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High school football previews: First round state playoffs

POSTED: November 14, 2013 6:12 p.m.

M.L. King at Gainesville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: M.L. King, Cortez Allen; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Records: M.L. King (7-3, No. 4 seed Region 6-AAAAA); Gainesville (9-1, Region 8-AAAAA)

Key players: M.L. King, QB Roland Rivers (6-3, 228 Sr.); RB/DB Robert Pritchett (5-9, 165 Jr.); RB Devin Williams (5-9, 160 Jr.). Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 195 Sr.); LB J.D. Sosebee (6-0, 225 Jr.); RB Michael Byrd (5-5, 150 Jr.).

Outlook: Gainesville opens its postseason chase for a second consecutive Class AAAAA state title tonight against a talented offense of M.L. King. While Watson, a Clemson University signee, has posted 2,791 passing yards and 37 touchdowns this season, the Lions’ are lead by strong-armed quarterback Rivers, who has thrown for 2,419 yards and 22 scores.

The Red Elephants have a multiple-threat weapon of offense with Byrd, who has rushed for 845 yards (11 touchdowns) and 477 receiving (two touchdowns). Jay Gaudlock is Gainesville’s leading receiver with 994 yards and 12 touchdowns. On defense, Gainesville is paced by linebackers Sosebee (121 tackles) and Appalachian State signee Devan Stringer (105 tackles).

M.L. King’s offense on the ground has a pair of diminutive backs with Pritchett (464 yards) and Williams (449 yards).

Gainesville earned the region championship with a 55-45 win against Flowery Branch on Nov. 8 in Gainesville. M.L. King slipped down to the No. 4 spot for the playoffs after a 10-6 loss to third-seed Stephenson on Oct. 25, followed by a 60-34 loss to 6-AAAAA champ Tucker the following week.

The Lions beat Miller Grove 40-22 to finish the regular season on Nov. 8.

The winner of tonight’s game faces the South Paulding/Seqouyah winner.

Stephenson at Flowery Branch

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch

Coaches: Stephenson, Ron Gartrell; Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin

Records: Stephenson (8-2, No. 3 Region 6-AAAAA); Flowery Branch (8-2, No. 2 Region 8-AAAAA)

Key players: Stephenson, RB/LB Dallas Rivers (6-1, 196 Sr.); QB Giovanni Weekley (6-0, 185 Jr.); QB Dewann Ford (6-2, 170 Jr.). Flowery Branch, QB Jackson McDonald (6-0, 180 Sr.); RB Jeremiah Goss (5-6, 181 Fr.); WR Cameron Davis (5-11, 175 Sr.).

Outlook: Flowery Branch has one of the tougher draws in Class AAAAA. The Falcons’ first-round opponent brings a team loaded with college-caliber talent despite their No. 3 seeding.

Stephenson currently has 10 players committed to Division-I teams, including five SEC-bound players. Among them is running back and Vanderbilt commit Dallas Rivers (930 rushing yards, 20 TD), four-star junior wide receiver Dexter Neal (committed to South Carolina), and a hulking 6-foot-7, 305-pound offensive lineman in Jordan Harris (committed to Mississippi State).

High-profile players aside, the Jaguars have proven to be a boom-or-bust team in the playoffs. They reached the Class AAAAA quarterfinals a year ago, but were dealt first-round exits in four of the previous five seasons.

Stephenson has a history of success since opening in 1996 with 14 straight winning seasons, all under current coach Ron Gartrell. The Jaguars have finished under .500 only once, in their first year.

Much of that has to do with the team’s multiple-look offense, which is based out the I-formation but also features schemes in the spread. Stephenson heavily utilizes activity among the tight ends, and has a pair of senior standouts at the position in Ari Werts (6-4, 220, Georgia State commit) and Montez Sweat (6-6, 220, 19 Division-I offers).

Defensively, the Jaguars led Region 6-AAAAA with just nine points allowed per game. They lost by just three points to Class AAAAA’s top-ranked Tucker.

Flowery Branch’s spread offense makes defenses have to cover the entire field, and Stephenson’s athleticism will be tested. Quarterback Jackson McDonald enters the playoffs with 1,738 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for 564 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Falcons got a big boost in their running game last week against Gainesville, when breakout freshman Jeremiah Goss rushed for 192 yards and touchdown on 21 carries. He has 656 rushing yards and four scores despite battling a knee injury early in the season.

Grady at Chestatee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: War Eagles Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: Grady, Ronnie Millen; Chestatee, Stan Luttrell

Records: Grady (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 6-AAAA); Chestatee (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAA)

Key players: Chestatee, TE/DL Khalil Cantrell (5-10, 260 Sr.); RB Zac Cheshire (5-7, 140 Sr.); QB Wyatt Burgess (5-11, 155 Sr.). Grady, RB Hakeem Todd (5-10, 180 Sr.); QB Isiah Jenkins (5-8, 180 Sr.); WR/CB Amyr Smith (5-8, 155 Jr.)

Outlook: Chestatee enters tonight’s game against the Grey Knights looking to secure the school’s first-ever playoff win. The War Eagles are 0-3 all-time in the postseason, which includes a 59-46 loss to LaGrange in the first round last season.

Both teams feature run-first offensive units. The Grey Knights run the majority of their plays out of the spread, while Chestatee’s offense is based out of the split-back option.

Grady is averaging 29.6 points per game this season, and will likely face its toughest challenge yet when it faces a Chestatee defense that has held six of its opponents to 20 or less points.

The War Eagles pride themselves on playing physical football, both on offense and defense. While the defense is limiting opponents to just 177.8 yards per game, the offense attacks its opponents with a downhill run offense that has eclipsed more than 2,700 yards rushing this season.

Cheshire leads Chestatee with 1,087 yards rushing with 15 touchdowns, while Tray Bryant has eight touchdowns and Blake Buffington has five.

William Fayson (114 tackles), Cody Humphries (8 1/2 sacks) and Buffington (four interceptions) lead a Chestatee defense that will look to shut down Grady running back Hakeem Todd. The senior leads the Grey Knights with 1,191 yards rushing with 11 touchdowns this season.

Quarterback Isiah Jenkins (512 yards passing, six touchdowns) also poses a running threat. The junior is second on the team in rushing with 894 yards and 10 touchdowns. Amyr Smith leads Grady with 323 yards receiving with five touchdowns.

The winner of tonight’s matchup faces Sandy Creek or Cedartown in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs on Nov. 22.

Sonoraville at Buford

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, BufordCoaches: Sonoraville, Roger Gentry; Buford, Jess Simpson

Records: Sonoraville (4-6, No. 4 seed Region 5-AAA); Buford (10-0, No. 1 seed Region 7-AAA)

Key players: Buford, LB Korie Rogers (6-2, 215 Sr.); DB/RB Thomas Wilson (5-11, 185 Sr.); RB/LB Joshua Thomas (6-0, 200 Jr.). Sonoraville, QB Giff Bryant (6-0, 200 Jr.); WR Clark Johnson (6-5, 190 Jr.); RB Logan Sutton (6-0, 175 Sr.)

Outlook: Buford opens its quest for a second straight Class AAA state championship tonight with a visit from the Sonoraville Phoenix, who are making their first-ever playoff appearance.

Buford is making its 15th consecutive postseason appearance and has won its last 17 home playoff games, dating back to 2007. The Wolves haven’t lost in the first round of the playoffs since losing to Manchester on the road in 1997.

The Phoenix limped out to an 0-3 start, but managed to win four of their final seven games to claim the fourth seed from Region 5. Buford posted its second perfect regular season in the past three years, capped off by last week’s 42-14 rout of North Hall to claim the Region 7 championship.

The Wolves scored 40 or more points in nine of their 10 games this season and did not allow more than 14 points in a game.

Sonoraville allowed 30 or more points in six of its contests this season, including last week in a 60-35 win over Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe.

Buford features one of the deepest lineups in the state. Junior Joshua Thomas leads the Wolves with 589 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns, while Missouri commit Thomas Wilson has a team-best 12 rushing touchdowns. Eight different Buford players have rushed for multiple touchdowns this season, while eight players have caught touchdown passes.

The winner of tonight’s contest will face either Woodward Academy or North Oconee in the second round of the state playoffs on Nov. 22.

Adairsville at White County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Warrior Stadium, Cleveland

Coaches: Adairsville, Eric Bishop; White County, Bill Ballard

Records: Adairsville (7-3, No. 3 Region 5-AAA); White County (8-2, No. 2 Region 7-AAA)

Key players: Adairsville, WR/DB DeAndre Applin (6-0, 185 Jr.); QB/DB Marcus Childers (6-2, 205 Jr.); LB Taurus Childers (6-0, 200 Sr.). White County, RB/LB Dalton Whitfield (6-3, 230 Sr.); WR/DB Will Flowers (5-11, 180 Sr.); DB/WR Coley Loudermilk (5-11, 180 Sr.).

Outlook: White County is shooting for just its second home playoff win in school history tonight. Meanwhile, Adairsville is looking to pick up a first-round playoff victory for the second time in three consecutive trips to the postseason.

The Tigers have been a consistently strong program in Northwest Georgia, last posting a losing record in 2008.

The Warriors enter the postseason with their best regular-season record since posting an 8-2 mark and finishing as region runner-up to Gainesville in 8-AAA three years back.

White County was the clear No. 2 in the region with its only 7-AAA loss against top-ranked and undefeated Buford 42-6 last month. The Warriors earned the edge for homefield after a pivotal 21-7 win against third-seeded North Hall on Oct. 18 in Cleveland.

The winner faces the Jackson County/Blessed Trinity winner in the second round.

North Hall at Ringgold

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Don Patterson Stadium, Ringgold

Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; Ringgold, Robert Akins

Records: North Hall (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 7-AAA); Ringgold (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 5-AAA)

Key players: North Hall, QB/DB Andrew Smith (5-8, 150 Sr.); OL/DL Thomas Marchman (6-4, 260 Sr.); LB/RB David Epps (5-9, 210 Sr.). Ringgold, QB Slade Dale (5-11, 180 Sr.); ATH D.L. Goins (5-11, 190 Jr.); RB/S Kile Sholl (6-0, 175 Jr.).

Outlook: North Hall seeks its first-ever road playoff victory tonight. The last time the Trojans opened the playoffs on the road was 2002.

Ringgold finished the regular season second in Region 5-AAA, losing to Cartersville last week in the region championship game.

The Tigers are led by Dale, a dual-threat quarterback. The senior leads the team in passing and rushing. He has 1,112 yards through the air with 13 touchdowns and a team-high 899 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns.

Goins is the primary running back out of the spread attack. The junior is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and has 10 rushing touchdowns this season. In the passing game, four Tiger receivers have caught multiple touchdown passes, including Sholl (380 yards receiving, four touchdowns), who also has nine rushing scores on the year.

North Hall brings its wishbone offense into tonight’s matchup averaging 42.5 points per game. Despite the heavy offensive production, the Trojans were limited to a total of just 21 points in their two losses — to White County and top-ranked Buford.

Despite the lack of success in those games, Trojans coach Bob Christmas believes his team could have success tonight against a Tiger defense that has faced primarily spread offenses this season.

“They line up in a 4-3 (defense) against those spread teams,” Christmas said. “They have not really seen a team that is going to run it out if them quite like us....That could be an advantage for us, and we see a good bit of spread teams and that’s all they see.”

North Hall is led by Zac Little. The senior has a team-high 1,117 yards rushing with 12 touchdowns, while Smith has rushed for 949 yards with a team-best 17 touchdowns.

The winner of tonight’s matchup faces either Elbert County or Cedar Grove in the second round.

West Hall at Cartersville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Weinmann Stadium, Cartersville

Coaches: West Hall, Tony Lotti; Cartersville, Frank Barden

Records: West Hall (6-4, No. 4 seed Region 7-AAA); Cartersville (10-0, No. 1 seed Region 5-AAA)

Key players: West Hall, RB Kwon Williams (6-0, 185 So.); TE/DE Hunter Atkinson (6-6, 250 Sr.); QB Zach English (5-10, 180 Sr.). Cartersville, QB Brooks Barden (6-3, 200 Sr.); WR Mark Quattlebaum (5-11, 170 Sr.); WR TL Ford (6-3, 185 Sr.).

Outlook: West Hall makes its first playoff appearance in 11 seasons with a visit to face the second-ranked Purple Hurricanes, who boast a powerful spread offense capable of scoring plenty of points.

Through their 10 regular season games this year, the Purple Hurricanes eclipsed the 40-point mark eight times, including 63- and 76-point performances.

The Region 5-AAA champion, Cartersville is led by Barden at quarterback. The UNC-Charlotte commit has thrown for 2,257 yards with 40 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, while adding five touchdowns on the ground.

Barden’s favorite targets are UNC-Charlotte commit Quattlebaum (29 receptions, 515 yards, nine touchdowns), Kansas State commit TL Ford (29 receptions, 577 yards, eight touchdowns) and Gordon Gray (24 receptions, 457 yards, 11 touchdowns).

West Hall’s coach called the matchup “a huge challenge for us,” but said the Spartans plan on “getting after it” and are going up there to win the game.

The Spartans earned their playoff berth with a 10-7 win over Dawson County last week. The Spartans feature a balanced offensive attack, led by sophomore Kwon Williams’ 584 yards rushing with eight touchdowns. Senior quarterback Zach English leads the team in passing with 765 yards with 12 touchdowns.

English’s go-to target is senior Hunter Atkinson (43 catches, 588 yards, 10 touchdowns).

The winner of this matchup will face either Hart County or last year’s state runner-up, St. Pius X.

Jackson County at Blessed Trinity

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Titans Stadium, Roswell

Coaches: Jackson County, Benji Harrison; Blessed Trinity, Tim McFarlin

Records: Jackson County (4-6, No. 4 seed Region 8-AAA); Blessed Trinity (7-3 Region 6-AAA)

Key players: Jackson County, WR Xavier Harper (6-0, 185 Sr.); QB Jacob Lewis (6-1, 175 Jr.); WR Ben Brissey (6-3, 195 Sr.). Blessed Trinity, RB Milton Shelton (5-9, 160 So.); QB Conor Davis (So.); WR Chris Siebert (Jr.)

Outlook: Jackson County stumbled out of the gate and lost its first three games, but managed to recover and secure back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 1987. Tonight, the Panthers look to secure the school’s first playoff victory since 1986 when they visit Blessed Trinity, the Region 6-AAA champion.

The Titans beat Cedar Grove 21-14 in the region championship last week and enter the playoffs riding a four-game winning streak, which includes a win over last season’s state runnerup, St. Pius X.

Jackson County used a final-second field goal from Luis Sanchez to beat Morgan County, 38-35, in a must-win game last Friday. In the win, Kennesaw State commit Xavier Harper hauled in six passes for 195 yards with four touchdowns. Harper leads Jackson County with 56 catches — 17 for scores — with 1,014 yards, the seventh-most in the state this season.

Sophomore Layson Giles has caught 40 passes for 669 yards with four touchdowns and senior Ben Brissey has 32 catches, 413 yards and three scores.

Junior quarterback Jacob Lewis is ninth in the state in passing yards this season, with 2,318. Lewis has 27 touchdowns passes with only seven interceptions.

Tonight, the Panthers will bring their high-octane passing attack to face a Blessed Trinity team that has allowed more than 20 points in a game only twice all season.

The winner of tonight’s matchup will face either White County or Adairsville in the second round of the Class AAA state playoffs on Nov. 22.

Westminster at Jefferson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson

Coaches: Westminster, Gerry Romberg; Jefferson, Ben Hall

Records: Westminster (5-5, No. 3 seed Region 6-AA); Jefferson (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 8-AA)

Key players: Jefferson, RB Tristen Jackson (5-8, 195 Sr.); QB T.J. Skelton (6-1, 175 Jr.); FS Austin Mixon (6-2, 180 Sr.).

Outlook: Tenth-ranked Jefferson opens its quest for a second straight Class AA state championship with a visit from Westminster.

The Dragons enter the postseason riding a five-game winning streak since their 21-14 loss to region champion Washington-Wilkes on Oct. 4. The Dragons have outscored their opponents 246-46 during their winning streak.

Westminster enters this week’s game with an even .500 record, winning its final game of the regular season over Hapeville Charter, 47-20. The Wildcats earned the No. 3 seed from Region 6-AA, which boasts only five teams.

Jefferson is led by T.J. Skelton, who took over for Evan Shirreffs after he went during earlier in the season with a broken finger.

Skelton has thrown for 552 yards with six touchdowns passes, while adding 246 yards on the ground with four touchdowns. Tristen Jackson leads the Dragons in the running game with 543 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, while Isaiah Blake has a team-best 11 rushing touchdowns.

Sammy Williams also has eight rushing touchdowns for the Dragons.

The winner of tonight’s matchup faces either Heard County or Pepperell in the second round of the Class AA state playoffs on Nov. 22.

Union County at Lovett

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Conley-Oakley Field, Atlanta

Coaches: Lovett, Mike Muschamp; Union County, Brian Allison

Records: Lovett (9-1, No. 1 Region 6-AA); Union County (6-4, No. 4 Region 8-AA)

Key players: Lovett, RB/DB Murphy Lee (Jr.); WR/DB Jack Herbert (Jr.); RB/DB Grant Haley (5-10, 172 Sr.). Union County, WR/DB Robert Prunier (5-9, 175 Jr.); LB/RB Chase Barnett (5-11, 190 Jr.); OL/DL Luther Jones (6-0, 290 Sr.).

Outlook: A strong passing game headed by sophomore Joseph Mancuso has the Panthers in the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Union County’s quarterback has passed for 2,578 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Junior Jacob Rogers is Union County’s leading receiver with 1,035 yards and 10 touchdowns, while junior Robert Prunier is second on the team with 666 yards and eight touchdowns.

The linebacker Barnett, also a junior, has a team-high 171 tackles for Union County.

The last time Union County made the postseason before this season was during Allison’s final season as coach during his first six-year stint. Allison became head coach again for the Panthers in 2008.

Lovett held off Greater Atlanta Christian 17-14 for the 6-AA title on Nov. 8. The Lions play in a region with only five programs.

The winner of tonight’s game faces the Dade County/Kendrick winner in Round 2.

Capules compiled by Ed Hooper, Bill Murphy, Mitch Blomert


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