STATE FOOTBALL: Four Clayton teams prepare for first-round matchups this week By Luke Strickland



JONESBORO — The 2016 high school football regular season concluded last week. When the dust settled, four Clayton County programs qualified for postseason play.

Note: All playoff games will be held Friday at 7 :30 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

Richmond Hill Wildcats (6-3, 1-3) at Lovejoy Wildcats (6-4, 6-1) at Twelve Oaks Stadium

The Wildcats finished as the No. 2 seed out of Region 4 and will host Richmond Hill Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state football playoffs.

Richmond Hill finished the regular season with a 6-3 record but enter the postseason on a three-game losing streak. The program has enjoyed success this season running the football, as running back Maurice Smith scored 10 touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Kasey Green (1,470 yards, 10 touchdowns) has given the Wildcats another dimension at times throwing the football. Green has taken advantage of three-star recruit Sam James, who has snagged six touchdowns and is averaging 82 yards receiving per game.

Lovejoy won five of its last six games by developing a multi-faceted offense of its own. The Wildcats have relied on running back Zion Custis (1,278 yards, 10 touchdowns) to gain tough yardage on the ground, while quarterback John Seter has thrown for more than 200 yards per game this season 14 touchdowns.

As Lovejoy’s offense has progressed, its defense has remained a steady, reliable unit. The Wildcats have held their opponents to just 11 points over the last five games, including a shutout of Jonesboro last week.

Jonesboro Cardinals (4-6, 4-3) at Glynn Academy Terrors (9-1, 4-0)

The Cardinals beat Drew in the final week of the regular season to finish as the No. 4 seed out of Region 4. Jonesboro will travel to take on Glynn Academy Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state football playoffs.

The Terrors won the Region 2-AAAAAA title and finished the regular season with a 9-1 record and ranked No. 4 in Class AAAAAA. Running back Kendall Cross and quarterback Deejay Dallas combined to rush for 27 touchdowns this season. Overall, Glynn Academy averaged more than 36 points per game this season.

Jonesboro has developed a strong defensive reputation under head coach Tim Floyd. The Cardinals struggled early this season integrating new faces, but the defense played much better in the second half of the season, holding its opponents to just 15 points per game over the last four games of the season.

But the key to Jonesboro’s second-half resurgence is due to a vastly improved offense. The Cardinals failed to score for five straight games this season and looked badly overmatched after the losses of key players from last year’s team. However, quarterback Jeremy Allred has gained confidence in the position, leading the team to double-digit point totals in three of the last four games of the season.

Allred will need to play his best game of the season though if the Cardinals are to push Glynn Academy on Friday.

Riverdale Raiders (6-4, 3-3) at Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets (7-3, 3-1)

The Raiders will travel to take on Region 1-AAAAA champions Thomas County Central Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAA state football playoffs.

Thomas County Central finished the season with a 7-3 overall record. Senior quarterback Kelias Williams led a potent rushing attack for the Yellow Jackets. Williams led the team with 18 rushing touchdowns, and has been responsible for more than half of his team’s scoring plays this season.

Riverdale enters the postseason on the heels of three straight losses. The Raiders were strong defensively during a 6-1 start to the season, but surrendered more than 37 points per game during the three-game losing streak. In those three games, Riverdale allowed 258 and 526 yards rushing to Whitewater and Starr’s Mill, respectively.

While the Raiders must defend the run better to upset Thomas County Central, quarterback Joseph Cambridge should have an opportunity to make plays in the passing game. The Yellow Jackets allowed 22 points per game this season.

North Clayton Eagles (5-5, 3-3) at Mary Persons Bulldogs (8-2, 5-0)

The Eagles clinched the No. 4 seed out of Region 4-AAAA due to Salem’s loss in the final week of the season. North Clayton will play No. 7 Mary Persons Friday in the first round of the Class AAAA state football playoffs.

Mary Persons finished 8-2 this season and as region champs in Region 2-AAAA.The Bulldogs were led offensively by running back Zach Harvey, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.

Stopping Harvey will be a priority for North Clayton, but finding ways to score on one of the state’s top defenses may be even more critical. The Bulldogs allowed 7.6 points per game this season and shut out their opponents four times this season.

North Clayton are way ahead of schedule in Cap Burnett’s first year as head coach, and will be thrilled to experience playoff football so early in the program’s rebuilding process. The Eagles have been strong defensively this season, but will need running backs James Monroe and Jaiquan Earls to have big games in order to pull off the upset this week.