Monday May 30th, 2016 2:48AM

Quarterfinal previews: Six area teams eye short path to Dome

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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The road to the Georgia Dome and Atlanta is just two wins away for the state's top high school football programs, and six area teams will take their shots at moving one step closer tonight as the quarterfinal round gets underway.

Buford, Gainesville, Jefferson, North Hall, North Gwinnett and Mill Creek all face tough third-round match-ups in their respective classifications, with the Wolves, Red Elephants, Bulldogs and Hawks all heading on the road. Meanwhile, the Dragons and Trojans will look to make the most of homefield advantage.

To read about tonight's battles, simply scroll down (games separated by classification, largest to smallest).


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Tara Stadium, Lovejoy
-- NORTH GWINNETT (11-1, No. 2 Region 7-AAAAAA): Defeated Grayson 28-10 in the second round.
-- LOVEJOY (11-1, No. 1 seed Region 2-AAAAAA): Defeated Marietta 36-15 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: North Cobb vs. Mill Creek winner in semifinals.
-- NOTABLE: North Gwinnett is back into the quarterfinals after missing out the last two seasons. The Bulldogs have surpassed the third round just once -- when they reached the Class AAAAA championship game in 2007. ... Lovejoy is impressing this campaign after making the jump from Class AAAA in the off-season. The Wildcats lost the 2011 Class AAAA title game to Tucker. Lovejoy's most recent ascent began in 2010, reaching the state playoffs and ending a run of five straight losing campaigns (though Lovejoy did reach state in 2007 despite finishing 5-6). ... The Wildcats feature plenty of offensive firepower in their spread attack, including tight end Arshad Jackson (currently an Auburn commit) and 6-foot-3, 190-pound receiver Jumichael Ramos (an FBS recruit). Lovejoy enters the contest scoring an impressive 43.9 points per game (ppg). ... North Gwinnett will counter with a defense allowing 17.3 points and just 204.7 yards per game. The Bulldogs have also forced 29 turnovers this season, more than two per game. ... North Gwinnett's offense is scoring 36.8 ppg and is led by quarterback Michael Haynes (2,112 yards passing, 26 TDs, 5 interceptions; 635 yards rushing). The Bulldogs have rushed for 1,831 yards with three backs carrying 50-plus times. ... Lovejoy's 3-4 defense is allowing just 7.3 ppg and likes to get pressure on the opposing quarterback via a strong defensive line. ... North Gwinnett knocked off defending Class AAAAA champ Grayson last week. ... Lovejoy ended the regular season ranked No. 7.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- MILL CREEK (9-3, No. 3 seed Region 7-AAAAAA): Defeated Brookwood 56-21 in the second round.
-- NORTH COBB (10-2, No. 2 seed Region 4-AAAAAA): Defeated Langston Hughes 42-14 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Lovejoy vs. North Gwinnett winner in semifinals.
-- NOTABLE: Mill Creek is making its second ever state quarterfinal appearance. The first came in 2010 (a 27-14 loss to Colquitt County). ... North Cobb is back in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1979. The Warriors have not even been to the second round of the playoffs in that time. ... North Cobb is led by quarterback Tyler Queen, who passed for 194 yards and a touchdown in last week's win. Receiver Xavier Borishade is a top target, while running back J'Vonte Herrod is capable of dominating -- he scored five touchdowns to go along with 153 yards rushing on 19 carries last week. The Warriors are averaging 40.8 ppg. North Cobb has not scored fewer than 26 points in any game this season. ... The Hawks feature a standout back of their own in Jacorey Lewis, who rushed for 252 yards and three touchdowns last week to become only the seventh player in Gwinnett County history to go over 2,000 yards in a campaign. He is now 131 yards behind Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers. Mill Creek quarterback Daniel David has also played well for an offense scoring 39 ppg. ... North Cobb is allowing 15.9 ppg and has not given up more than 14 points in a game since a 45-32 defeat of Marietta on Nov. 2. ... Mill Creek's defense is allowing 19.8 ppg. ... The Hawks are looking for their first ever semifinal appearance. The Hawks won their first ever home playoff game last week.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Hamilton
-- RADIO: 1240 AM
-- GAINESVILLE (9-3, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAAA): Defeated Kell 61-42 in the second round.
-- HARRIS COUNTY (8-4, No. 1 seed Region 1-AAAAA): Defeated Warner Robins 31-21 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Whitewater vs. Allatoona winner in the semifinals.
-- NOTABLE: Gainesville streaked to its fifth straight state quarterfinal appearance thanks to last week's second half comeback that saw the Red Elephants outscore Kell 40-7. It is also Gainesville's first Class AAAAA quarterfinal appearance. ... Harris County is in the midst of its best ever season, winning eight straight games that includes the Tigers' first-ever second round playoff appearance and first ever quarterfinal berth. Over those eight games, Harris County has won five contests by a touchdown or less, including a triple overtime defeat of Douglas County. ... The Tigers rely on the ground game on offense, rushing for 2,206 yards and 26 TDs as a team. Esaias Chapman is the team's leading rusher with 1,607 yards and 12 TDs. Chapman rushed for 181 yards and 3 TDs on 30 carries in last week's win. Quarterback Justin Wright has passed for 1,396 yards and 13 TDs against 9 interceptions, with a 52 percent completion rate. Wright has spread the ball around, tossing touchdown passes to six different receivers, including DiQuan Roberts (21 catches, 394 yards, 2 TDs), TaQuon Marshall (30 catches, 345 yards, 1 TD) and Tae Crowder (15 catches, 213 yards, 2 TDs). The Tigers are scoring 26.6 ppg. ... Gainesville's defense enters allowing 22.9 ppg, but the Red Elephants have come up with key turnovers during the postseason, including two interceptions in last week's win (one going for a touchdown. ... Harris County's defense is yielding 23.1 ppg -- 18.3 during the eight-game win streak. The Tigers feature safety Marvin James, who leads the team with 93 tackles. Defensive end Jay Ellison, a FBS recruit, is second with 65 stops -- including two sacks and a forced fumble in the second half of last week's win. ... Gainesville's offense enters scoring 44.9 ppg and led by quarterback Deshaun Watson (3,053 yards passing and 41 TDs; 1,117 yards rushing 19 TDs -- 61 total TDs). Watson put up eight scores in last week's win. ... Harris County is the alma mater of current Georgia freshman outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins.

Class AAA
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- PEACH COUNTY (11-1, No. 2 seed Region 2-AAA): Defeated Pierce County 43-15 last week.
-- NORTH HALL (10-2, No. 1 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Morgan County 13-9 last week.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: St. Pius vs. Washington County winner in the semifinals.
-- NOTABLE: Read a preview story of the game by clicking here

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Columbus
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- BUFORD (9-3, No. 2 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated North Oconee 13-0 in the second round.
-- CARVER (11-1, No. 1 seed Region 2-AAA): Defeated Rockmart 45-16 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: Buford won the last meeting between the two teams, 28-13 in the 2011 Class AA semifinals. The Wolves lead the series 2-1.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Cartersville vs. Thomson winner in the semifinals.
-- NOTABLE: A clash of titans, Buford is making its 13th straight state quarterfinal appearance, while Carver is back in the third round for seventh straight year. The host Tigers captured the 2007 Class AAA crown, while the Wolves are looking for their fifth state championship in six years and eighth since reaching the Class A title game in 2000. ... Carver features plenty of offensive firepower, averaging 35 ppg. The Tigers are led by dual-threat quarterback Torrance McGee -- who passed for 146 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with two rushing TDs last week -- and a number of dangerous running backs, including Danny Ryles (627 yards rushing), Brandon Thomas (607 yards) and Mario Moore (588 yards). Receiver Marqui Hawkins is also a Florida commit and was a big part of an offense that put up 480 yards last week. ... Buford will counter with a defense allowing just 7.3 ppg and coming off its fifth shutout of the campaign. ... The Wolves offense is averaging 39.8 ppg but put up its lowest point total of the season last week. Buford's offensive backfield received a boost last week with the return of leading running back Dontravious Wilson. Quarterbacks Taylor Mitchell and Montgomery VanGorder have also played a key role this season, adding a broader dimension to Buford's powerful ground game. ... Carver enters the contest yielding just 12.4 ppg. ... The Tigers' only loss this season came to Class AAAAAA quarterfinalist Colquitt County. Buford's only loss on the field (the Wolves did forfeit two wins) came to Class AAAAA quarterfinalist Gainesville. ... Both schools' coaches, Buford's Jess Simpson and Carver's Dell McGee played for Auburn.

Class AA
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- FITZGERALD (10-2, No. 2 seed Region 1-AA): Defeated Vidalia 52-20 in the second round.
-- JEFFERSON (11-1, No. 1 seed Region 8-AA): Defeated Westminster 35-7 in the second round.
-- HISTORY: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Greater Atlanta Christian vs. Early County winner in the semifinals.
-- NOTABLE: Jefferson is making its first state quarterfinal appearance since 1977 -- when the Dragons lost the Class B title to Lincoln County. Fitzgerald is in its fifth straight quarterfinal game, though the Purple Hurricanes have not advanced from the third round since losing back-to-back Class AA semifinal games to Buford in 2008 and '09. ... The Purple Hurricanes have posted nine straight double digit victory seasons but are under a new head coach in Jason Strickland after former coach Robby Pruitt (who led the first eight of those campaigns) left for Coffee County. ... Fitzgerald's only losses this season came against Class AAAA second round playoff team Monroe (Albany) and fellow Class AA quarterfinalist Brooks County -- 27-24. ... Fitzgerald bases out of a wing-T on offense and leans on the play of fullback Ron Swain and quarterback Romarius Gaulden. The unit rushed for 330 yards in last week's win and is averaging 32.1 ppg. ... Jefferson's defense enters the game allowing just 10.1 ppg and a miniscule 5.75 over its last eight games. The Jefferson run defense is yielding 146 rush yards per game. ... The Dragons offense is led by senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and comes in to the contest scoring 37.8 ppg. Shirreffs (1,807 yards passing, 14 TDs; 1,018 yards rushing, 14 TDs) rushed for 248 yards, passed for 81 and put up four touchdowns in last week's win -- though the senior is just as capable of carrying the load with his arm. The Dragons are putting up 402.5 yards per game, split almost even between the run (229.5 yards per game) and pass (173 yards per game). Running backs Sammy Williams (764 yards, 10 TDs) and Tristen Jackson (484 yards, 13 TDs) have also played key roles. ... Seven different Jefferson receivers have caught at least 100 yards worth of passes.
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