Glades Central-Norland, Prattville-Hoover among championship picks
It all comes down to this. After precipitous buildup, after months of training and a grueling regular season, the state championships are finally here. Ten of the Top 25 play in title games over the weekend, seven looking to finish unbeaten. It's a chance for contenders to legitimize everything they've worked for. It's also a chance to make one final national statement.
After the wildest weekend in recent memory -- one laden with shocking upsets -- the follow-up act should be even better. Here are 10 games to watch.
At a glance, the Kentucky Class 6A title has all the makings of a shootout. The Shamrocks and Cardinals average 48.8 and 46.3 points, respectively, and both boast potent passing attacks. Trinity's Dalyn Dawkins has been remarkable -- over the last three weeks, the junior running back is averaging 207 yards per game.
Despite evidence to the contrary, The 'Rocks defense is the difference. Jason Hatcher and Co. are consistently underrated, and hold Scott County to its lowest output of the year.
The pick: Trinity 41, Scott County 13
It's only fitting that Don Bosco plays Bergen Catholic for the New Jersey Non-Public Group 4 title, the second consecutive year they've clashed for the crown. It's part of a larger history: Separated by 10 miles, the Ironmen and Crusaders have met 11 times dating back to '04.
The rivalry has been entirely one-sided. Bosco has won all but one of the contests, including a 33-22 victory on Sept. 30. Bergen quarterback Jon Germano keeps it close, but Jabrill Peppers -- and Bosco's star-studded D -- looms large in the fourth quarter.
The pick: Don Bosco Prep 35, Bergen Catholic 24
Since its Sept. 16 loss to Gaffney, Byrnes has been dominant, outscoring opponents 484-90 en route to a 10-0 record. Quarterback Shuler Bentley has picked apart overmatched defenses, throwing for 3,371 yards and 46 touchdowns. There's just one problem: the Rebels still don't have an answer for Quinshad Davis. The Indians' explosive senior wideout tallied 10 catches for 137 yards and a score in their first meeting, and torches Byrnes' secondary again for the title.
The pick: Gaffney 28, Byrnes 20
After a shaky outing against Lakewood Ranch (Fla.), Armwood's defense righted the ship versus Hillsborough (Fla.), forcing three turnovers in its sixth shutout of the season. Its momentum carries over. Gainesville running back Raphael Webb gets his yards, but Hawks' linebackers Eric Striker and Keionne Barnes impose their will in a low-scoring affair.
The pick: Armwood 20, Gainesville 3
Last week's NIAA 4A semifinal against Liberty made two things clear: Running back Shaquille Powell is unstoppable, and the Gaels' defense has holes to address. The former proves more telling than the latter. Coach Tony Sanchez whips his two-time defending champs into shape, and Powell caps his sensational career (5,470 all-purpose yards, 87 touchdowns) with another 250-yard performance.
The pick: Bishop Gorman 49, Reed 17
During its current 19 game-winning streak, Lake Travis has knocked off Cedar Park twice, 21-20 and 24-21, respectively. Both played out largely the same: The Cavaliers stormed to an early lead, and the Timberwolves fell just short in their comeback attempt. The script changes on Friday. Dual-threat quarterback Brian Hogan (976 passing yards, 1,562 rushing yards) comes out firing, and Cedar Park's D -- fresh off back-to-back shutouts -- stops Baker Mayfield late to seal the upset.
The pick: Cedar Park 27, Lake Travis 24
Though only a semifinal, the Grayson-Colquitt County bout may be the most captivating matchup of the weekend. It pits the Packers' upstart offense against the Rams' suffocating D, a battle of strength against strength. Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus top prospect in the 2013 class, gives Grayson the edge. He wreaks havoc on both sides off the ball, and coach Mickey Conn's crew eliminates Rush Propst and Co. in a tight one.
The pick: Grayson 20, Colquitt County 17
Seven years after his brother, J.R., carried Bellevue to a Class 3A title, senior quarterback Tyler Hasty looks to do the same. Expect him to succeed. O'Dea has appeared strikingly beatable at times -- including during their triple-overtime win over Capital (8-4) in the quarterfinals -- while the Wolverines have only improved in the playoffs. Bellevue's trademark Wing-T offense has rolled to 98 points in the past three games.
The pick: Bellevue 35, O'Dea 13
In advancing to the Class 6A finals, Prattville has finally resembled the team once billed as a national title contender. Alabama commit Justin Thomas has completed more than 73 percent of his passes, and the defense has generated 10 turnovers in four weeks. Hoover running back Dakota Daniel will find the end zone, but it won't be enough. The Bucs have the better record. The Lions have the better team.
The pick: Prattville 28, Hoover 23
Norland's Duke Johnson is arguably the most dynamic player in all of talent-rich Florida, rushing for 1,358 yards and 18 touchdowns. He hasn't faced a defense like Glade Central's. Dominique Gibson and Co. haven't allowed a point in the past three weeks -- and have surrendered just 17 since the onset of October. Then there's this: According to the Miami Herald, the Raiders are 30-1 in the playoff games in the Muck dating back to 1997.
The pick: Glades Central 33, Miami Norland 24
• Don't miss the Pickerington Central-St. Ignatius showdown for the Ohio Division I title. Both pulled off impressive upsets last week, and both boast Ohio State-bound offensive threats, Tigers' wideout Roger Lewis and Wildcats' tight end Blake Thomas.
• Keep an eye on Bellarmine Prep, California's most under-the-radar contender. After losing to De La Salle in the season-opener, it has gone 11-0 -- and outscored the competition 438-110 -- heading into Friday's CIF Central Coast final with Palo Alto (10-2). The Bells can run the football with the best of them: They've racked up 4,045 rushing yards and 79 touchdowns.
• Team on the rise: Manatee (Fla.). Largely written off after a 1-2 start (losses to Good Counsel and Don Bosco), the Hurricanes have emerged as a Florida force to be reckoned with. With a win over Central (Fla.), coach Joe Kinnan and Co. could play St. Thomas Aquinas -- the nation's former No. 1 -- in the Class 7A semifinals.
• With the season winding down, expect recruiting to heat up. A number of top recruits have official visits planned for the coming weeks -- trips that should go a long ways toward defining the 2012 college football landscape.