Week 0 gave area football fans a taste of what is to come this season, highlighted by a nationally-televised defensive battle between No. 1 Buford and Trinity Christian Academy of Jacksonville, Fla.
The action picks up dramatically this week with 18 area teams scheduled for action, including 15 squads playing their season opener.
Though it’s too early to know for sure which teams will rise to the top as the season goes on, here’s a brief glance at the games that appear — at least on paper — to offer some of the most interesting matchups on the schedule.
Friday, Flowery Branch at Chestatee: What better way to kick off a new season than to revive a Hall County rivalry that’s been dormant for several years? The two teams last met in 2009, when the Falcons defeated the War Eagles 48-12.
Flowery Branch won the last five meetings between the two schools in that same type of convincing fashion and leads the overall series 6-2. However, Chestatee has established a winning tradition since the start of the 2012 season and will be facing a Flowery Branch squad that has young players in some key roles.
Runner-up, West Hall at Johnson: The Battle of Oakwood can’t be overlooked, but West Hall brings back the bulk of a team that overwhelmed Johnson 35-0 last season. The Knights will need to show significant improvement to challenge the Spartans this time around.
Sept. 5, McEachern at Buford: Any fan who’s ever wondered how Buford’s powerhouse football program would stack up against some of the top football programs in Class AAAAAA will get their answer when the Wolves host the Indians in Week 3.
McEachern entered the season ranked No. 1 before suffering a 52-49 loss to then-No. 4 North Gwinnett at the Corky Kell Classic. Regardless of ranking, the Indians could provide the biggest test Buford’s had in more than two years.
Runner-up, Chestatee at West Hall: The Spartans proved that they couldn’t be taken lightly in their second year under coach Tony Lotti last season, and a near-upset of Chestatee in Week 2 provided some of the earliest evidence.
West Hall’s attempt at a game-winning field goal sailed just wide as time expired, resulting in a heartbreaking 15-14 loss. With eight starters back on each side of the ball, the Spartans will no doubt be eager to avenge last season’s defeat.
Sept. 12, North Hall at West Hall: The Spartans cap off a three-week stretch of rivalry games against the Trojans. Though the two squads are no longer in the same region, the Spartans get another chance to knock off the Trojans for the first time since 2002.
Sept. 19: Jackson County at East Hall: Fans of uptempo passing attacks should get a treat when quarterback Jacob Lewis and the Panthers come to Hall County to face counterpart Devin Watson and the Vikings.
Both signal callers closed the 2013 regular season in the top 10 in the state in passing yards. Lewis went on to finish with 2,579 passing yards and 27 passing touchdowns in 11 games, while Watson totaled 2,478 yards and 22 passing touchdowns in only 10 games.
Sept. 26, West Hall at Dawson County: Last year’s meeting between the Spartans and the Tigers — a 10-7 West Hall victory — decided the final playoff spot from Region 7-AAA in the last week of the regular season.
This year’s game could ultimately decide the Region 7-AAA championship. With Buford, White County and North Hall — the top three playoff teams from the region last year — all moving to Class AAAA, the region title is there for the taking.
Runner-up, Johnson at Riverside Military: As a Class AA team, Riverside doesn’t often get to match up against other Hall County teams on the football field. A meeting with Johnson provides something out of the ordinary for Hall County fans.
Oct. 3, East Hall at Dawson County: The Vikings and Tigers were thrown into a high-stakes battle right off the bat in Week 1 last season. Dawson County prevailed 29-27, but both teams eventually fell short of the playoffs.
The Vikings and Tigers are now among the early favorites to contend for the Region 7-AAA this season, and their head-to-head meeting should go a long way toward determining the final standings.
Oct. 10, East Hall at West Hall: The Region 7-AAA contenders take center stage for a third consecutive week.
The Vikings might have the most dynamic player in the area in Watson, but the Spartans proved they had the more complete team in their 27-7 victory against their Hall County rivals last season. Much like West Hall’s game against Dawson County and Dawson's meeting with East Hall, this matchup could be a major factor in deciding the Region 7-AAA championship.
Runner-up, Gainesville at Lanier: Flowery Branch has been the only team to consistently challenge Gainesville in Region 8-AAAAA over the past two years. That could change with the arrival of rapidly-growing Lanier, which went 9-3 last season in its second year as a varsity program.
Oct. 17, Clarke Central at Gainesville: The Gladiators boasted the third-best offense in Region 8-AAAAA the last two seasons behind Gainesville and Flowery Branch. If Gainesville’s scoring attack drops off without Deshaun Watson, Clarke Central might make a game out of this meeting and challenge for one of the top spots in the region.
Oct. 24, Chestatee at White County: The War Eagles and Warriors have a lot in common as defensive-minded, rushing attack-oriented teams. They also face the same barrier to the postseason behind Region 8-AAAA front-runners Buford, North Oconee and Monroe Area.
Oct. 31, North Hall at Chestatee: The stakes in this rivalry get bigger this year with both teams competing in Region 8-AAAA. Chestatee has the edge in returning starters and will look to break North Hall’s string of eight straight wins since 2006.
Runner-up, Union County at Riverside Military: This matchup decided the final playoff spot in Region 8-AA last year and could have similar postseason implications in 2014.
Nov. 7, Gainesville at Flowery Branch: You were expecting something else? The Red Elephants will meet the Falcons in the final week of the regular season for the third consecutive year. This matchup decided the Region 8-AAAAA title each of the past two seasons and has the potential to do it again.
Runner-up, White County at North Hall: The Warriors and Trojans have split their last four meetings. This one could decide whether one of these two teams reaches the postseason.