TIFTON — Georgia high school state tournaments get started this week, sending many of the state’s schools to the football fields where the goal is a simple one: Win or go home.
The ultimate destination are a pair of football fields in December. Georgia State for GHSA teams and Mercer for those in the GISA. Before those can take place, teams must get through several rounds of competition.
Those up this week are Tift County at Marietta; Cook at Northeast (Macon); Dodge County at Fitzgerald, Johnson County at Irwin County and Turner County at Dublin. Most games are Friday, with Irwin and Turner playing Saturday because of a shortage of officials.
Tiftarea Academy is also going to state, but are off this week after earning a first round bye. On Nov. 19, the Panthers go to Frederica Academy.
Up at Northcutt Stadium in Marietta, the mascots might get confusing as both teams answer to Blue Devils. Combined, the teams have more than 225 years of football experience, but surprisingly have never met before. The closest matchup was Tift County Industrial defeating Marietta’s Lemon Street for the 1950 GIA Class B state title.
Both teams are 6-4. Marietta ended the regular season with a 42-14 win over Walton to secure second place in Region 3-7A. The northern Blue Devils were ranked for the first half of the season before a spate of losses, one of them a 28-25 count to Colquitt County. Walton was No. 5 when Marietta blew them out.
Marietta got six touchdowns from Tyler Hughes on 22 of 29 passing and 346 yards. Kamryn Perry had three of those scoring grabs and 150 yards.
Tift, having secured more wins than in 2019 and 2020 combined, went 1-2 in 1-7A. Zach Carter finished third in the region with 823 rushing yards. Both he and quarterback Jackson Strickland are gaining more than five yards per carry.
Cook, Region 1-AA’s No. 3 seed, is 5-5 in 2021. Their opponent, the Northeast Raiders, are the state’s No. 5 team.
Northeast has lost three games this season, with none being by more than eight points. Kalik Evans Tyler Terry provide a big 1-2 punch at running back, having combined for 16 touchdowns through nine games. Quarterback Travion Solomon will run as well.
Cook, which has made state every season beginning in 2000, relies on Jamarion Walker to make the offense go.
Two ranked teams meet at Jaycee Stadium Friday, with No. 4 Fitzgerald squaring off against No. 9 Dodge County.
It is the second meeting of the year between the two teams, Fitzgerald defeating the Eastman-ites 15-6 in the regular season battle. The Purple Hurricane will have to rely on their defense one more to handle Dodge’s electric freshman quarterback, Duke Johnson. Tradition is also on Fitzgerald’s side as they advanced to the state championship in 2020.
Irwin, Class A public’s two-time defending state champions and No. 1 team, host Johnson County again, having seen the Trojans in both 2013 and 2006. Johnson is 7-3 for the campaign, but have not met any ranked teams.
Neither of Irwin’s losses have been within the classification. Cody Soliday has thrown for 18 touchdown passes this season, with help in the backfield coming from Damarkas Lundy and Shane Marshall.
Over in the Emerald City, Turner County Titans play Dublin for the first time ever. The Irish, who like to run, run and run some more are the No. 2 team from Region 4-A public.
Elijah Stephens leads the Titans’ ground game.