CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — As high school football enters its most anticipated point of the season, everything Georgia high schools have worked for will be laid out on the line over the course of the next month.
Two teams in search of their first state championship in school history will duel it out Friday night in hopes of being the lone bunch to come out of the 32-team playoff field.
For North Atlanta, the Warriors are making just their fourth playoff appearance in their 31-year history as a 7-3 season propelled them to a third-place finish in 6A Region 4. Their opponents, the Lovejoy Wildcats, concluded the season with an identical record -- netting them a runner-up finish in 6A Region 3.
The Warriors are trying to make an unprecedented run, as they have never advanced past the first round of any high school football playoffs in their four appearances. But it's a new season, and anything can happen.
The story for North Atlanta in 2022 was the way they were able to dominate on both sides of the ball during their wins. They outscored opponents 284 to 72 over the course of their seven victories. However, in their three losses, the struggles are glaring, and they come from the offensive side of the ball. The Warriors point totals in each of their losses: 13, 14, and 14. If North Atlanta's offense is clicking on all cylinders, they could very well see themselves advancing past the first round for the first time ever.
Third-year head coach Jamie Aull has improved on his record in each season, as he looks to put his stamp on the program in his first trip to the playoffs.
For Lovejoy, they find their success in two very important phases of the game -- their ground-and-pound running game and their pass rush on defense. Led by senior running back Trevon Kinchen on offense, the 5-foot 11-inch senior has torched opposing defenses for 1,354 yards on 148 touches, adding 10 scores, according to MaxPreps. That's good for 9.1 yards per carry and an average of over 150 yards per game rushing.
Defensively, Aiden Benton has wreaked havoc all season long as an edge rusher. A true quarterback's nightmare, Benton has compiled 11 sacks, totaling 109 yards lost, all while adding 15 quarterback pressures. Don't forget, they've played in 10 games.
In his ninth season as head coach, Edgar Carson has now reached the playoffs in all but one season (2019). Despite that, he has yet to get past the second round and has been eliminated in the first round five times. He'll look to turn that fortune around this year.
The winner of Friday night's pivotal matchup will go on to play the winner of Houston County and Brunswick in the second round of the state playoffs.
North Atlanta and Lovejoy will kick things off at 7:30 p.m. from Twelve Oaks Stadium in Hampton.
Be sure to check out #Team11 football show every Friday night at 11:15 for an in-depth breakdown of all of the high school football action in metro Atlanta.