Four high school football teams from DeKalb County advanced to the second round of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) 2023 State Football Playoffs after winning opening-round games on Nov. 10-11.
Three of the four DeKalb teams—Cedar Grove, Marist, and Stephenson—won as region champions, guaranteeing the group another home game in round two. Columbia won a home game in round one but will face a road test in round two.
Round one featured more DeKalb teams than any playoff slate since 2017. However, DeKalb is sending two less to round two than it did in 2022, when the county notched six second-round playoff teams.
DeKalb’s overall number of second teams dropped, but the quality of teams DeKalb is sending to the second round is evident from recent playoff success and from this past season.
Stephenson, Marist, and Cedar Grove all won their regions, while one of Cedar Grove or Marist has played or won a state championship in each of the previous five seasons.
Cedar Grove ended the regular season at 5-5, but the Saints played out of their division against top 6A and 7A teams from Georgia and Florida — a tactic that head coach John Adams has said helps prepare his team for the playoffs.
Marist has also played one of the state’s toughest schedules and hasn’t lost since playing—still undefeated—Gainesville in week one of the season.
Stephenson dominated its opening-round opponent 62-15, is on a five-game winning streak, and is led by one of the best running backs in the state.
Columbia didn’t win its region, but the Eagles’ program trajectory has steadily climbed in recent years. The Eagles have become a yearly playoff team under Greg Barnett and are also on a five-game winning streak.
Cedar Grove 30, Hebron Christian 27
Cedar Grove held off a strong run game and a late rally from Hebron Christian to advance to the second round of the GHSA 3A playoffs.
The teams were scoreless until the 8:31 mark of the second quarter when Cedar Grove’s D’Marcus Smith intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown — starting a trend in a game in which Cedar Grove’s defense and special teams would account for more than half of the Saints’ points.
Cedar Grove made the most of the final two possessions of the second half by blocking a Hebron Christian punt with 15 seconds left before halftime and recovering in the end zone to go up 14-7 after the extra point.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cedar Grove would strip the ball from Hebron Christian. The Saints recovered the fumble in time for Alex Brock to kick a 26-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-7 before halftime.
Hebron Christian took almost nine minutes off the clock with the opening drive of the second half, before getting stuffed by Cedar Grove’s defense and turning the ball over on downs at the Cedar Grove one. Bo Walker put together a strong answer for the Saints, eventually taking a handoff for 35 yards and a touchdown to extend the lead to 23-7, but Hebron Christian didn’t quit.
The two teams traded scores—with EJ Colson finding Malachi Miller for a 40-yard touchdown for Cedar Grove’s score—until Hebron Christian trimmed the lead to 30-27 with 1:03 left. Cedar Grove recovered the onside kick and ran the clock out to ensure the win.
Cedar Grove (6-5) will host Bremen (9-2) on Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Godfrey Stadium.
Stephenson 62, NW Whitfield 15
Stephenson had 553 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns on 38 plays enroute to a 62-15 win against Northwest Whitfield Nov. 11 at Hallford Stadium in a Class 4A state playoff first-round game.
The Jaguars were led by senior running back Devin Ingram—in his second consecutive game with more than 200 yards rushing—who ran for 221 yards and four touchdowns on just 15 carries.
Tyler Bercy added 108 yards and two touchdowns to the Stephenson total of 415 yards and six touchdowns in the game. Collin Seals returned a kickoff for another score.
The defense was led by Altariq Smith with eight tackles and a sack, and Romando Craddock added a pair of sacks.
The Jaguars (9-2) host Luella (6-5), the Region 5 No. 2 seed, which defeated East Forsyth 26-21 in the opening round.
Columbia 53, Athens Academy 26
The Columbia Eagles are in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years following a 53-26 Class 2A playoff win against Athens Academy on Nov. 11 at Avondale Stadium.
Columbia totaled 666 yards and seven touchdowns in a game led by senior running Lamaze Williams. Williams took 23 carries for 300 yards and five touchdowns. The performance propelled Williams over 1,000 yards on the season with 1,247 and 11 touchdowns. Fellow senior Jaden Baugh added 13 carries for 295 yards and two touchdowns to move his season totals to 1,319 yards and 17 touchdowns on 94 carries.
Charles Harris added a 25-yard touchdown run along the way. The defense was led by seniors Edwin Moore and Shantez Starks and juniors Cain Jefferson and Mikal Edwin.
The Eagles go on the road to North Cobb Christian (9-2), the Region 6 No. 1 seed, which defeated Fanin County 35-27 in the opening round of the playoffs. It is a rematch of the 2022 first-round game won 13-8 by North Cobb Christian.
Marist 38, Northside 21
Marist dominated most of the game against Northside, with two late second-half touchdowns for Northside bringing the score to 38-21 on Nov. 10 at Hughes Spaulding Stadium.
Marist got out to an early 28-0 lead with 2:32 left in the second quarter and led 38-7 with 2:02 left in the third quarter.
Brunswick (7-3), a 28-22 winner against Mundy’s Mill, will travel to Marist (10-1) for the Golden Eagles’ second-round game.
Below is the round two playoff schedule for teams from DeKalb:
Luella (6-5) vs. Stephenson (9-2), 7:30 p.m.
Bremen (9-2) vs. Cedar Grove (6-5), 7:30 p.m.
HUGHES SPALDING STADIUM
Brunswick (7-3) vs. Marist (10-1), 7:30 p.m.
Columbia (8-3) at North Cobb Christian (9-2), 7:30 p.m.
Mark Brock contributed to this article.