A pair of storied high school football programs will tee it up Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta for the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA state championship.
Both programs have not only enjoyed recent success, but both have numerous region championships and multiple state titles in their annals.
Thomson has won five state championships and 27 region titles in a football history dating back to 1912. The Bulldogs won Class AAAA in 2002. They captured Class AAA titles back-to-back in 1984 and 1985. Thomson won Class A in 1967 and 1968.
Cartersville has claimed three state championship and 18 region titles in a football history dating back to 1909. The Purple Hurricanes won Class AA state championships in 1999 and 1991 to go with last season’s Class AAAA title.
The two programs have combined to send 11 players to the NFL.
Surprisingly, the two teams have only met once over the years. Cartersville beat the Bulldogs 21-13 in the 2012 Class AAA quarterfinals.
Cartersville, riding a 29-game winning streak over two years is 14-0 this season. The Purple Hurricanes are the consensus top-ranked team in the classification and are the No. 1 seed from Region 5-AAAA.
Thomson (14-0) won the Region 3-AAAA championship and has been ranked second in Class AAAA virtually all season.
Rob Ridings is the head coach of the Bulldogs and is 25-2 over the past two seasons after a 4-7 year in his first season at Thomson in 2014. Ridings was head coach at Glynn Academy 2004-2013 and held the top spot at Troup 1996-1998.
Cartersville is 41-2 the past three seasons under head coach Joey King (photo right). This is King’s first head coaching position. He took over the Canes after serving as an assistant at Carrollton.
The game appears to be a contrast of offenses.
The Canes, with the nation’s top-ranked junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence, have thrown for more than 264 yards per game. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have featured a ground attack that has rushed for more than 312 yards per game.
Lawrence is 236-of-373 for 3,708 yards this season with 49 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Antoine Jefferson (59 receptions, 819 yards, 4 TDs) leads five Cartersville players with at least 30 receptions. (photo right)
Two-way player and Wake Forest commit, Avery Showell, Trey Creamer, E.J. Turner, and T.J. Horton round out that talented group of receivers.
Showell (photo left, #28) has 16 touchdown catches and 762 yards and E.J. Turner has caught eight touchdown throws.
Creamer (photo left, #1), a University of Minnesota commit, has been the Canes’ top rusher with 711 yards on 123 attempts and 17 touchdowns. He has also caught four touchdown passes and has 538 receiving yards.
The Bulldogs have thrown for just over 112 yards per game. Thomson features a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Senior Michael Thomas (2,240 yards, 259 carries, 24 TDs) has rushed for 100 yards or more in nine games this season. Sophomore Bubba Murray (1,007 yards, 132 carries, 17 TDs) has three, 100+ yard games.
Bulldogs’ junior quarterback Mills Ridings (90-of-133 for 1,393 yards, 15 TDs) has completed over 67 percent of his throws this season and is averaging just under 100 yards per game through the air.
The top two targets for Ridings have been seniors Trey Parker and J.T. Thomas. Parker has 30 catches for 639 yards and 10 touchdowns. Thomas has 24 receptions for 490 yards and seven touchdowns.
Junior defensive back, Christian Tutt, has also been a dangerous return man on kickoffs and punts for the Bulldogs.
The two defenses have been impressive all season as well.
Cartersville has allowed only 8.6 points per game. Thomson has yielded a mere 9.7 points per game.
Senior strong safety Zack Johnson (5-9, 170) has led Thomson in tackles and sacks. Junior linebackers Artest Banks (6-1, 225) and Xzavious Lewis (5-11, 180) are the Bulldogs’ next top tacklers. Tutt leads the team in interceptions and along with fellow corner Jacorey Crawford, the Bulldogs have presented a stingy secondary. Thomson’s defensive line has been anchored by 260-pound sophomore Trabias Jones and 235-pound junior Devin Randall.
The Canes’ defensive line had an impressive week during their semifinal win over Mary Persons.
Brandon Wade, Darian Poellnitz, and Torrian Scrutchins combined for a forced fumble, 14 tackles, five sacks, and a defended pass. It continued what has been an outstanding year for the Canes’ leaders on the line of scrimmage.
Cartersville linebackers Sean Holton, Nyvin Nelson, and Trevor Lowe have compiled huge seasons, while senior defensive backs Trase Fezzia, Xavior Coaxum, and Creamer have limited opponents’ passing games.
Cartersville placekicker/punter Jonathan Cruz has been an important contributor also. The junior specialist has placed a very high percentage of his kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks this season and has plenty of distance in his leg on scoring opportunities.
Thomson senior kicker/punter Dakota Gergen has also been impressive this season. Gergen has made 7-of-8 field goal attempts with a long kick of 48 yards. He has successfully converted 80-of-85 extra point kicks and has served as the team’s directional punter, pinning opponents inside the 20 on two of eight attempts. Junior Marcus Cade also handles some of the Bulldogs’ punting duties with an average just of 41 yards per punt and a long punt of 45 yards.
Cartersville is favored by 6 points by the Maxwell Ratings’ projection. The Canes are a 12-point favorite on a neutral field via CalPreps.com projections.
Neither team has lost a state championship game (Thomson is 5-0, Cartersville is 3-0).
GHSA / Georgia Dome / 2016 Schedule of Games
Fri., Dec. 9
10:00 am -- Class A Private -- Fellowship Christian vs. Eagles Landing Christian
1:00 pm -- Class 3A -- Cedar Grove vs. Greater Atlanta Christian
4:30 pm -- Class 5A -- Buford vs. Rome
8:00 pm -- Class 6A -- Valdosta vs. Tucker
Sat., Dec. 10
10:00 am -- Class A Public -- McIntosh Co. vs. Macon Co.
1:00 pm -- Class 2A -- Benedictine vs. Fitzgerald
4:30 pm -- Class 4A -- Cartersville vs. Thomson
8:00 pm -- Class 7A -- Roswell vs. Grayson
Historical information source: Georgia Football Historians Statistical source: MaxPreps.com