West Hall at East Hall
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: East Hall Stadium
Coaches: West Hall, Mike Newton; East Hall, Bryan Gray
Records: West Hall (0-0, 0-0 8-AAA South); East Hall (0-0, 0-0 North)
Key players: West Hall, QB Chandler Newton (6-1, 190 So.), OL/DL Dexter Jackson (6-2, 317 Jr.), WR/FS Zach English (5-10, 170 So.). East Hall, RB/DB Jamond Witt (5-10, 173 Sr.), FB/OLB Carlos Negron (5-9, 170 Sr.), OT/DE C.J. White (6-3, 247 Sr.).
Outlook: One of these teams will come away from Friday's game with a series edge. West Hall and East Hall have each won eight games in the overall series between the two teams.
Last year, West Hall evened the slate with an 18-6 win over the Vikings, taking advantage of seven East Hall turnovers. The Spartans have won the matchup three of the last four years, with a 34-28 East Hall victory in 2009 the lone exception.
In 2010, the Vikings averaged 17 points of offense per game but allowed a subregion-high 33 points per game on defense. West Hall's season statistics were just a little better in 8-AAA, averaging 18 points per game on offense and allowing 32 on defense.
Both teams won three games last season.
For the second straight year, the game opens the season for both teams. This is also the second year that the game has not counted in the region standings after East Hall dropped down to Class AA following the 2009 season. Even if it doesn't count in the region standings, it's still a rivalry.
"It's a local team, its a rivalry," Gray said. "We're excited for the chance to start off the bat with a local rivalry."
Prediction: EAST HALL. Last year in Oakwood, the home team won, and the Vikings prevailed at home the year before. Look for the trend to continue, thanks to a healthy dose of Jamond Witt and the Viking running game.
Madison County at Flowery Branch
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch
Coaches: Madison County, Randell Owens; Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw
Records: Madison County (0-0, 0-0 8-AAAA); Flowery Branch (0-0, 0-0)
Key players: Madison County, QB Alex Jordan (6-2, 165 Sr.), LB Hayes Hill (6-1, 205 Sr.), LB Trey Adams (5-11, 190 Sr.). Flowery Branch, WR C.J. Curry (6-2, 205 Sr.), RB Jeremy Haley (5-8, 210 Sr.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 220 Jr.).
Outlook: Last year Flowery Branch shut out Madison County 21-0 in Danielsville for the first of nine straight wins to begin the Falcons' inaugural Region 8-AAAA campaign.
The team just up from Class AAA went on to allow a region-best average of 12 points per game throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
The second season in 8-AAAA looks to be as good, if not better, for Flowery Branch. The Falcons have fit right in as one of the 11-team region's elite.
"I've always been a fan of straight region," Shaw said. "That's the only way you figure out who your true top four teams are going in to the playoffs."
It all starts Friday at home against the Red Raiders. If there's a difference, it's that this year the other region teams know what to expect from the Falcons.
"I think we caught a lot of people by surprise last year with our different looks," Shaw said. "We won't catch anybody off guard this year."
Last year's quarterback, Austin Brown, graduated, but senior transfer Kanler Coker is ready to step right in and lead an offense that could put up even more points this season with Haley on the ground and fellow North Hall transfer Curry through the air.
The game against Madison County will be the first lap for the new attack, and against a team that averaged a region-worst 29 points allowed per game in 2010. Flowery Branch scored an average of 33 points per game last season.
The Falcons defense should also be a big strength again this season with a host of returners manning the front.
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons have all of the offensive weapons in place to win a shoot out and a defense stout enough to shut out an opponent.
Riverside Military at Lumpkin County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: J.P. King Memorial Stadium, Dahlonega
Coaches: Riverside Military, Chris Cotter; Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones
Records: Riverside Military (0-1, 0-0 8-A); Lumpkin County (0-0, 0-0 8-AAA)
Key players: Riverside Military, RB JurReginald Mitchell (5-8, 164 Fr.), RB/DE Marlan Edwards (6-2, 212 Sr.), QB Collin Pettell (6-5, 200 So.); Lumpkin County, TE/DE B.J. Dorsey (6-3, 235 Sr.), RB/WR/CB Ian McIntosh (5-10, 185 Sr.), RB/LB Trevor Eudy (5-8, 200 Sr.).
Outlook: Already with one loss in the books, Riverside Military is looking to rebound against Lumpkin County. Riverside showed a few flashes of success in its opening game against Pinecrest Academy a week ago, but was ultimately doomed by turnovers.
Quarterback Pettell has the physical ability to succeed at the high school level, and showed it with two long touchdown passes. Two interceptions for a touchdown, however, helped determine the game's outcome.
This will be the first game of the season for Lumpkin County, which is coming off its best season since 2003. The Indians finished 6-4, but missed the state playoffs. In 2011, however, they'll be playing with newcomers at a number of key positions.
While Riverside already has a game under its belt, the team still must learn on the fly because of how little time the boarding school has to practice during the offseason. This, ultimately, could be a difference in this game.
Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. Riverside will prove to be a strong test for Lumpkin County with its strong defense and big-play ability. Ultimately, however, it will be the Indians who come out on top.
Jackson County at Johnson
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Billy Ellis Memorial, Oakwood
Coaches: Jackson County, Billy Kirk; Johnson, Paul Friel
Records: Jackson County (0-0, 0-0 8-AA South); Johnson (0-0 8-AAA South)
Key players: Jackson County, RB/DB Daivon Ledford (5-9, 185 Jr.), TE/OLB River Bryant (6-3, 205 Jr.), MLB Andy Williams (5-11, 210 Sr.). Johnson, RB Cedric Harris (6-1, 175 Jr.), QB/FS Justin Thomson (6-1, 170 So.), OL/DL Adrian Madera (5-11, 310 Sr.).
Outlook: The biggest thing for Kirk in Week 1 is to give his team a reasonable step-up in competition to prepare for play in Region 8-AA. Jackson County opens up against Johnson then Walnut Grove (both in Class AAA), then jumps right into region play against a crossover school, Fannin County.
"We're trying to come out of a funk here at Jackson County," Kirk said. "We're not ready to play a Buford or Gainesville in the first week, but we feel like Johnson is a very competitive team.
"Johnson has a (1,100-yard) rusher back, a big line like they always do, and coach Friel always does a great job with his program," Kirk said."
Meanwhile, Friel is equally excited to see how his club gets out of the starting blocks this season, coming off a 2-8 year in 2010. He knows the Knights will have their hands full trying to contain a versatile Jackson County offense, led by Bryant at tight end and Ledford in the backfield.
"They have worked extremely hard in the offseason, now they just have to put it all together on the field Friday night," Friel said. "Jackson County returns a lot starters on offense and they are very active on defense.
"It should be an exciting game to watch."
Prediction: JACKSON COUNTY. The Panthers are big enough up front to match up with a big Knights line and gain yards with their run-first offense.
Fellowship Christian at Lakeview Academy
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Jock Horner Field
Coaches: Fellowship Christian, Hunter Chadwick; Lakeview Academy, Matthew Gruhn
Records: Fellowship Christian (0-0); Lakeview Academy (0-0)
Key players: Fellowship Christian, RB/LB Stephen Lantz (6-1, 180 Sr.), OL/DL Jacob Miller (6-5, 255 Sr.), QB Blais Furse (6-0, 185 Sr.). Lakeview Academy, RB/LB Trevor Price (5-10, 160 Jr.), QB/FS Matt Askounis (5-9, 160 Sr.), OL/DL Will Kendrick (5-10, 250 Jr.).
Outlook: Lakeview Academy is entering its fourth year as a varsity program. After expected growing pains in the first couple of seasons, the Lions battled to a 4-4 record in 2010, a sign that, perhaps, the program is on the rise. Similarly, its counterpart, Fellowship Christian, is only entering its eighth year as a varsity program. The Paladins, however, haven't shown the same kind of growth. They finished with a 2-8 record in 2010.
The two teams have met in the season opener the last two years, splitting the games. Lakeview won in a shutout, 29-0, in the most recent meeting. And while Lakeview lost a number of key offensive pieces from that team to graduation, coach Matthew Gruhn has said he is confident his team can maintain the momentum.
For Lakeview, how it fares will hinge largely on the performance of new starters on the offensive line, led by Kendrick and junior Alex Oliver. All five of last year's starters on the line graduated, and these two will go a long way to establishing the team's success on offense.
Fellowship Christian stands at the other end of the spectrum. It will return all five starters on the line. It also returns its starting quarterback, Furse.
Prediction: FELLOWSHIP CHRISTIAN. While Lakeview has shown much growth in its young program, Fellowship Christian's edge in experience will be the difference in the game.
East Jackson at White County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: White County Stadium, Cleveland
Coaches: East Jackson, Brian Smith; White County, Bill Ballard
Key players: East Jackson, LB Caleb Hardy (5-9, 185 Sr.); RB C.J. Allen (5-8, 170 Sr.), LB Cody Alford (6-2, 185 Sr.). White County, RB/LB Dalton Whitfield (6-1, 220 So.), RB Ryan Kennedy (5-11, 180 Sr.), OL/DL Dannan Sanderson (6-3, 265 Sr.).
Outlook: In 2010, White County finished as the runner-up in Region 8-AAA, champion of the north subregion. But having lost most of its starters from a season ago, not to mention its head coach, the Warriors appear to be entering a new era with a number of question marks.
New coach Bill Ballard's résumé could go a long way to answering some of those questions. He is 89-22 as a head coach with stops at Tucker High and, most recently, Peachtree Ridge. Only twice have his teams lost more than three games.
His first job has been trying to replace 10 starters on both sides of the ball.
In its four years of existence, East Jackson has won more than three games just once - 2009, when it went 10-2. The Eagles will also break in a new head coach, Brian Smith, who compiled a 14-4 record in two years at Hebron Christian Academy.
The Warriors won last year's meeting in a tight battle, and how they cope with so many new starters will be the deciding factor.
Prediction: WHITE COUNTY. The Warriors have a long way to go this season to match what they did a year ago. While it may be difficult to get to that point, expect them to get off to a good start in this game.
Commerce at Jefferson
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Dragons Stadium, Jefferson
Coaches: Commerce, Marvin Justice; Jefferson, T. McFerrin
Records: Commerce (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-A); Jefferson (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-AA South)
Key players: Commerce, QB Cody Streetman (6-1, 200 Sr.); TE/DE Jake Vaughn (6-2, 200 Sr.), DL/OL Micah Eason (6-1, 230 Jr.). Jefferson, Bryant Shirreffs (6-3, 200 Jr.), WR Cole Givens (6-0, 185 Sr.), WR Will Puckett (6-3, 190 Sr.).
Outlook: No matter the year, it doesn't get any bigger for these two rivals separated by 9 1/2 miles. And even though they play in different classifications (Jefferson in Class AA, and Commerce in Class A), it won't keep the bleachers from filling up long before kickoff on both sides tonight in Jefferson.
"There's always a lot of excitement for this game," McFerrin said. "And it's always a big gate game, which is big in these economic times."
When asked, both coaches feel like this year's installment could come down to a battle of two great quarterbacks. Shirreffs is a tall, right-handed QB who passed for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns last season while completing 60 percent of his passes. Justice says that Shirreffs also has the ability to improvise at the last second if a play breaks down.
"If he goes through his reads and everyone is covered, he can just squirt out of there and run with the ball," said Justice, who is making his head coaching debut tonight.
Meanwhile, Streetman is just as capable of a leader for the Tigers. He's in his fourth season leading Commerce and is a threat running and passing.
McFerrin likes the fact that this game is played right away and doesn't break up the schedule once region play begins.
Lately, this rivalry has gone in cycles. Jefferson is the winner of the last four matchups against Commerce, but the Tigers won 12 straight before that.
Prediction: COMMERCE. The Tigers tout some good skill players and a deep running game. It might just be too much for a young Dragons' defense to lock down.
Pickens at Dawson County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville
Coaches: Pickens, Steve Sewell; Dawson County, Jeff Lee
Records: Pickens (0-0, 0-0 7B-AAA); Dawson County (0-0, 0-0 8-AA North)
Key players: Dawson County, QB Tyler Dominy (6-5, 185 Jr.), RB/LB Zack Martin (5-10, 190 Jr.), WR Bruce Clark, (6-4, 190 Jr.)
Outlook: In Dawson County football history there are only three opponents the Tigers have played more than seven times and not come away with at least one victory. One of those teams is the Pickens Dragons.
The Dragons took last year's season opener 27-14, to start Dawson County's string of four losses to open the season.
The outcome of this year's game will depend heavily on the Tigers the second-year starting quarterback Tyler Dominy and his ability to move Dawson County's Wing-T/Pistol hybrid offense down the field.
When Dawson County coach Jeff Lee added the Pistol formation to the offense last season, Dominy became a much more effective passer, throwing only two picks the last seven games.
With eight starters returning from a year ago, the Tigers are an experienced team and will lean on their lessons learned.
Prediction: DAWSON COUNTY. After a promising finish to the 2010 season, the Tigers will snap Pickens' winning streak.
Social Circle at Banks County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Leopard Stadium, Homer
Coaches: Social Circle, David Seawright; Banks County, Philip Jones
Records: Social Circle (0-0, 0-0 8-A); Banks County (0-0, 0-0 8-AA North)
Key players: Social Circle, QB Michael Hightower, OL Kyle McCaleb, DL Dean Smith; Banks County, QB Tyler Hubbard (5-9, 150, Jr.), RB Dean Ewing (6-1, 200 Sr.), WR/DB Marquaze Maddox (6-0, 165 Sr.)
Outlook: Banks County's Philip Jones will man the sidelines tonight his first game as a head coach tonight in Homer.
The running game will be showcased by tonight as both teams primarily use the I-formation.
Social Circle will run behind offensive lineman Kyle McCaleb who anchors an offensive front that could be the strength of the Redskins.
The Leopards, who are replacing a pair 1,000-yard rushers, have many new faces on the offense and will use the run to set up the passing game for quarterback Tyler Hubbard. Hubbard will look to find Marquaze Maddox in space and let his speed take over.
Prediction: BANKS COUNTY. Jones gets his first "W" as head coach because of the Leopards' size at the line of scrimmage.
Towns County at Union County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Michael Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville
Coaches: Towns County, Kyle Langford; Union County, Brian Allison
Key players: Towns County, QB Jackson Noblet (5-11, 185 So.), WR Zack Stroud (6-1, 170 Sr.), RB Noah Calhoun (5-10 170 Sr.); Union County, QB T Bentley (6-0, 190 Jr.), RB/LB Ian Petkevich (6-0, 195 Sr.) OL/DL Christian Forney (6-0, 240 Sr.)
Outlook: Langford is anxious to see how what he says is his most talented team in three years will fare starting the season against a familiar foe.
The Indians will be challenged by a Union County team that returns many of its key components from last year's team which beat Towns County 40-7.
Ian Petkevich will be a force on defense as he was last season. But this year, the Panthers will also lean on his offensive capabilities when he lines up at running back. At quarterback, T Bentley returns after passing for more than 1,400 yards as a sophomore.
Towns County, though a young team, has senior leaders in Stroud and Calhoun, who can challenge the larger Panther defense.
Prediction: UNION COUNTY. Defensive experience and speed are the difference as the Panthers come away with the win.
Apalachee at Habersham Central
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: John Larry Black Field, Mount Airy
Coaches: Apalachee, Shane Davis; Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham
Records: Apalachee (0-0, 0-0 8-AAAA); Habersham Central (0-0, 0-0)
Key players: Apalachee, RB Stanley Williams (5-8, 175 So.), RB Zay Henry (6-0, 180 Jr.), DL Rakim Peters (6-2, 230 Jr.). Habersham Central, QB Kevin Ellison (6-1, 180 Sr.), FB/DE Patrick Burns (6-1, 190 Sr.), OL Austin Allen (6-3, 305 Sr.).
Outlook: Two years ago, Apalachee was 5-0 and in the midst of an undefeated regular season and a Region 8-AAAA championship when they traveled to face then 3-3 Habersham Central. The Wildcats came away with a win, but they had to hold on late to escape Mount Airy with a 21-13 decision.
Habersham Central will host Apalachee again tonight, and the Raiders intend to be just as welcoming as in 2009.
"Our crowd, our atmosphere, the student body and the community makes it a real special thing to play at home," Cunningham said.
Last year in Winder, the game wasn't as close. Apalachee won 35-7 to kick off a 3-7 season for the Raiders.
Habersham Central looks to be on the rebound this season.
Senior quarterback and last year's leading rusher Kevin Ellison returns with a year of experience running the option, and running backs Patrick Burns and Zac Franks return in the backfield. The experienced unit gives the Raiders a chance to keep up with the Wildcats' high-scoring Wing-T offense.
"Last year we had quite a few juniors starting for first time," Cunningham said. "This year, those juniors are seniors."
Prediction: APALACHEE. The Wildcats have the offensive weapons to outscore most of the teams in the region, having averaged 29 points per game last season. Habersham Central will score, but not at the same rate.