Region 7AAAAA champion Kell took down Region 6AAAAA runner-up Mays at home 26-15, while Mount Paran Christian, seeded sixth in the Class A private school playoff bracket, defeated visiting Our Lady of Mercy, seeded 11th, 31-24.
Region 4AAAAAA continued to show its strength with two of its three teams moving on. Region runner-up Hillgrove won on the road at top-ranked and Region 1AAAAAA champion Camden County by a 34-21 score, and third-seeded McEachern took down Region 3AAAAAA champion Langston Hughes 22-21.
The last time two local teams in the largest classification made the quarterfinals was 2011 with Walton and Lassiter.
Region 4AAAAAA champion North Cobb dropped a 52-6 decision at home to Region 1AAAAAA No. 2 Colquitt County.
A common theme among all of these games was defense.
“There’s no question defense plays a big role in winning football games,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “There’s a reason people say ‘offense wins games, but defense wins championships.’ As games get tight, it’s hard to rip offensively, and there’s more pressure to score.
“But when you have a good defense and you get put in that tough, championship situation, when those guys step up, it tends to take pressure off the offense. They’re more loose on the field and more focused.”
Hillgrove forced two fumbles and an interception in picking up its victory as it rallied from a 21-7 deficit with 20 second-quarter points, en route to a 34-21 win.
The Hawks shut down a Wildcats offense that averaged more than 33 points per game and limited Camden County to 24 yards in the third quarter. Quincey Nelson’s interception led to a Hillgrove touchdown drive. Two other times, the Wildcats drove inside the red zone, but failed to score because of big plays from the defense.
Kell only led 10-9 at halftime before taking care of things in the third. The Longhorns took a 17-9 lead midway through the third quarter, and Evan Carnes’ 20-yard interception return for a touchdown gave Kell a 24-9 advantage less than a minute later.
Kell’s special teams prevented the Raiders from converting a 2-point conversion in the third quarter, and a safety with 38 seconds left in the game iced the win for the Longhorns.
McEachern’s defense spurred the Indians’ rally from a 12-point fourth- quarter deficit. Trailing 21-16 with 3:23 left in the game, the defense forced Hughes into a three-and-out, and the Indians offense turned the possession into the go-ahead touchdown.
McEachern forced the Panthers to turn over the ball on downs on their next drive, and the Indians were able to drain most of the remainder of the clock.
“I think our defense played extremely well,” Hockman said. “They dominated all night. Langston Hughes only had about three big plays.
“Our guys knew they were dominating and before our last drive you could hear them yelling ‘The time is now!’ and ‘No first downs!’ It was a group effort from those guys.”
Mount Paran Christian had to stop two potential game-tying drives with less than 5 minutes remaining to earn its win.
Taylor Trammell’s interception ended one Bobcats’ possession, while a Matthew Norton fumble recovery late in the game secured the victory.
The defense wasn’t limited to local teams as Colquitt County nearly shut out North Cobb.
McEachern will travel to Region 7AAAAAA runner-up Collins Hill for its quarterfinal match, while Hillgrove will host Region 7AAAAAA third seed North Gwinnett.
Kell will host Region 2AAAAA champion Warner Robins. Mount Paran Christian travels to Aquinas, which is seeded third in the playoff bracket.