CALHOUN YELLOW JACKETS (12-0) at DUBLIN FIGHTING IRISH (11-1)
Coaches, records: Calhoun's Hal Lamb is 145-43 and has taken the Yellow Jackets to four state championship games; Dublin's Roger Holmes is 175-73-1 with a state championship.
Last meeting: Dublin won 48-37 in the 2004 Class AA quarterfinals.
How they got here: Second-ranked Calhoun defeated Jefferson 39-6 and downed Brooks County 43-30, while sixth-ranked Dublin defeated Northeast Macon 56-7 and beat Westminster 44-20.
The key: Calhoun must score early to quiet what promises to be a rowdy crowd at the Shamrock Bowl, then make the Irish get away from what they want to do offensively, which is run, run and more run. Calhoun has had success against the wing-T offense, but as Coach Lamb points out, the Irish aren't a typical wing-T team in that they don't use the fullback very often and prefer to use their wingbacks to get outside. The Jackets' aggressive defense also has to be leery of becoming too run-conscious as quarterback Rob East, who has over 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns, will hit them with the deep pass.
Players to watch: What makes Calhoun's pass-first spread offense so effective this year is quarterback Taylor Lamb's propensity to spread the ball around. While cousin Ben Lamb (60 receptions, 840 yards, 10 touchdowns) has the best numbers and Clay Johnson (50 catches, 575 yards, four touchdowns) has been a solid No. 2, Chase Rierson was the main target last week with 129 yards and two touchdowns. The Jackets get top running back Darius Washington back after he played only a few snaps last week due to injury. The big matchup this week will be Calhoun's talented linebacking unit of Alex Kirby, Hunter Knight, Gabe Freeman and Trent Frix versus the one-two Dublin rushing threat of Cedric O'Neal, who had 246 yards last week, and Maurice Martin, who added 131 as the Irish amassed 430 yards on the ground. The duo have combined to rush for 2,200 yards and 44 touchdowns. This will be one of the few games in which the Jackets will have a size advantage, but the Irish will have a decided edge in speed all over the field, including big-play receiver Donovan McCloud.
Up next: The winner will face Appling Countyor Lamar County in the Class AA semifinals.
SOUTH PITTSBURG PIRATES (11-2) at GORDONSVILLE TIGERS (10-2)
Tonight, 8 (Eastern)
Coaches, records: South Pittsburg's Vic Grider is 160-35, including three state championships and one runner-up in 15 seasons at his alma mater; Gordonsville's Ron Marshall is 30-17 in his fourth year at his alma mater and is making his first appearance in the semifinals. It is the first time in 23 years that Gordonsville has reached the semifinals.
Last meeting: After leading 20-0 at halftime, South Pittsburg needed a fourth-and-goal stop at its 2 and two crucial fourth-quarter scores to claim a 32-21 win in last year's quarterfinals.
How they got here: South Pittsburg beat Grace Academy 56-13 in the first round, Greenback 28-17 in the second and Coalfield 36-6 in the quarterfinals. Gordonsville had a first-round bye, then beat Nashville Christian 55-13 in the second round and previously unbeaten and fourth-ranked host Eagleville 49-14 in the quarterfinals.
The key: This will be the 12th playoff meeting between these two, including nine in the last 11 years. The Pirates lead the series 7-4, winning the last three. The defending state champions are trying to reach the title game for the fourth time in the last five years but will need to prevent the miscues -- false-start penalties by linemen and dropped passes by receivers and backs -- that have hindered them the last two weeks. Both teams want to establish power running games, so the winner likely will be determined by which set of linemen take control and open holes for the assortment of ballc arriers both possess.
Players to watch: Gordonsville junior two-way tackle Tyler Coen is a Mr. Football finalist who hasn't allowed a sack all season and has 71 pancake blocks and 85 solo tackles. The line, which also includes 6-foot-3 end Patrick Lancaster, is the Tigers' strength and allows them to keep their offense simple and their defense stingy. Quarterback Payton Watson and running backs Kaelin Cason and Tyler Coleman combined for 294 of the Tigers' 361 rushing yards last week. Watson accounted for 97 of those yards and five touchdowns and threw for another 90 yards. Gordonsville's offense ranks eighth in the state in points per game, regardless of classification, averaging nearly 42. The Tigers have won nine straight games, including eight by the state's 35-point mercy rule, and last week rolled up 195 yards and four touchdowns in 13 second-quarter snaps.
The Pirates, who are playing their third straight road playoff game for the first time in program history, are led by the running back tandem of sophomore Jajuan Lankford -- a 5-9, 175-pound Mr. Football finalist with 1,940 yards and 28 touchdowns -- and junior Demetric "Little Man" Jonson, who adds 1,055 yards and 17 TDs. Both average more than 9 yards per carry, and junior quarterback Jake Stone adds balance with 1,292 passing yards and 13 TDs. Receivers Antonio Chubb and Matt Allen are both expected to return from injury. Chubb sat out the second half of the Pirates' second-round game and all of last week with an ankle injury, while Allen has missed the last six games with a broken leg. Senior guard and middle linebacker Coltin Blevins is also a Mr. Football finalist and is a solid blocker and the team's leading tackler with more than 130 stops.
Up next: The winner will play the winner of Wayne County (12-0) vs. West Carroll (8-4) in next Friday's Class 1A state championship game at Tennessee Tech.
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