No. 1: Gainesville at Flowery Branch, Nov. 9
It’s more than two months away, but the coaches are likely already tired of talking about it. And while it’s true that what transpires between now and then could take some of the juice out of this rivalry renewed, we’re expecting high stakes in the final week of the regular season.
These teams last met in the 2009 Class AAA state semifinals, when this year’s seniors were just freshmen.Gainesville won that game, 29-21, in a classic showdown on a field littered with college-level talent that lived up to its billing as the biggest game in Hall County history.
If this year’s match-up delivers half the thrills of that game, it will be one of the season’s best.
No. 2: Clarke Central at Gainesville, Oct. 19
The Red Elephants have a plenty of big games before this one, including two right off the bat (West Forsyth and Buford). But when they host the Gladiators, it could be the beginning of the season’s most crucial stretch for Gainesville.
The Red Elephants have won four straight region titles, but Clarke Central has won back-to-back titles of their own, and Big Red will be the new kid on the block after moving up from Class AAA. And as Flowery Branch, which has lost to the Gladiators in each of the last two seasons, can attest, Clarke Central will bring an athletic bunch to City Park Stadium.
This game will also be the renewal of sorts — old Athens High and GHS met for the 1st time in 1913.
No. 3: Northside at Flowery Branch, Aug. 31
The Falcons will open the season with stiff challenge, welcoming perennial state title contender Northside-Warner Robins to the Branch for the first meeting between the schools. In fact, it will be the Middle Georgia power’s first-ever meeting with a Hall County team.
Both teams open the season among the state’s top 10, with the Eagles at No. 2 and Falcons at No. 6 in the preseason AP poll. It will be a chance for Flowery Branch to show it’s a program continuing to make strides since moving up from Class AAA in 2010.
No. 4: Buford at Elbert County, Aug. 31
The Wolves get a chance to wash away the taste of last season’s state championship loss right off the bat when they travel to face the Blue Devils, a state quarterfinalist last season.
But the Blue Devils will be out for revenge, as it was Buford that ended their season in 2011 with a 49-13 win at Tom Riden Stadium. They’ll welcome the Wolves to Granite Bowl with one of the state’s top running backs, Tyshon Dye leading the way.
The Wolves, meanwhile, will be breaking in a fresh crop after losing 10 offensive and nine defensive starters.
No. 5: North Hall at Dawson County, Sept. 28
Dawson County is poised to be one of the area’s breakout teams in 2012, and started strong on Friday with a 42-0 region win over East Hall.
But it’ll be more than a month before the Tigers step back into 7-AAA play, and when they do, the Trojans will be looking to make a statement in their region opener.
North Hall is looking to get back to the postseason after a two-season absence and a win over Dawson County would be a boost.
On the home sideline, the Tigers are seeking to snap a seven-year playoff drought with a senior-laden group.