Monroe Area at Chestatee
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: War Eagles Stadium, Gainesville
Coaches: Monroe Area, Matt Fligg; Chestatee, Stan Luttrell
Records: Monroe Area (2-1, 0-0 8-AAA South); Chestatee (3-0, 0-0 8-AAA North)
Key players: Monroe Area, QB Floyd McCoy (5-9, 175 Sr.), LB C.J. Byrd (5-9, 195 Sr.), DB Darius Blackwell (5-11, 175 Sr.). Chestatee, QB Jordan Degraff (6-2, 170 Jr.), DE Garrett Bennett (5-10, 205 Sr.), Montrai Tate (5-11, 165 Sr.).
Outlook: Already off to its best start since 2007, the War Eagles host Monroe Area trying to improve to 4-0 for the first time in school history.
If the question is how a team that won just three games all of last season has improved so much in such a short time, the answer begins with defense.
A season ago, the War Eagles allowed an average of 32.8 points per game. Through three games, they have allowed just 16.3, a difference that is sure to be reflected in the standings.
The emergence of Degraff has also had a positive effect on the team, giving it a run-pass option that opposing defenses have to account for on every play.
That will be the task for Monroe Area, which nearly shut out Lumpkin County a week ago, allowing only a safety in a 23-2 win. As stingy as Chestatee's defense has been, Monroe Area is not far behind. Despite allowing 46 points in its opener, a game that went to three overtimes, the Purple Hurricanes given up just 11 points in their last two games combined.
If it comes to play with the defensive performance of the last two weeks, Monroe Area will stand a good chance of slowing Degraff as well as Chestatee's versatile running game.
If not, the War Eagles may be headed for a first in team history.
Prediction: MONROE AREA. The Monroe Area defense will look much more like Weeks 2 and 3 than Week 1. Chestatee has the weapons, but the Purple Hurricanes will come out on top.
Gainesville at Franklin County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Ed Bryant Stadium, Carnesville
Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Franklin County, Tommy Welch
Records: Gainesville (2-1, 0-0 8-AAA South); Franklin County (1-2, 0-0 8-AAA North)
Key players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-2, 185 So.), WR Keyontra Harrison (5-5, 150 Jr.), WR Stephen Mason (5-11, 160 Sr.). Franklin County, LB Austin Starrett (6-3, 220 Sr.), DE/OL B.J. Brown (6-0, 210 Jr.), QB Kevin Harris (6-0, 190 Sr.).
Outlook: Watson is coming off the best game of his career with eight touchdowns (five passing, three rushing) in a 55-15 win against North Hall last week. After giving up 21 points to a young Walnut Grove team last week, Welch hopes his program isn't the next to get picked apart by Watson.
With a brash response, Franklin County's coach said that Watson is the best quarterback he's coached against since his days at Thomasville when Heisman Trophy winner and former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward was playing at Thomas County Central in the late 1980s.
"This is going to be a big test for us against a super football team," Welch said.
The Red Elephants have proved to be one of the most improved teams in Northeast Georgia since Week 1. Gainesville has racked up blowout wins against White County and North Hall since a season-opening loss at Buford.
Meanwhile, the Lions have hit some bumps in the road early with losses against Hart County and Commerce, before winning their first game against Walnut Grove.
Prediction: GAINESVILLE. Watson and the Red Elephants will slice through a vulnerable Lions defense.
Walnut Grove at North Hall
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: The Brickyard, Gainesville
Radio: 102.9-FM, 1330-AM
Coaches: Walnut Grove, O.J. Soto; North Hall, Bob Christmas
Records: Walnut Grove (1-2, 0-0 8-AAA South); North Hall (0-3, 0-0 8-AAA North)
Key players: Walnut Grove, OL Jay Weldon (6-0, 225 Sr.), QB Jonah Guinn (6-0, 190 Sr.), RB Tyler Bennett (Sr.). North Hall, RB/LB Imani Cross (6-2, 230 Sr.), OG/DE Cam Howell (5-8, 215 Sr.), QB/OLB Bradley Brown (6-1, 190 Jr.).
Outlook: North Hall will be playing at home for the first time this season, as well as facing an opponent with a losing record for the first time this season.
That doesn't mean that the Trojans expect an easy win against the Warriors, who coach Christmas said are much improved since last season, when the Trojans won 40-0 on the road.
Walnut Grove was shut out at Morgan County to open the season, but since then the Warriors have dominated Jackson County at home 37-0 for Soto's first win, and then fell in a close game 27-21 at Franklin County last week. The football team, in just its third year of existence, has scored an average 19 points per game and only allowed 16 points per game on defense. The offense is led by Bennett and third-year signal caller Guinn.
So while the North Hall defense might be able to bounce back some after allowing a season-high 55 points at Gainesville, the offense, which has scored 18 points per game this season, will be need to break through what has been a solid Walnut Grove defense.
Prediction: NORTH HALL. Walnut Grove looks improved from last season, but the Trojans are better than their record would indicate and will post their first win in their first home game of the season.
Johnson at Lumpkin County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega
Coaches: Johnson, Paul Friel; Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones
Records: Johnson (0-3, 0-0 8-AAA South); Lumpkin County (2-1, 0-0 8-AAA North)
Key players: Johnson, LB/TE Jose Martinez (6-2, 230 Jr.), RB Cedric Harris (6-1, 175 Jr.), RB A.J. Millwood (5-10, 155 Jr.). Lumpkin County, RB/DB Ian McIntosh (5-10, 185 Sr.), QB Logan Moye (6-1, 180 Sr.), FB/DT Lee Cagle (5-11, 185 Sr.).
Outlook: Friel says that last week's bye was a real blessing as his team tries to get back on track. Johnson was able to work on all the fundamentals of the game without a Friday-night game hanging over their heads. Now, he feels like his Knights are ready to get back at it.
Even though Johnson is off to an 0-3 start for the fourth consecutive season, the Knights can still feel good about the fact that their playoff chances are still intact. However, another loss will put Johnson at 0-4 and looking at Gainesville the following week for its first subregion game in Oakwood.
Lumpkin County is hoping to bounce back after a 23-2 loss last Friday against Monroe Area. This is also the Indians' final test before North subregion play begins against White County on Sept. 30.
Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. McIntosh has a habit of shining at home. This week should be no exception.
Flowery Branch at Rockdale County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Reid Stadium, Conyers
Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Rockdale County, Mike Etheridge
Records: Flowery Branch (4-0, 4-0 8-AAAA); Rockdale County (1-3, 1-3)
Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Kanler Coker (6-4, 210 Sr.), WR Casey Osborne (6-2, 180 Sr.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 220 Jr.). Rockdale County, RB Deon Holder (Sr.), DE Larry Jones (Sr.), LB Nick Coggins (5-9, 175 Sr.).
Outlook: The year before Flowery Branch entered Region 8-AAAA, Rockdale County was the story of the region, finishing 7-3 in the regular season and advancing to the state semifinal game before losing to fellow 8-AAAA school Clarke Central.
Since then, the Bulldogs have lingered in the lower half of the region, posting a 4-6 record last season and a 1-3 record to start 2011. Like last season, the Rockdale County offense has been unable to score, averaging just 8 points per game in 2011, the same amount it averaged last season. Holder has been one of the bright spots, however, leading a running game that recorded more than 200 yards rushing in the season-opening win over Winder-Barrow, but has been slowed down since.
Allen and the Flowery Branch defense will have a serious shot at a second-straight shut out of the Bulldogs.
Last season the Falcons won 49-0 at Falcon Field.
The Flowery Branch offense, which currently leads the state in scoring at 52.8 points per game, has the firepower to score in bunches against a Bulldogs defense that has allowed 28 points per game this season playing against far less explosive offenses.
Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. Last season the Falcons dominated the Bulldogs, and while Flowery Branch looks to possibly be even better this season, Rockdale County hasn't shown many signs of improvement.
Riverside Military at George Walton Academy
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Keith Henderson Stadium, Monroe
Coaches: Riverside Military, Sheldon Ward; George Walton, Don Williams
Records: Riverside Military (0-4, 0-0 8-A), George Walton (2-1, 1-0)
Key players: Riverside Military, K/P/DT Victor Salcido (5-11, 222 Sr.), RB/DE Marlan Edwards (6-2, 212 Sr.), LB John-Mark MacFarlane (5-10, 176 So.). George Walton, OL/DL Alex Ortega (6-3, 305 Sr.), OL/DL Chad Howell (6-2, 310 Sr.), QB/DB Hunter Rice (6-1, 180 Sr.).
Outlook: Ward feels like his team is coming along since the sudden coaching change on Sept. 6. The biggest thing Ward says is that the players are over the initial shock of former coach Chris Cotter stepping down and Ward's promotion to head coach.
And the entire Riverside program knows it has a huge task tonight against the Bulldogs, a team that should contend for the Region 8-A title. Ward says that the biggest key is avoiding turnovers that have been so prevalent in the first four games of the season. Riverside has been shut out each of the past three games.
"We can't win if we're turning over the football," Ward said.
To combat youth and inexperience, Ward feels his team's best equalizer is to come out and try to strike early. He knows they'll have to open things up against a George Walton program that is stout across the line of scrimmage.
Prediction: GEORGE WALTON. The Bulldogs are big, strong and primed to dominate the game on the ground.
Habersham Central at Madison County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Red Raider Stadium, Danielsville
Coaches: Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham; Madison County, Randell Owens
Records: Habersham Central (2-2, 2-2 Region 8-AAAA); Madison County (1-3, 1-3)
Key players: Habersham Central, QB Kevin Ellison (6-1, 180 Sr.), OL Austin Allen (6-3, 305 Sr.), RB/DE Patrick Burns (6-1, 190 Sr.). Madison County, QB, WR Trae Burton (6-1, 180 Sr.), LB Trey Adams (5-11, 190 Sr.), OL Andrew McCannon (6-0, 210 Sr.).
Outlook: Tonight the Raiders have the chance to prove that they can win on the road. And this time, at least, they won't be playing in Athens.
Habersham Central has been playing as well offensively, led by star dual threat quarterback Kevin Ellison, who tallied 98 yards last Friday at Clarke Central to set the program career rushing mark with 2,811 total yards. Ellison leads the area with 691 yards rushing. He also completed 9 of 21 attempts for 152 yards and a touchdown last Friday. He has 16 total touchdowns this season.
But the Raiders have not yet won away from Mount Airy, having lost in Athens twice: Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central. This one is in Danielsville, against a Red Raiders team that has allowed 41 points per game this season and only scored an average of 17. Madison County's lone win came over still winless Winder-Barrow in overtime.
Last year, Habersham Central ran all over the Red Raiders 44-14. This season, Burton has been the key offensive piece for Madison County, playing as both a receiver and recently as the quarterback.
Prediction: HABERSHAM CENTRAL. The Raiders pick up their first road win of the season with another big night from Ellison and the offense, while the defense could have its best game of the season.
Lakeview Academy at Hebron Christian
When: 7:30 tonight
Coaches: Lakeview, Matthew Gruhn; Hebron Christian, Sal Battaglia
Records: Lakeview (0-3); Hebron Christian (0-4)
Key players: Lakeview, QB/FS Matt Askounis (5-11, 175 Sr.), WR/DB Ted Reynolds (5-9, 140 Jr.), RB/LB Trevor Price (5-10, 160 Jr.). Hebron Christian, QB/WR/DB Lew Stephens (5-10, 170 Sr.), LB Tyler Smith (6-1, 195 Sr.), RB/DB Xavier Railey (5-10, 160 Sr.).
Outlook: When Lakeview Academy and Hebron Christian battle tonight, the teams will both be going after win No. 1 of the season.
Lakeview dropped its first two in close contests before being blown out, 42-7, by Prince Avenue Christian two Fridays ago.
In three games, Lakeview has scored just 10 total points.
Meanwhile, Hebron Christian's biggest bugaboo has been a struggling defense. In four contests, it has allowed more than 40 points in three.
Something is going to give in this game.
Prediction: LAKEVIEW ACADEMY. Both teams have their issues, but look for Lakeview's offense to find more success against Hebron Christian's defense.
Elbert County at Jackson County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Panther Stadium, Jefferson
Coaches: Elbert County, Sid Fritts; Jackson County, Billy Kirk
Records: Elbert County (4-0, 1-0 8-AA South), Jackson County (1-3, 0-1 8-AA North)
Key players: Elbert County, RB/OLB Tyshon Dye (6-1, 200 Sr.), QB Robert Huff (6-0, 160 Sr.), WR/DB Tevin Fleming 6-0, 140 Sr.). Jackson County, QB Kyle Daniel (6-2, 195 Jr.), TE/OLB River Bryant (6-3, 205 Jr.), RB Dustin Scott (Jr.)
Outlook: The Panthers lost their region opener last week to East Jackson and are looking to push their region record to .500.
Tonight, Jackson County will host what may be their toughest opponent of the season in the Class AA's No. 9 Elbert County.
Scott continued to put up impressive numbers last week as he rushed for 189 yards and a score. Scott, along with the other backs and Daniel, will need huge nights to pull off the upset.
After tuning up their defense during the first two games, the Blue Devils have posted consecutive shutouts over East Hall and Oglethorpe County and seem to have ironed out all of their wrinkles.
Prediction: ELBERT COUNTY. The Panthers are 0-5 all-time against the Blue Devils and that streak will continue.
Georgia Military at Towns County
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Frank McClure Stadium, Hiawassee
Coaches: Georgia Military, Brad Owens; Towns County, Kyle Langford
Records: Georgia Military (2-1, 0-0 7-A), Towns County (0-4, 0-0 8-A)
Key Players: Georgia Military, WR Andreus Warthen (Sr.), TB JaVonte Edwards (So.), QB Anthony Riggin (Fr.). Towns County, QB Jackson Noblet (5-11, 185 So.), WR Zack Stroud (6-1, 170 Sr.), TB Noah Calhoun (5-10, 170 Sr.)
Outlook: The Bulldogs have reaped the benefits of changing from a 3-5 defensive scheme to a 3-4 look during the offseason. Besides the 20 points the Georgia Military gave up to Prince Avenue in their only loss, just seven points have been scored against the new defense.
Towns County will be challenged to score against a more athletic Georgia Military team.
Both teams are full of young talent, but fielding only 25 players will add to the list of disadvantages the Indians have going into tonight's game.
Last year, the game was decided by only five points, the smallest margin by which the Indians lost by a year ago which should give Indian fans hope.
Prediction: GEORGIA MILITARY. The Bulldogs will show off their speed at the skill positions in Hiawassee.
Lanier at Union County
Where: Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville
Coaches: Lanier, Billy Wells; Union County, Brian Allison
Records: Lanier (1-1); Union County (1-2, 0-0 8-AA North)
Key players: Lanier, QB Michael Diaz (5-10, 160 Jr.), TB Dante Borders (5-9, 175 So.), LB Isidore Sam (5-9, 195 Jr.). Union County, QB T Bentley (6-0, 190 Jr.), OL/DL Christian Forney (6-0, 240 Sr.), RB/LB Ian Petkevich (6-0, 195 Sr.).
Outlook: The Panthers are ready to taste victory again after two consecutive losses on the road.
In a closer-than-the-score-reveals type of game, Union County's new spread offense was starting to come together at Lumpkin County on Sept. 7. However, the Panthers found themselves on the wrong end of a 36-7 blowout last week at Hart County.
Union County returns to the friendly confines of Colwell Memorial Stadium tonight, where they are undefeated this season.
They will host the Longhorns, a second-year program that plays mostly a junior varsity schedule and has only five varsity games this season.
Lanier won its first varsity game in program history versus Hapeville Charter during the first week of the season, but suffered a loss to another relatively new Gwinnett school, Mountain View, a week later.
Prediction: UNION COUNTY. Glad to be back in Blairsville, the Panthers send their home crowd home happy.