JEFFERSON (13-1) vs. CALHOUN (14-0)
Today, 2:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome
The key: The goal for Jefferson's Dragons, who are trying to win the program's first state championship, is to not get caught up in the moment against a Calhoun program that is making its fifth consecutive trip to the Dome. Jefferson has to find a way to slow the Yellow Jackets' passing game. Lamar County delivered a blueprint for doing that last week, but does Jefferson have the same fast, physical athletes to play man-to-man coverage? Calhoun's key is making Jefferson quarterback Bryant Shirreffs uncomfortable and force someone else to get yards. The Jackets also need to pass-protect well against a defensive front that will have a size advantage.
The key players: Shirreffs, whom Calhoun coach Hal Lamb compares to Tim Tebow, leads the Dragons with 1,233 yards rushing, but he's also passed for 2,181 yards with 35 total touchdowns. Running backs Tristen Jackson and Sammy Williams have combined for 1,470 yards on the ground and 29 touchdowns, while McKay Dickens leads a balanced receiving corps with 523 yards. The defensive leaders are linebackers Wesley Simonton and Kody McDonald, who have combined for more than 350 tackles. Calhoun quarterback Taylor Lamb, the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, has 3,228 yards passing, 34 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's added 406 yards on the ground and 12 scores, while junior running back Alex Urbano has three 100-yard games in the postseason and leads the team with 1,279 yards and 23 touchdowns. Senior Josh Barnes has 84 receptions and 1,009 yards, while speedy Tydus Curtis has 56 for 897. A defense that lacks star power has shone in the playoffs and is led in tackles by Jackson Brumlow with 116, while senior cornerback Donnell Anthony has 95 tackles and eight interceptions.
Ridgeland (13-1) vs. Sandy Creek (14-0)
Today, 5:30 p.m. in the Georgia Dome
The key: With Sandy Creek looking to claim its third state title in four years, and second straight, while Ridgeland is making its first appearance in a state final, how quickly the Panthers adjust to the nerves and overwhelming surroundings of the Georgia Dome could determine the outcome. They cannot afford to fall way behind early because their offense is more geared to grinding it out than scoring quickly. Ridgeland has rushed for more than 4,900 yards and thrown for barely more than 1,000, so the Panthers will stick to the ground game no matter how difficult that is against a Sandy Creek team that has faced two other wing-T opponents and allowed an average of just 100 rushing yards in those games. Sandy Creek hasn't been held to fewer than 30 points this season, averaging 44 points per game, and has held nine oppnents to seven points or less.
The key players: Sandy Creek quarterback Cole Garvin, who completed 12 of 16 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown last week, has thrown for more than 2,000 yards this season. Senior Demarre Kitt has more than 1,000 receiving yards, and running backs Eric Swinney and Delvin Weems have each rushed for more than 1,000 yards. After a solid regular season, Ridgeland fullback Darrell Bridges has been spectacular in the playoffs, rushing for 200-plus yards in four of the last five games. Last week was the first time he didn't surpass the 200-yard rushing mark, but he finished with 187 to go with 110 passing yards and had a hand in all four of the Panthers' touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior now has more than 2,300 yards, third-most in the state, and 39 touchdowns. Vonn Bell's speed to the corner prevents opponents from collapsing the middle of the field to focus solely on Bridges. Bell has more than 1,000 rushing yards to go with 131 total tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles from his safety position. Shaqualm McCoy is a nice complement with a blend of power and speed and has more than 500 rushing yards as well. Each of those backs' job is made easier by a veteran offensive line loaded with quickness and power up front, led by senior Gannon Hampton.