Marietta (Ga.) at Lovejoy (Ga.)
Marietta has flourished in the underdog role this season and will have the opportunity to challenge last season’s Class 6A state finalist Lovejoy in the opening round of the state playoffs. Leading the Blue Devils is seasoned linebacker Tyrell Tomlin. Tomlin is a 6-foot, 230-pound UNC commit that set a school record when he recorded 17 tackles and six assists last Friday in the Blue Devils’ playoff-clinching win over Harrison.
Marietta’s offense is paced by junior quarterback Brenton Martin and junior running back KirVonte’ Benson. It was thought the explosive offense of the Blue Devils would drop off after last year’s starter Brandon Jennings graduated and suited up for LSU this season, but this year’s team is averaging 40.2 points per game, the most since averaging 40.6 points in 1990.
Lovejoy lost a lot of starters from last year’s 14-1 team but have an emerging star in Preston Williams, who has become a household name in metro Atlanta. Williams is a Tennessee-commit and, at 6-foot-4, is the top-ranked junior receiver in the state according to 247sports. Williams has a long receiving touchdown or big special teams play nearly every game.
The Wildcats have posted a 24.1 average margin of victory during their 9-1 start and linebacker Demarquis Gates and running back Jeremiah Kirkland have helped this team gain steam each week this season.
Wando (S.C.) at Byrnes (S.C.)
Byrnes quarterback Shuler Bentley completed 15-of-19 passes for 254 yards and five touchdowns in Byrnes’ 47-21 win over Wade Hampton (SC) last Friday. On the season, Bentley has thrown for 357.3 yards per game and has tossed 58 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. Leading the Rebels’ receiving corps is 6-foot-2 wideout Shaedon Meadors who has hauled in 27 touchdown passes this season.
Wando finds itself in the postseason with a 4-7 record this season and has crawled its way out of a difficult regular season slate. Florida-commit Nolan Kelleher is a 6-foot-6 offensive guard who will protect sophomore quarterback Bailey Hart as he goes head-to-head with one of the nation’s most prolific passers.
Shades Valley (Ala.) at Hoover (Ala.)
Hoover has not lost a football game since 2011 (35-34 loss to Prattville in the state championship) and enters this second-round matchup with Shades Valley coming off a 41-7 first-round win over Huntsville (Ala.). Bradrick Shaw carried the ball 16 times for 122 yards and rushed for a touchdown while teammate Kyler Jackson added two rushing touchdowns.
Shades Valley’s 2012 season ended with a 38-7 loss at Hoover and the Mounties will hope to avoid a similar fate, although their 10-1 record has already doubled last year’s 5-6 win total. In the first round of this year’s playoffs, Keith Mixon ran in two touchdowns and caught a third in the Mounties’ 49-19 win over Buckhorn (Ala.) Quarterback Rashad Louie finished 16 of 22 passing for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
Robert Walker caught Louie’s other passing touchdown on a 75-yard catch and run and finished the game with four receptions for 137 yards. Shades Valley will have to continue blending the running of Mixon and the passing of Louie to find success against Hoover’s No. 1-ranked defense in Class 6A.
Boynton Beach (Fla.) at Miami Central (Fla.)
Miami Central pounded the football against University School-Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) last Friday and topped the Suns 28-3. Dalvin Cook’s 136 yards and Joseph Yearby’s 177 yards paced the Rockets as they gained 317 rushing yards.
Boynton Beach did not make the playoffs last season and completed a miraculous turnaround this year with a 35-7 win over 8-2 Hallandale (Fla.) on Friday that puts the Tigers at a 9-1 record. The Tigers’ offense amassed 415 yards, while the defense held a solid Hallandale unit to 292 yards and forced the Chargers into five second-half turnovers.
Vicksburg (Miss.) at Oxford (Miss.)
Unbeaten Oxford cruised to a 45-17 win over Lake Cormorant last Friday and enter the playoffs as a favorite for the Class 5A state title. Jack Abraham tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Tommy Knight and touchdown runs from Ethan Holmes and Kenzie Phillips helped Oxford jump to its 31-0 halftime advantage.
Abraham’s accurate passing combined with heavy doses of Phillips has been the formula for the Chargers’ success this year. Both sophomores have been outstanding and Abraham has thrown 27 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions while Phillips has carried the ball 148 times for 1,301 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Vicksburg holds a 6-5 record and is led by Terrell Smith, who can make plays on either side of the football. Edward Davis is the Gators’ leading receiver and one of the senior leaders responsible for Vicksburg’s incredible season. The Gators finished 1-10 just a season ago.