Here's a look at five things we learned from the second round of the high school football playoffs...
1. There is no way to predict much of anything in the postseason anymore
There may be a few givens -- such as Buford getting to the quarterfinals (14 times in a row now) -- but, for the most part, there is very little you can depend on this postseason. For example look no further than this week. We watched teams from Region 5-AAAAA dominate the first round, including a 27-7 win for Stephenson over a very good Flowery Branch squad. In the second round, Stephenson suffered a lopsided loss to North Paulding (35-7). North Paulding barely beat South Paulding during the regular season (31-28), while Gainesville hammered South Paulding 51-12 this past week -- the same the Red Elephants team that took all it could handle from Flowery Branch in the last game of the regular season (55-45). So trying to predict playoff results based on the past is a risky venture indeed. Also, look at the Class AAAAAA bracket. There is just one No. 1 seed left out of the final eight teams standing. And that team, Norcross, is a No. 1 seed thanks to a coin toss after a three-way tie in Region 7-AAAAAA. The No. 1 seeds have fared better in the other classes, especially Class AAAAA, where seven of the eight No. 1s are still playing. But those are the two extremes, and most of the other classes feature a mix of remaining seeds. How many will make it to the semifinals? You might be best served flipping a coin.
2. Championship experience counts for a lot
Of last year's seven state champs, six are still playing -- only Emanuel County Institute (Class A public) has been knocked out. And perhaps nowhere was that more evident last week than in Class AA, where defending champ Jefferson went on the road and rode out a wild shootout in knocking off Heard County 61-57. The Dragons faced a late deficit far from home and simply refused to lose. They did not flash the defense that has been their forte for much of the past two seasons, but the Dragons did what they had to do -- much like in last year's 53-51 triple overtime quarterfinal defeat of Fitzgerald. And even though there are several new faces on this year's Jefferson squad, they learned important lessons in last year's title run, and they put them to impressive use on Friday.
3. Buford is in historic territory
After watching Buford early in the season against Gainesville, we knew the Wolves were beyond good. If they keep this up they will be historically special. According to Georgia High School Football Daily, no team has won every game on its schedule by 21 or more points since Valdosta in 1971 (a Wildcats team that scored 75 points in a game during an era when offenses were rarely prolific). Through 12 contests, the Wolves have won all 12 by at least 24 points -- including last week's 40-7 domination of Woodward Academy. Now, Buford will care not one iota about making history -- for the Wolves the ring is the only thing, and it does not much matter how it comes. But, from the way Buford has been playing, the Wolves have a great shot to accomplish that feat as a side-effect of their title chase.
4. It will take something special to stop Gainesville now
Judging by the way the Red Elephants played on Friday, they are hitting that vital "peak" at the right time. All state championships are built on teams that play their best in the playoffs, and, after a stop-start performance in round one, Gainesville shifted into top gear in the second round. It was a complete game performance for the Red Elephants, who stifled a heretofore explosive South Paulding offense, allowing 317 yards -- almost 100 of that coming on two long touchdown runs (South Paulding's only scores of the game) -- and rolling up almost 640 yards of offense of their own. Gainesville began its elevation to a state championship in the second round last season, knocking off Kell on the road. While there are still some huge challenges ahead -- including an encounter with an offensive power in Mundy's Mill this week and a possible title game re-match with Ware County, or against No. 1 Tucker in the semifinals -- it would appear the Red Elephants are in a perfect position to keep on stomping.
5. The dream playoff match-up may happen -- next year
Who wouldn't pay to watch Buford face off with Sandy Creek in the playoffs? You would have the monster of Class AAA (the Wolves) against the behemoth of Class AAAA (the Patriots). Well, we may get it... in 12 months. The GHSA revealed early last week that both teams will be in Class AAAA next season, and that should give us all something to think about once this year's playoffs close out in three weeks. Not that we're anywhere near ready for those finales -- there's still some great football left to play -- but it was certainly an eye-opening thought early last week.
AREA FOOTBALL PLAYOFF SCORES, NOV. 22
Blessed Trinity 38, White County 0
Buford 40, Woodward Academy 7
Charlton County 35, Commerce 21
Gainesville 51, South Paulding 12
Jefferson 61, Heard County 57
North Gwinnett 34, Archer 32
Sandy Creek 55, Chestatee 7
QUARTERFINAL PLAYOFF MATCH-UPS FOR AREA TEAMS
North Gwinnett at Hillgrove
Mundy's Mill at Gainesville
Carver, Columbus at Buford
Jefferson at Lamar County