By Jack Hunter
On Tuesday at 1 PM, the 3A State Championship between Cedar Grove and Peach County has the potential to be the best title game. Going into the season, Calhoun, Cedar Grove, and Peach County were considered favorites to play in the Benz, and two of these teams are still playing. While seeing an underdog (like Bainbridge in 5A) trying to dethrone a powerhouse is fun, there’s something special about the two best teams in a classification facing off against each other.
For Peach County, this is the moment they’ve been waiting for since last season, when a majority of Peach County and high school football fans objected to a call made that ultimately allowed Calhoun to snatch last year’s 3A State Championship.
You can see from the video that Noah Whittington (current RB/WR at Peach County) had control of the football, took a few steps, and reached across the goal line with the football. It should’ve been a touchdown, but the lack of replay in HS football and simply terrible officiating screwed over Peach County. After the blundered call, many Peach County officials, including Head Coach Chad Campbell and Principal Ken Hartley, met with GHSA officials, pleading for a change in the outcome.
Although they didn’t get the result they wanted, that blundered call did force the GHSA to make a change in officiating going forward. GHSF’s daily newsletter reported on the officiating change:
Peach County’s revenge tour has made it all the way to the Benz, and although it seems like there has to be a Disney ending to this season after what happened last year, it won’t be that easy.
The Cedar Grove Saints enter this football game with arguably the most potential college football players on any team in the state. Cedar Grove has the #1 WR in the nation, Jadon Haselwood, who’s dynamic on all three sides of the football for the Saints. Cedar Grove RB Robert “Pop” Jones recently committed to the Naval Academy.
But, for Cedar Grove, their defense is filled with Division I football talent.
4 star DT/DE Rashad Cheney Jr. just committed to Minnesota after previously decommitting from Alabama earlier this season. 3 star DE Dante Walker committed to Arkansas earlier this season. 3 star MLB (2020) Isaiah Ratcliff has numerous offers from SEC schools. It doesn’t stop there, as numerous players including Alvin Williams, William Jenkins, Tee Denson, and Chris Sanford are all guys with interest from collegiate football programs.
This defense has obliterated offenses this season across Georgia (and in SC and Alabama as well). Cedar Grove has shut out 6 opponents, and given up less than 7 points to 2 other opponents. In the last two weeks (SF and QF), they’ve given up 6 points. In Cedar Grove’s shutouts’ this season, they’ve outscored their opponents 352-0. They had a stretch in the middle of the season where they didn’t give up a point from September 21 to October 12. And, they only gave up three points on October 12 to a Westminster team that was top 5 in AAA this season. Jadon Haselwood draws the attention to Cedar Grove’s offense, but their defense is what makes this team elite.
Peach County doesn’t nearly have the Division I recruits that Cedar Grove has, but that hasn’t halted their production at all this season. Peach County is led by 4 star (2020) MLB Sergio Allen, who committed to Clemson before his 1st day of Junior year. Allen has 122 TOT and 11 TOT on the season and is all over the field. Peach County is allowing 12 points a game, and like the Saints, have played great football through these playoffs. Through 4 playoff games, Peach County has allowed 25 points (6.25 PPG).
The Trojans, in the last two weeks, have been extremely battle-tested. In the quarterfinals, the Trojans faced the Westminster Wildcats, who had been as high as #4 in the GHSF 3A rankings. Westminster had lost two previous QF matchups to PC, but returned a team that had obliterated GACS the week before. Both Cedar Grove and Peach County had dominating victories over Westminster. Both teams only allowed 3 points. Peach County allowed less than 5 completions to the passing yards leader in 3A, Parks Harber.
After dominating Westminster, the Trojans travelled to Calhoun, the #1 ranked team in 3A. They gave up only 7 points to the Yellow Jackets, who hadn’t scored below 34 points in a game in the regular season.
Going into Tuesday, both teams look very similar to each other. Both are heavily reliant on their defenses, who have been stellar, even against stiff competition. These two battle-tested teams have tremendous head coaches in Chad Campbell (PC) and Jermaine “Jimmy” Smith (CG). Campbell, who has been with PC since 1992, is in his 13th season as HC. He’s posted an 84% WP in 13 seasons, including a state title in 2009. Jimmy Smith is in his 6th season as HC of Cedar Grove, has an 82.5% WP. Smith won a state title with CG in 2016. Both teams have sophomore QB’s that have exceeded expectations (Jaydon Gibson with PC and Austin Smith with CG). Gibson is approaching 2,200 yards passing and Smith is approaching 1,500 yards passing (Smith splits snaps with Kendall Boney, and Cedar Grove also runs the ball a lot). Both teams love to run the football, as both teams have rushed over 360 times this season. The Saints and the Trojans control the line of scrimmage and are experienced football teams, especially upfront.
It’ll be an epic clash between the Trojans and Saints on Tuesday. Who are you picking?
You can find the author, Jack Hunter, on Twitter @jackhunter2020. He is a High School football analyst who travels around the state every week to cover HS football at his 3A High School (who has played both CG and PC).