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High school football notebook: Defending champs still alive for 2nd round

Gainesville, Buford, Jefferson continue quest to repeat

POSTED: November 18, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Of the 10 area teams that opened the state playoffs on Friday, only half managed to avoid elimination.

The area’s three defending state champions — Gainesville, Buford and Jefferson — are among the five local teams moving on to the second round, keeping alive their hopes of a repeat title.

While top-ranked Buford (11-0) is favored to go all the way in Class AAA, second-ranked Gainesville (10-1) appears to have drawn a favorable bracket in Class AAAAA.

Apart from a potential meeting with No. 10 Lee County in the quarterfinals, the Red Elephants cannot run into another top 10 team until the state semifinals.

Jefferson (9-2) has by far the toughest postseason path.

If the Dragons are able to pull an upset in their second-round matchup with No. 9 Heard County this Friday, they will most likely earn a trip to No. 2 Lamar County.

Unbeaten Lamar County is outscoring opponents 46-10 on average this season.

CHESTATEE SHOWS MENTAL TOUGHNESS: It would have been easy for Chestatee to have allowed Friday’s game against Grady to unravel.

The War Eagles (9-2) fumbled five times in the first eight plays with two resulting in turnovers that led to a 13-0 deficit.

Instead, the War Eagles overcame their self-inflicted wounds — and the pressure of avoiding a second-straight playoff loss at home — to earn the program’s first postseason victory.

The War Eagles’ defense rose to the challenge once again by holding Grady to 70 yards of offense over its final 11 possessions.

Chestatee has now held opponents to 14 points or fewer in eight of its 11 games this season.

The War Eagles’ defensive unit will face its toughest test of the season this Friday when the team travels to top-ranked Sandy Creek.

The unbeaten Fighting Patriots are averaging 45 points per game this season and have topped the 50-point mark in six games.

FUTURE BRIGHT FOR WEST HALL AND UNION COUNTY: West Hall made a long-awaited return to the state playoffs this season, breaking an 11-year postseason drought.

The relief was even sweeter for neighbor to the north Union County, which earned its first state playoff berth since 2001.

The good news for both of these programs is that they should remain contenders for the foreseeable future.

The Spartans (6-5) experienced remarkable improvement in their second year under coach Tony Lotti and nearly upset unbeaten No. 3 Cartersville on Friday at the Purple Hurricanes’ field, before suffering a 28-26 defeat.

West Hall has a number of talented underclassmen on the roster, including sophomore running backs Kwon Williams and Tyquan Statham, and should be well-positioned to absorb the losses of two-way senior starters like tight end/defensive end Hunter Atkinson and quarterback/defensive back Zach English.

The Spartans could also reap big benefits from reclassification if some of their toughest region rivals move to Class AAAA.

Likewise, Union County has good reason to expect big things over the next couple years thanks to a talented sophomore class.

The Panthers suffered a 56-21 loss to top-ranked Lovett in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs on Friday, but first-year quarterback Joseph Mancuso has developed into one of the best surprises in Georgia this season.

The sophomore signal caller entered the postseason with the third-most passing yards in the state across all classifications (2,461), just 85 yards behind Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson (2,546).

Mancuso’s favorite target, sophomore wide receiver Jacob Rogers, entered the playoffs sixth in the state in receiving yards (981).

Mancuso and Rogers should continue to make the Panthers’ offense potent for the next two years.


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