MARIST (12-1) at RIDGELAND (12-1)
The key: This game will likely be a throwback type with few passes, since each team threw just two last week. Second-ranked Marist, which is making its 18th appearance in the state semifinals, runs a triple-option offense, while ninth-ranked Ridgeland counts on the wing-T to grind out yards. Whichever group of linemen wins the battle in the trenches will likely decide the outcome.
The key players: Ridgeland running back Darrell Bridges is an absolute bull in a china shop with the ball in his hands. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior has rushed for 200-plus yards in each of the last five games and now has more than 2,200 yards and 37 touchdowns this season. Vonn Bell also has more than 1,000 yards rushing, averages 14 yards per reception and is a ballhawk on defense, with 131 total tackles as an aggressive and big-hitting safety. Offensive lineman Gannon Hampton is typically the lead blocker for whoever is carrying the ball. For Marist, lineman Greg Taboada had three sacks and another tackle for a safety in last week's win over fourth-ranked Stockbridge. Taboada has five sacks in three playoff games and 20 tackles for loss on the season. The War Eagles held Stockbridge to 33 rushing yards and 139 total yards last week. They managed just 181 total yards themselves, led by quarterback Myles Willis' 59 rushing yards. Willis has rushed for more than 1,097 yards this season, while Gray King has 611 yards, averaging 8.7 per carry.
The next step: The winner will play the winner between Monroe Area (12-1) at Sandy Creek (13-0), in next week's state championship game at the Georgia Dome.
LAMAR COUNTY (12-0-1) at CALHOUN (13-0)
The key: The outcome of this matchup of extreme opposites will be determined by which defense can make the other offense uncomfortable. For Lamar County and first-year coach Franklin Stephens that means doing something no other defense has managed to accomplish in 13 games, but the formula is nothing new. The Trojans have to pressure Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb up the middle and limit his looks, something much easier said than done. For Calhoun it means, after weeks of facing spread offenses, getting familiar again with the wing-T and playing assignment defense. The Yellow Jackets also have to limit big plays.
The key players: Twins Lance and Lawrence Austin are Lamar County's top offensive playmakers. Lance, the quarterback who totaled 257 yards in the semifinal win over Lovett and was 6-for-6 passing, is second on the team in rushing to Lawrence, who has 1,135 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Jeremy Fletcher has added 600 yards and eight scores. Quay Searcy and Trey Evans are the leading tacklers. For Calhoun, which has won 41 consecutive games at home (including 17 playoff games), Lamb's precision passing is the key. He has 3,166 yards passing, most going to Josh Barnes and Tydus Curtis. Running back Alex Urbano has a combined 1,442 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The next step: The winner will face the winner of the Greater Atlanta Christian/Jefferson game in the Class AA championship game at the Georgia Dome a week from Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
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