All games are not created equal.
Coaches and players will regularly tell you that the most important game of the season is the one they are playing next.
For them, maybe.
But for the fans, there are a number of games that can capture their attention and anticipation more than any other.
Whether a rivalry game or a game between two highly ranked teams, certain games will always mean more than others.
With that in mind, here are five of the most anticipated games of the 2011 season.
Gainesville at Buford, Aug. 26
Sure, it will be the Red Elephants’ first game of the regular season and only the second for Buford. And, no, it isn’t a region game. But when you take into account the level of talent that will be featured in this contest, it simply cannot be overlooked.
The game has already captured the attention of national networks. It will be featured on ESPN 360 on the Internet.
Winners of three consecutive region titles, Gainesville will feature a sophomore quarterback, Deshaun Watson, who passed for 17 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards in 2010. He will lead an offense that returns two of its top three receivers from a year ago against a defense that has contributed to four consecutive state Class AA titles.
The Red Elephants have played three games against Buford in their history, losing all three, including a 40-19 loss a year ago. They will try to reverse that trend to begin this season.
The Wolves seem to have the edge on defense, where they have numerous Division-I recruits. Meanwhile, Gainesville is breaking in nine new defensive starters.
North Hall at Gainesville, Sept. 16
North Hall’s game against St. Pius X in the second week of the season may loom a little larger at the moment, but no game means more to either fanbase than this annual rivalry matchup.
The game has belonged to the Red Elephants in each of the past three seasons. However, despite a relatively down year and the absence of talented running back Imani Cross in the 2010 contest, the Trojans were able to battle Gainesville to a close 20-13 loss.
With a healthy Cross leading the team both offensively and defensively and the losses on the Gainesville defense, another hard-fought game looks likely.
Johnson at West Hall, Oct. 7
These two teams had just five wins between them in 2010 and don’t figure to be in the conversation for a region title this year.
But when these two teams square off, there seem to always be fireworks. A year ago, it was a late touchdown grab by A.J. Millwood that gave Johnson a 33-31 win. Johnson won 49-45 in 2009. West Hall outlasted the Knights 56-55 in 2008.
If this year’s edition is anything like the previous three, it is sure to be one of the most exciting games of the 2011 season.
Flowery Branch at Clarke Central, Nov. 4
A season ago, the Falcons entered their regular season finale against Clarke Central with an unblemished 9-0 record. It was the Gladiators, however, who left that game unscathed, shutting out Flowery Branch 21-0 and winning the 8-AAAA region title.
There is a good chance the same will be on the line when the two meet in 2011.
Flowery Branch, while losing its starting quarterback from a year ago, returns key offensive players like receiver Casey Osborne and running back Jeremy Haley, the latter having set the school’s single-season rushing record in 2010 with 1,578 yards.
With these weapons and an influx of fresh talent, the Falcons could easily be in the same position they were a year ago when they travel to Clarke Central and, with a little luck, could leave the game with a different result.
Region 8-AAA championship game, Nov. 4
Opponents for this game obviously won’t be set for a number of weeks. In a game such as this, however, who plays can take a backseat to the importance of the game itself.
On the line in this game will not only be the region championship, but also seeding in the state playoffs.
The Gainesville Red Elephants have won three straight region championships, but its losses on defense could open the door for other teams in the region.
A possible rematch between North Hall and Gainesville, which face off in the regular season on Sept. 16, would only add to the drama.