 and made it to the quarterfinals in each of the last two campaigns.
Fitzgerald scored 39 unanswered points in its 45-20 win over Vidalia last week, rushing for 330 yards in the process.
The Purple Hurricanes will face a Jefferson defense that has not allowed more than 10 points in a game since September and an average of just 5.75 points per game over its last eight campaigns.
Also, in Class AAAAAA, North Gwinnett (11-1) will travel to face Lovejoy (11-1) one week after knocking off defending state champ Grayson. Lovejoy, meanwhile, defeated Marietta 36-15. The Wildcats lost to Tucker in the Class AAAA championship game last season.
And Mill Creek (9-3) will travel to face North Cobb (10-2), after earning its second ever state quarterfinal berth. The Hawks were led by another stellar night from running back Jacorey Lewis -- who was the seventh back in Gwinnett County history to go over 2,000 yards for a season. North Cobb, meanwhile, is in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1979.
SECOND ROUND STATE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF RESULTS FOR AREA TEAMS, Nov. 23
Buford 13, North Oconee 0
Seminole County 36, Commerce 7
Gainesville 61, Kell 42
Jefferson 35, Westminster 7
Mill Creek 56, Brookwood 21
North Gwinnett 28, Grayson 10
North Hall 13, Morgan County 9
STATE QUARTERFINAL SCHEDULE FOR AREA TEAMS
North Gwinnett at Lovejoy
Mill Creek at North Cobb
Gainesville at Harris County -- Radio: 1240 AM
Peach County at North Hall -- Radio: 102.9 FM
Buford at Carver, Columbus -- Radio: 550 AM
Fitzgerald at Jefferson