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High school football notebook: 5 things to watch in the semifinals

POSTED: December 2, 2013 10:28 p.m.

This is the most fun time of year to play high school football for those still in the running.

Even though the stress level is high when preparing to play against an equally talented program, Gainesville and Buford, both defending state champions, will play Friday in semifinal games with hopes of winning and securing a return trip to the state championships next weekend at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

However, both the third-ranked Red Elephants (12-1), playing in Class AAAAA, and No. 1 Wolves (13-0), in Class AAA, have one big hurdle left Friday to earn the right to play for a title.

Gainesville faces top-ranked Tucker (13-0) in one Class AAAAA semifinal on Friday, while Buford hosts Callaway (12-1) in a Class AAA semifinal at Tom Riden Stadium in Buford.

With so many storylines playing into these two compelling matchups, here’s five things to watch and take note of as the Red Elephants and Wolves march on to the field in the fourth round of the postseason.

1. TOP BILLING: It’s no surprise that Gainesville and Tucker have made it this far in the postseason. Gainesville won it all in Class AAAAA in 2012, while Tucker has owned the state’s No. 1 ranking since the end of the regular season.

The Tigers’ road to the postseason was marked with seven blowout wins in Region 6-AAAAA. Tucker’s only close region victories were a 16-13 win against Stephenson, and a 16-11 win against Mays on the final night of the regular season to secure the region title and No. 1 seed to the postseason.

Tucker earned home field for Friday night’s game via a coin flip Saturday and will host the game at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston.

Meanwhile, Gainesville made it look easy in region play too, challenged only by Flowery Branch — a 55-45 Red Elephants win — on Nov. 8 to decide the 8-AAAAA title.

2. SIMILAR CROSSOVER: Even though this is the first all-time meeting between Gainesville and Tucker, they have a pair of common opponents in 2013: Heritage and M.L. King.

The Red Elephants topped the Patriots 48-7 during the region portion of the schedule, while Tucker beat Heritage 35-14 in the opening round of the state playoffs.

Against M.L. King, Gainesville grinded out a 28-14 win in the opening round of the playoffs, while Tucker topped the Lions 60-34 at the tail end of the regular season.

With fairly comparable results against common opponents, it’s easy to see why the Gainesville and Tucker matchup could prove to be one of the state’s most interesting semifinal matchups. In the Class AAA semifinal, Buford and Callaway have no common opponents.

3. RECORD WATCH: Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson, already the career record holder in most passing categories, is closing in on his second straight 4,000 yard season through the air.

With 3,584 yards this season passing, the Red Elephants’ quarterback is 416 yards shy of hitting 4,000 again in 2013. Last week, Watson passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns in a quarterfinal win against Mundy’s Mill. Watson already holds career records for passing touchdowns in a season by a quarterback and for a career, along with total career touchdowns.

In 2012, Watson passed for 4,011 yards, which is third all-time in a single season by a Georgia quarterback. Another record in jeopardy is Buford’s chase for the single-season points record.

After a 36-6 win against Carver-Columbus last Friday, the Wolves have 645 points (fifth best all time). The Wolves need 38 more points this postseason to break the all-time mark of 682 set by Dublin in 2006. Buford’s 2007 team is second on the list with 681.

4. CLEAN UP THE TURNOVERS: Gainesville and Buford both won in the quarterfinals last week — which is all that really matters — but both had trouble holding on to the football. The Red Elephants fumbled the ball six times, resulting in four turnovers.

Meanwhile, the Wolves turned it over three times running the ball and had another turnover on an interception. Prior to the quarterfinal round, neither local state semifinal qualifier had an issue with turnovers.

Gainesville turned it over seven times through the first 12 games, while Buford only had 10 during the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs.

5. NO EASY ROAD: Tucker and Callaway both shared a common path to the state semifinals. Both, last Friday, knocked off the 2012 state runner-up in their respective classification to make it to the fourth round of the playoffs.

In Class AAAAA, Tucker qualified for the Final Four with a 29-0 victory over Ware County in Clarkston, while Callaway earned a 35-21 win against St. Pius X in Hogansville.

Tucker is in the running for its third state title after winning it all in Class AAAA in 2008 and 2011. Callaway is seeking its first state championship.


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