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High school football notebook: Area teams prepare for postseason

POSTED: November 12, 2013 6:26 p.m.

The high school football state playoffs begin this Friday for the state’s five largest classifications. The postseason will stretch across the next five weeks, with the state championship games being played Dec. 13-14 inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Ten of the 11 area teams that qualified for the state playoffs will begin play this week, while Commerce will start the Class A public playoffs on Nov. 22. As those teams prepare for their first round matchups, here are five of the biggest stories to watch this postseason:

1. Defending state champions Gainesville, Buford and Jefferson all qualified for the playoffs again this season, keeping alive their chances of earning a second straight state title in their respective classifications. Gainesville won the Class AAAAA championship last season, beating Ware County 49-13 in the title game, and enters this year’s state playoffs ranked third in the state. Only Tucker and Kell are ranked higher than the Red Elephants, who boast a powerful offense that is averaging 52 points this season.

The Red Elephants, who host ML King on Friday night at City Park Stadium, could face a tough test in the state playoffs in the second round against South Paulding (9-1) and again in the state semifinals against top-ranked Tucker (10-0).

Buford is the heavy favorite to repeat as the Class AAA state champion. The Wolves finished the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record and are the highest ranked team among all classifications in the state, according to the Maxwell rankings, which are released weekly.

The Wolves are averaging a staggering 55.6 points per game this season while allowing just 6.5 points per game, and are coming off a Region 7-AAA championship. A state championship this season would give Buford its ninth in the past 12 seasons.

Jefferson’s road to repeating as the Class AA champion won’t be easy. After a matchup against Westminster (5-5) in the first round, the Dragons will likely face ninth-ranked Heard County (9-1) in the second round and top-ranked Lamar County (10-0) in the state quarterfinals.

A potential state semifinal matchup could pit the Dragons against Greater Atlanta Christian, a rematch of last year’s state semifinal contest that the Dragons won 42-14.

2. Flowery Branch won the Region 8 championship last season but was upset at home in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs by North Paulding. This season, Flowery Branch, which finished runner-up in the region to Gainesville, hosts DeKalb County’s Stephenson High.

The Jaguars (8-2) have 13 Division I prospects that are seniors this season, led by running back Dallas Rivers, who is committed to Vanderbilt. The Jaguars also have four juniors that are ranked as top Division I prospects, according to Rivals.com, led by 6-foot-3 wide receiver and South Carolina commit Dexter Neal.

The Falcons (7-3) boast a few Division I-caliber players, led by quarterback Jackson McDonald, a dual-threat who is committed to James Madison.

Both teams are capable of scoring points in large chunks. Flowery Branch has scored 40 or more points five times this season, while Stephenson has eclipsed the 40-point mark four times.

3. Chestatee will try again for its first-ever playoff victory this Friday night when the War Eagles host Grady (8-2). The War Eagles are 0-3 all-time in the state playoffs, losing their most recent playoff game to LaGrange, 59-46, last season.

The War Eagles play a physical brand of football. On offense, Zac Cheshire leads a ground game that is averaging 270 yards per game. On defense, the War Eagles have posted three shutouts this season and have held seven of their opponents to few than 20 points.

4. West Hall and Union County both ended long playoff droughts this season. The Spartans clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 with a 10-7 win over Dawson County last week. Union County earned its first playoff spot since 2001 after finishing with a 6-4 record this year and securing the No. 4 seed out of Region 8-AA.

Both teams are heavy underdogs this week in the first round, but have already set the pace for what could be successful seasons to come in the future.

West Hall (6-4) visits top-ranked Cartersville (10-0) on Friday night, while Union County visits second-ranked Lovett (9-1).

West Hall’s playoff berth comes in just its second season under coach Tony Lotti and after finishing with just a 3-7 record last year.

5. Jackson County is in the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since the Jefferson-based school qualified for the regional final and semifinal in 1986-87. Last year, the Panthers earned their first playoff berth since 1992, losing to Cartersville, 56-31, in the first round.

Now, the Panthers are back in the playoffs and are preparing for a trip to Roswell to face Blessed Trinity, the champion from Region 6.

The trip to the Class AAA state playoffs almost seemed unlikely for the Panthers in late September. Following a 62-27 loss to North Oconee on Sept. 27, Jackson County was sitting with a 1-4 overall record and a 1-1 mark in region play. But, the Panthers managed to win three of their final five games, including a 38-35 victory over Morgan County last week, to grab the No. 4 seed from a competitive Region 8.

Now the Panthers, led by senior wide receiver Xavier Harper, are looking for the school’s first playoff victory since a 13-6 win over Buford in the region semifinal in 1986.


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