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High school football: A look at area teams' semifinal opponents

POSTED: December 4, 2012 10:38 p.m.

For just the second time since 1982, two Hall County teams have reached the state semifinals in the same season.

In '82, it was Bobby Gruhn’s Gainesville team and Jim Lofton’s East Hall squad — two of the area’s most successful coaches of all time. This time around it’s the area’s current winningest coaches — Gainesville’s Bruce Miller and North Hall’s Bob Christmas — trying to lead their teams to the county’s first state title of the modern era.

Elsewhere around the area, Buford is back in the final four for the sixth straight year, and Jefferson is there for the first time since 1977.

Here’s a look at who each area team must defeat to reach next week’s state championship games in the Georgia Dome.

Whitewater Wildcats vs. Gainesville

Where: Wildcat Stadium, Fayetteville

Winner plays: Northside-Warner Robins/Ware County winner

Record: 12-1, Region 4-AAAAA champion

Against 2012 playoff teams: 6-0 (32.7 ppg, 11.7 papg)Coach: Amos McCreary, eighth year at school (62-23)

History: McCreary has been there every step of the way since the program began in 2004. After two years of nonregion play, the Wildcats made the playoffs in their first season of eligibility in 2006 and have missed the postseason only twice since then. This will be their first trip to the semifinals after two previous quarterfinal appearances.

Watch out for: RB Kendall Conley (5-11, 180 Sr.); QB Jay Ashley (6-1, 185 So.); DB Jared Vincent (5-9, 175 Sr.); LB Christian Wafford (5-10, 181 Sr.)

Last week: Defeated Allatoona, 24-3. The Wildcats seized control with a 14-0 halftime lead and controlled the game with their running attack, led by Conley’s 135 yards and two touchdowns.

Offense: Since a loss in its season opener, Whitewater has won 12 straight and Conley is a big reason why. The Wildcats run out of the I-formation, keeping it simple with basic, power running from the tailback. It will be the second week in a row Gainesville has faced a 2,000-yard rusher.

“(Conley) is the real deal,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “We thought we saw one last week, but this one might be even better.

“They want to run at you,” he added. “They’re very physical, and (Conley is) capable of going the distance on any play.”

Defense: Miller said he hasn’t had a chance to see film of Whitewater’s defense against a team that runs an up-tempo offense like Gainesville uses, but said the Wildcats are “very quick,” with “athletes all over the field.”

“They’re real,” Miller said. “And they’re pretty sound. We haven’t seen them beat themselves.”

For the season, only three teams have scored more than 20 points against Whitewater, and the Wildcats are giving up less than 15 points per game during their 12-game winning streak.

Bottom line: Conley presents a real danger, making it imperative that the Red Elephants start fast and accelerate from there. Right now, the Gainesville offense is clicking at an other-worldly pace, averaging 55.3 points per game in the playoffs and coming off a 715-yard performance last week. If it can come anywhere close to those numbers, it will be difficult for any opposing offense to keep up.

St. Pius X Golden Lions vs. North Hall

Where: George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta

Winner plays: Buford/Cartersville winner

Record: 11-2, Region 6-AAA champion

Against 2012 playoff teams: 8-2 (32.8 ppg, 18.1 papg)

Coach: Paul Standard, 12th year at school (107-36)

History: The Golden Lions have taken big leaps under Standard, missing the playoffs only twice during his tenure and never finishing worse than 5-5. This will be their first semifinal appearance since 2006. St. Pius and North Hall have met each of the last three seasons with the Golden Lions winning each — including two regular season games and a second-round contest in 2009.

Watch out for: RB/DB Nick Glass (6-2, 202 Sr.); RB/DB Nicholas Ruffin (6-1, 185 Jr.); LB Daniel Crochet (6-3, 208 Jr.); RB Ryan Braswell (5-11, 205 Sr.); RB/DB Branden Mitchell (5-10, 170 Jr.)

Last week: Defeated Washington County, 40-35. The Golden Lions deployed a number of offensive weapons and were able to hold off Washington County, maintaining a slim lead throughout the game. Braswell ran for three scores, quarterback Jack Spear threw for a pair, and Mitchell finished with 165 yards on the ground.

Offense: The Spartans have no shortage of offensive threats in their triple option offense. Braswell is an All-Region selection and Mitchell has shown playmaking ability — and that doesn’t even include Glass and Ruffin, a pair of Division-I prospects who star primarily on defense. For the season they’re averaging 35.2 points per game; that’s risen to 47.7 per game in the playoffs.

“They’re very similar to us in philosophy and values,” North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. “It should be very interesting.”

Defense: Glass and Ruffin anchor the defense from the secondary, and both are expected to play on Saturdays in the future. Glass is ranked as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com, has offers from elite schools across the country, and is verbally committed to Georgia. Ruffin also boast an impressive number of scholarship offers and is getting attention from multiple schools in the SEC and ACC. While the Spartans primarily run a 4-3, Christmas said he expects to see Glass playing near the line of scrimmage this week to combat North Hall’s potent ground attack.

Bottom line: North Hall has already taken out Peach County, the team many considered to be Class AAA’s most talented — but that doesn’t mean the task will get any easier this week. The Golden Lions will be a confident bunch, having defeated the Trojans in three straight meetings, and they have the athletes to play with any team in the state.

Cartersville Purple Hurricanes vs. Buford

Where: Weinman Stadium, Cartersville

Winner plays: North Hall/St. Pius X winner

Record: 13-0, Region 5-AAA champion

Against 2012 playoff teams: 8-0 (36.9 ppg, 12.4 papg)

Coach: Frank Barden, 17th year at school (143-56-1)

Watch out for: QB Brooks Barden (6-3, 205 Jr.); WR/S Hayes Lin (6-1, 175 Sr.); WR TL Ford (6-3, 175 Jr.).
Last week: Defeated Thomson, 21-13. Cartersville dispatched the previously unbeaten Bulldogs behind three forced turnovers, a stingy defensive effort, and a 68-yard touchdown run from Kalin Heath that broke a 13-13 tie late in the fourth quarter.

Need to know: The Purple Hurricanes are the only unbeaten team remaining in Class AAA and are back in the semifinals for the first time since 2005. Led by Brooks Barden, son of the coach, Cartersville featured a prolific offense in the regular season, scoring nearly 42 points per game. Since a first-round rout of Jackson County, however, it’s been the defense that has risen to the occasion, preserving a pair of close wins, including a 24-23 win over Blessed Trinity in the second round.

Greater Atlanta Christian Spartans vs. Jefferson

Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson

Winner plays: Calhoun/Lamar County winner

Record: 10-3, No. 2 Region 6-AA

Against 2012 playoff teams: 5-2 (34.7 ppg, 19.7 papg)

Coach: Tim Hardy, first year at school (9-15 previously at Mountain View)

Watch out for: QB Rafe Chapple (6-1, 190 Jr.); RB Kyle Scales (5-10, 193 Sr.); OL/DL Andrew Bartolomei (6-4, 248 Sr.)

Last week: Defeated Early County, 27-24. After Early County tied the game with 59 seconds remaining, Chapple led the Spartans down the field for a game-winning drive, capped by a 19-yard field goal from Brandon Holzgrefe as time expired.

Need to know: Offense hasn’t been a problem for the Spartans — they’ve been held to less than 30 points only three times all year and no team has kept them from scoring at least 24 this season. The defense hasn’t been dominant (20 points allowed per game), but it hasn’t been burned often either; only two teams (Thomson and Lovett) have broken the 30-point plateau against the Spartans.


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