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THE BLITZ: At this point, everyone has a shot

 

 

When the playoffs started, Camden County was the clear favorite to win the Class AAAAA state championship. The Wildcats were the two-time defending state champions and ranked No. 1 in the state.

Camden's biggest threat? North Gwinnett, No. 2 in the state and nationally ranked.

As the third round of the playoffs start, neither team is still in it for the crown. They aren't alone. Of the state's top-10 ranked teams heading into the playoffs, only three remain — Brookwood, Valdosta and Lowndes.

So who's the favorite now? Any of the eight teams remaining. Gwinnett County has four of the eight quarterfinalists with Brookwood, Grayson, Collins HIll and Mill Creek. Wouldn't it be great to see an all-Gwinnett state final in the Georgia Dome?

Before we can think about that, Gwinnett first has to travel through South Georgia. Literally. Three of the county's four quarterfinal games are in South Georgia. Collins Hill and Grayson can save some gas money and share the same bus as they play Valdosta schools. As much as we would like to see an all-Gwinnett final, South Georgia fans are hoping for a Valdosta-Lowndes final.

It was this time last year that South Georgia knocked out all of the Class AAAAA Gwinnett teams in the playoffs. Surely that won't happen again, right?

Who do you think has the best shot of advancing this week?

Mill Creek at Colquitt County

Tell me if this sounds familiar. Young program struggles during the regular season, gets hot, makes the playoffs as a No. 4 seed, upsets a few teams and wins a state championship. That's what happened to Peachtree Ridge in 2006 and is the same path for Mill Creek this season, except for the state title.

No one expected Mill Creek to be in the third round of the state playoffs. No one. MIll Creek fans if you really thought that you're lying. But it doesn't matter now. The Hawks are hot and that's all that matters in the playoffs.

They blew out a defensive-minded Etowah in the first round and had more firepower than high-scoring South Gwinnett in the second round.

Now Mill Creek will see how it fares against a South Georgia team. It's the first home playoff game for Colquitt County since 1999. The Packers are coached by Rush Propst, who you might remember from MTV fame of the reality high school football show "Two-a-days" that followed the Hoover, Ala., football program.

Grayson at Valdosta

Many people thought Grayson had a good enough defense to win a state championship, the question was the offense. After being shut out for the first time since 2006 earlier this month, the Rams have averaged 31 points a game. Now it appears Grayson has an offense to match its championship defense.

That will be tested against the nation's winningest program, the Valdosta Wildcats. Valdosta has two of the state's top prospects in tight end Jay Rome and defensive back Malcolm Mitchell.

Grayson upset North Gwinnett last week 23-19. The Rams dominated the first three quarters, taking a 23-0 lead into the fourth quarter.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Grayson. After the Rams didn't win their third straight region title this year, it seemed like it. But now the Rams, who have been one of Gwinnett's most successful programs in recent years, have a shot to end the season where they started. At the Georgia Dome.

Collins Hill at Lowndes

The Lowndes Vikings, or as I like to call them, the Evil Empire. That's what Collins Hill faces this week, a program that has had its way with Gwinnett County teams. The most recent exception is Grayson, which knocked off the Vikings in the 2008 state playoffs. Other than that, Lowndes has pretty much had its way against Gwinnett teams, especially in the playoffs. I still have nightmares from the 2007 state championship game against North Gwinnett.

The Vikings are owners of three state titles in the last six seasons and haven't lost to a Gwinnett team at home since 2001. And guess who that was against? Collins Hill.

A Collins Hill team that started 1-3, now has won eight in a row. The defense has come alive in the last month to match a high-scoring offense. But is it enough to take down the Evil Empire?

Hillgrove at Brookwood

Let's be honest. Before last week no one had ever heard of Hillgrove. I thought they were a South Georgia school, but apparently they are from Powder Springs and they are pretty good.

The fifth-year program took down talented Stephenson in the first round and put themselves on the map with a win over two-time defending state champion Camden County last week.

Now the Hawks get a Brookwood program that could be Gwinnett's best shot at reaching the state finals. The Broncos have won nine in a row behind a strong running game, but that could be tested by a Hillgrove defense led by linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days, a Georgia Tech commitment.

Cook at Buford

This is a rematch of last year's Class AA quarterfinal game, but this one should be a little tougher than Buford's 26-0 win a year ago.

Cook is undefeated this season and has a win over Colquitt County, a quarterfinalist in Class AAAAA.

Buford, the three-time defending state champs, has won 10 in a row since losing to Carver-Columbus. A victory over Cook and the two teams could meet again in the state finals. The Buford-Cook winner will play the Lovett-Brooks County winner. Buford has already beaten Lovett this season and Brooks is a No. 4 seed.

Wilcox County at Wesleyan

This is also a rematch of last year's quarterfinals.

The Patriots knocked off Wesleyan on the way to the Class A state championship. The classification's last two state champs will meet in Norcross on Friday.

The Patriots have one of the state's top quarterbacks in Nick Marshall, a University of Georgia commitment.