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High school football previews: Week 6
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Gainesville at Heritage

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Evans Memorial Stadium, Conyers

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miler; Heritage, Mike Parris

Records: Gainesville (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Heritage (3-1, 2-0)

Key Players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 195 Sr.); LB Devan Stringer (5-11, 195 Sr.); RB Michael Byrd (5-5, 150 Jr.). Heritage, RB/DB Kevin Simpson (5-10, 170 Sr.); WR/DB Obe Fortune (6-1, 175 Jr.); TE/MLB Seth Fallen (6-1, 215 Jr.).

Outlook: Gainesville has made it look easy with two games down in the region schedule, while Heritage has been on the right side of 17-14 decisions in back-to-back outings. 

The Red Elephants started in Region 8-AAAAA with a 68-0 win against Winder-Barrow, followed by a 49-6 victory last week last Friday against Apalachee.

For Heritage, it’s margin of victory has been much tighter. The Patriots topped Salem 17-14 on Sept. 13, then beat Cedar Shoals in overtime by the same score last Friday.

Watson is the catalyst for the Red Elephants’ offense with 1,255 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. Byrd has 588 all-purpose yards out of the backfield (325 rushing, 263 receiving) and Jay Gaudlock is their leading receiver with 31 catches for 495 yards, while Rodney Lackey has 337 yards receiving.

Parris is in his first season at Heritage. He spent 17 years prior to that at Jackson.

Dawson County at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

Coaches: Dawson County, Jeff Lee; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Records: Dawson County (3-1, 1-0 Region 7-AAA); North Hall (3-0).

Key Players: Dawson County, WR/DB Jackson Putnam (6-1, 180 Sr.); WR Chris Sayler (5-9, 171 Sr.); LB Keaton Toal (6-1, 225 Sr.). North Hall, QB/DB Andrew Smith (5-8, 150 Sr.); OL/DL Thomas Marchman (6-4, 260 Sr.); LB/RB David Epps (5-9, 210 Sr.).

Outlook: The matchup between these two run-based offenses should shape the region the rest of the season. 

In 2012, the Trojans left Dawsonville with a 47-14 win — in the first-ever meeting between the two schools — and earned the No. 1 seed to the postseason out of Region 7-AAA.

After a bye week and win against Jefferson in its most recent outing on Sept. 13, North Hall looks as strong as ever. After three games, Andrew Smith (266 yards, four rushing scores), Zac Little (262, four touchdowns) and Brannon Dyer (203 yards, two touchdowns) are leading the Trojans’ running attack that is averaging 374 yards per game.

On defense, David Epps (27 tackles) and Destin Bennett (25) are the Trojans’ leading tacklers.

Dawson County is jumping back into region play after an opening-night win against East Hall. It’s only loss was against 4-0 North Forsyth 31-0 on Sept. 6. The Tigers also had a bye last week.

Salem at Flowery Branch

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch

Coaches: Salem, John Starr; Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin

Records: Salem (2-2, 1-1 Region 8-AAAAA); Flowery Branch (2-2, 2-0 Region 8-AAAAA)

Key players: Salem, QB Jordan Holloman-Scott (6-0, 190 Sr.); DB Robert Baker (6-3, 190 Sr.); OL/DL Chris Jackson (5-8, 206 Jr.). Flowery Branch, QB Jackson McDonald (6-0, 180 Sr.); OL Andrew Miles (6-5, 280 Sr.); WR/KR A’lencio Graham (5-11, 175 Sr.).

Outlook: Flowery Branch shrugged off a rough 0-2 start with a pair of region wins the last two weeks. Suddenly, the Falcons are in the 8-AAAAA driver’s seat as one of only three teams with 2-0 region records.

And with the two other teams — Gainesville and Heritage — playing each other tonight, a win against Salem could keep them tied at the top with just one other team in the standings.

Flowery Branch has established a three-piece offensive identity between quarterback Jackson McDonald and its two primary running backs, Jeremiah Goss and Jemon Randolph. McDonald totaled 361 yards last week against Loganville — 145 passing, 216 rushing — with four touchdowns, leading the Falcons to a 48-0 halftime lead.

Goss, a freshman that has quickly become a new threat for Flowery Branch, punched in a touchdown last Friday, helping him bounce back from a short night the week before against Cedar Shoals, when he was injured in the first quarter. When he went down, Randolph stepped in and ignited the Falcons’ offense with 198 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Salem is coming off a monster second half that pushed the Seminoles past Winder-Barrow 60-37 last week. They trailed 29-19 at halftime, but pounded the Bulldoggs offensively the rest of the way with three touchdowns in both the third and fourth quarters.

White County at East Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: East Hall Stadium

Coaches: East Hall, Bryan Gray; White County, Bill Ballard

Records: East Hall (3-1, 0-1 Region 7-AAA); White County (3-1)

Key players: East Hall, QB Devin Watson (5-11, 170 Jr.); OL/LB Abraham Sepulveda (5-8, 175 Jr.); LB Corey Reece (5-10, 185 Sr.). White County, RB/LB Dalton Whitfield (6-3, 230 Sr.); DB/WR Will Flowers (5-11, 180 Sr.); QB A.J. Vandiver (So.).

Outlook: East Hall has won three straight games since starting the season with a narrow 29-27 region loss to Dawson County. White County, meanwhile, suffered its first loss of the season, losing to Blessed Trinity 30-0.

Tonight’s game is a pivotal Region 7-AAA matchup, as both teams are expected to compete for the final two playoff spots in a region that includes the likes of reigning state champion Buford and 2012 state semifinalist North Hall.

The winner will have the upper-hand in the race, while the loser will be on the outside looking in, especially East Hall.

Meanwhile, tonight will be the region opener for White County, a No. 3-seed in last year’s postseason.

The Vikings run a fast-paced spread offense, led by quarterback Devin Watson. The junior has thrown for over 1,200 yards this season and has a total of 20 touchdowns through the first four games this season.

White County runs an option-based offense, although it is still capable of racking up yards. Prior to the loss to Blessed Trinity, the Warriors were averaging over 400 yards per game.

Last season, White County rolled past East Hall 41-12. Tonight will likely be a closer matchup, as East Hall has shown improvement from last year.

Banks County at Buford

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Coaches: Banks County, Biff Parsons; Buford, Jess Simpson

Records: Banks County (0-4, 0-1 Region 7-AAA); Buford, (3-0)

Key Players: Banks County, DB/DB Wes Faulkner (5-9, 165 Sr.); WR/DB Malcolm Mitchell (5-10, 155 Jr.); FB/LB Matt Dilbeck (6-1, 210 Jr.). Buford, LB Korie Rogers (6-2, 215 Sr.); DB/RB Thomas Wilson (5-11, 185 Sr.); RB/LB Joshua Thomas (6-0, 200 Jr.)

Outlook: Buford is one of the state’s best programs, winning five of the last six state championships, while Banks County has had only two winning seasons since 2009.

The Wolves enter tonight’s region contest as heavy favorites. They’re outscoring opponents 147-21 through three games this season, which includes a 38-14 win over reigning Class AAAAA champion Gainesville.

Banks County, meanwhile, is 0-4 on the season and is coming off a 48-13 loss to West Hall in the region opener last week.

Buford has a plethora of players that can carry the football in its run-first offense, although Joshua Thomas has become the go-to threat. The junior is averaging 8.5 yards per carry and has three rushing touchdowns on the season. Another dangerous part of Buford’s offense is the play-action passing game.

Seniors Mitchell Taylor and Montgomery VanGorder are Buford’s main passing threats. The duo has combined for 383 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in limited attempts this season.

In 2012, Buford routed Banks County 63-0, but forfeited it after self reporting a violation to the Georgia High School Association.

West Hall at Fannin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Rebel Stadium, Blue Ridge

Coaches: West Hall, Tony Lotti; Fannin County, Greg Chambers

Records: West Hall (3-1, 1-0 Region 7-AAA); Fannin County, (1-3, 0-1 Region 7-AAA)

Key Players: West Hall, RB Kwon Williams (6-0, 185 So.); TE/DE Hunter Atkinson (6-6, 250 Sr.); QB Zach English (5-10, 180 Sr.). Fannin County, QB Trevor Stone (6-0, 205 Sr.), RB/CB Jacob Greer (5-8, 160 Jr.), WR Dominik Leben (6-0, 150 So.)

Outlook: West Hall has marked this game on the calendar for quite a while after the events that unfolded in last year’s meeting between the two teams at Spartan Field. Hoping for a big win on homecoming night, the Spartans were stunned by a winless Fannin County team in a surprisingly lopsided 31-8 loss, spoiling the excitement of an important home game.

They haven’t forgotten.

Following West Hall’s 48-13 win over Banks County last Friday, coach Tony Lotti said he was looking forward to seeing how his team responded to the rematch this year, alongside the newfound success the Spartans are enjoying this season.

Through four games, they have already matched their win total from a year ago, and are outscoring opponents 146-49.

Thus far, West Hall has demonstrated incredible athleticism, especially in its backfield. Running back Kwon Williams had an enormous night last week, rushing for 181 yards and four touchdowns on just six carries.

Fellow ball carriers Tyquan Statham and Antonio Pittman also scored, and Cameron Millsap led the inside running game with a team-high nine carries for 44 yards, most of them short-yardage runs for first downs.

Fannin County enters the game having given up a season-worst 65 points to North Carolina-based Murphy High. The Rebels have lost two straight.

Lakeview Academy at Athens Academy

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Slaughter Field, Athens

Coaches: Lakeview Academy, Matthew Gruhn; Athens Academy, Michael Gunn

Records: Lakeview Academy (0-3); Athens Academy (2-1)

Key players: Lakeview Academy, RB Drake Hollander (5-10, 170 Sr.); QB/S Jackson Strickland (5-10, 160 Sr.); LB Patrick Avery (6-1, 210 Sr.). Athens Academy, QB/K Michael Santamaria (5-9, 160 Sr.); WR/DB Eric Williams (5-9, 140 Jr.); RB Hudson Hayden (5-8, 165 Jr.).

Outlook: Lakeview Academy continues its hunt for win No. 1 with a road trip for arguably one of its toughest games of the season.

The defending Region 8-A champion, Athens Academy has posted a winning record every season since 2006 and has eclipsed the 10-win mark on five different occasions during that span.

The Lions were one of the Spartans’ 11 wins a year ago in a 21-6 contest.

Lakeview is still feeling the aftermath of a 17-player senior class departing after last year’s 6-2 team. The young Lions squad has scored just 24 points in three games, including a season-low three in last week’s loss to Pinecrest Academy.

Athens Academy features a rare quarterback/kicker position combo in Michael Santamaria. The senior’s future in football clearly lies in his kicking ability, as he is committed to Virginia Tech at the position.

But he’s not lacking in the signal calling department by any means, having thrown for 124 yards and three touchdowns in Athens Academy’s 20-13 win over Our Lady of Mercy last Friday.

Oglethorpe County at Riverside Military

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Maginnis Field

Coaches: Oglethorpe County, Larry Milligan; Riverside Military, Gary Downs

Records: Oglethorpe County (0-3, 0-0 Region 8-AA); Riverside Military, (1-2, 0-1 Region 8-AA)

Key Players: Oglethorpe County, RB/KR Anthony Thornton (5-7, 160 Jr.), WR/DB Trey Martin (5-11, 165 Jr.), OL/DL Zammie Mendez (6-1, 278 Sr.). Riverside Military, MLB John-Mark MacFarlane (5-10, 190 Sr.); RB/CB Raleigh Beougher (5-9, 165 Jr.); RB Joseph Garuba (5-10, 180 Jr.).

Outlook: Riverside Military has a pristine opportunity to reach .500 and tally its first region win of the year against a struggling Oglethorpe County.

To do that, the Eagles will have to shrug off a rough 50-14 loss to Class AA’s sixth-ranked Washington-Wilkes last week, and rekindle the energy they had in games against Whitefield Academy and Georgia Military the previous two weeks. In those games, they outscored their opponents 47-40.

Riverside has found success running the ball through running back Joseph Garuba, who has 167 rushing yards in his last two outings.

Eagles receiver Raleigh Beougher has scored in all three games this year for the Eagles.
Oglethorpe County has yet to crack double figures on the scoreboard this season. The Patriots fell 38-9 to Class A Fellowship Christian last Friday.

Jackson County at North Oconee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Titans Stadium, Bogart

Coaches: Jackson County, Benji Harrison; North Oconee, Terry Tuley

Records: Jackson County, (1-3, 1-0 Region 8-AAA); North Oconee (2-1)

Key Players: Jackson County, WR Xavier Harper 6-0, 185 Sr.); QB Jacob Lewis (6-1, 175 Jr.); WR Ben Brissey (6-3, 195 Sr.). North Oconee, RB Kawon Bryant (5-9, 190 Jr.); QB Tate Adlock (6-0, 170 Jr.); CB Cole Coker (5-10, 155 Jr.).

Outlook: Jackson County recorded its first victory of the season last week, routing rival East Jackson 38-6 behind three touchdown passes from Lewis. Harper had one touchdown catch last week, coming off a four TD performance in a loss against Athens Christian the prior week.

On the season, Harper has six touchdown catches and is one of the premier receiving threats in the region.

North Oconee, meanwhile, routed Athens Christian 56-0 last Friday night, led by running back Kawon Bryant. The junior rushed for 383 yards and five touchdowns in the win. The week prior, Bryant rushed for five touchdowns in a 42-7 win over Madison County.

While the Panthers are just 1-3 on the season, they are 1-0 in region play. North Oconee, the two-time region champion, has yet to play a region contest this season.

Last year, North Oconee routed Jackson County 36-5, but the Panthers were still able to secure a playoff berth. The Titans were the No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAA, but lost to eventual state champion Buford, 13-0, in the second round of the postseason.


Greene County at Jefferson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Memorial Stadium

Coaches: Jefferson, Ben Hall. Greene County, Robert Edwards

Records: Jefferson (2-1); Greene County (1-2)

Key players: Jefferson, RB Tristen Jackson (5-8, 195 Sr.); QB Evan Shirreffs (6-4, 175 Jr.); FS Austin Mixon (6-2, 180 Sr.). 

Outlook: Although Jefferson suffered its first loss since Aug. 31, 2012, at the hands of North Hall on Sept. 13, the Dragons continued to look like a team capable of repeating as state champion.

Led by junior quarterback Evan Shirreffs (296 passing yards, 3 touchdowns), the Dragons pushed the Class AAA No. 4 Trojans to the limit before suffering a 41-34 defeat. Jefferson has had almost two weeks since that loss to prepare for the Region 8-AA opener against

Greene County, which picked up its first victory of the season, 35-13, over a winless third-year Hapeville Charter program.

Although tonight’s game looks like a mismatch on paper, the Dragons will need to be careful not to get caught looking ahead. This matchup comes one week before the Dragons will square off against undefeated Washington-Wilkes in a game that could ultimately decide the Region 8-AA championship.

George Walton Academy at Commerce

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tiger Field at Ray Lamb Stadium, Commerce

Coaches: Commerce, Michael Brown; George Walton Academy, Don Williams

Records: Commerce (2-2); George Walton Academy (3-1)

Key Players: Commerce, QB Drew Whitfield (5-9, 175 Sr.); RB/LB Chance McClure (6-1, 215 Sr.); TE/DL Tony Patman (6-3, 255 Sr.). George Walton, RB Stanley Williams (5-8, 190 Sr.); WR Dimetrios Mason (5-10, 180 So.); OL Cole Inman (6-1, 250 Jr.).

Outlook: Commerce was held to 98 yards of offense (1.8 yards per carry) in a 28-0 loss last week at Rabun County. The Tigers were also shutout in a 40-0 loss to open the season against cross-county rival Jefferson. Still, it’s a clean slate for the Tigers, who have all six region contests remaining.

For the season, Jamir Walton leads the Tigers in rushing with 267 yards, while McClure is second on the team with 155 yards on the ground. Commerce is averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season.

On defense, McClure is the Commerce leader with 33 stops.

No. 8 George Walton Academy has a well-oiled offense that has scored 35-or-more points in all three of its wins this season. The Bulldogs’ only loss was 19-16 in overtime against undefeated and fourth-ranked Aquinis. Leading the way for George Walton Academy is the senior running back Williams, who is committed to Kentucky, and has rushed for 800 yards through four games.

Union County at Washington-Wilkes

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tiger Field, Washington

Coaches: Union County, Brian Allison; Washington-Wilkes, Robby Robinson

Records: Union County (2-1, 0-0 Region 8-AA); Washington-Wilkes (4-0, 1-0 Region 8-AA)

Key players: Union County, OL/DL Luther Jones (6-0, 290 Sr.); LB/RB Chase Barnett (5-11, 190 Jr.); WR/DB Robert Prunier (5-9, 175 Jr.). Washington-Wilkes, RB Jaquavious Blackburn (5-8, 160 So.); QB Deandre Harris (6-4, 192 So.); DB D.J. Binns (Jr.).

Outlook: Washington-Wilkes is looking to start the season 5-0 for the second consecutive year with a win against Union County tonight.

The Tigers are coming off a 50-14 win against Riverside Military Academy last week and haven’t surrendered more than 14 points in a game this year.

Offensively, Washington-Wilkes has a number of weapons competing against a Union County team hoping to build on last year’s success with the help of veteran Jones, who is the primary leader on the team. Jones leads by example and helps the Panthers keep the right mentality so that Barnett, Prunier and junior Jacob Rogers can make plays.

The Panthers’ two-quarterback system gives them strength in both the passing and running game, but Washington-Wilkes’ stingy defense will be tough for the young Union County team to crack.

Walnut Grove at Lumpkin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega

Coaches: Walnut Grove, Ben Reaves; Lumpkin County, Brad Waggoner
Records: Walnut Grove (1-3, 0-1 Region 8-AAAA); Lumpkin County (0-4, 0-1 Region 8-AAAA)

Key players: Walnut Grove, RB T.J. Little (5-9, 194 Jr.); LB Dakota Owens (6-3, 223 Jr.); LB Conner Godwin (5-11, 190 So.). Lumpkin County, RB/DB Gunner Wood (5-10, 170 Jr.); OL Caleb Stepp (6-1, 280 Sr.); WR/DB Johnathan Gilreath (6-2, 190 Sr.).

Outlook: If a turning point is going to happen this season for Lumpkin County, tonight’s game should be it.

The Indians face a Walnut Grove team in a similar situation to themselves, as the Warriors have one win this season and haven’t won a region contest. Both teams are coming off losses last week, but Lumpkin County is still searching for its first win of the season.

The Indians have skill with Wood and Gilreath along with veteran quarterback Daniel McCrary, while Walnut Grove is faced with a younger team still trying to form a solid core of players to rely on week-to-week.

Little is the top returning offensive player for the Warriors, but a defensive line composed of Godwin, Owens and Nick Cain adds strength to the team.

The Indians barely came away with the win against Walnut Grove last year, 13-12, but Lumpkin County’s group of experienced players can give the team the advantage heading into tonight’s region matchup.

 Habersham Central at Peachtree Ridge

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Lion’s Den, Suwanee

Coaches: Habersham Central, Michael Pollock; Peachtree Ridge, Mark Fleetwood
Records: Habersham Central (0-4, 0-2 Region 7-AAAAAA); Peachtree Ridge (4-0, 2-0 Region 7-AAAAAA)

Key players: Habersham Central, RB Sydnee Mulligan (5-9, 192 Sr.); OL/WR Gunner Hedden (6-0 156 Sr.); RB/DB Brandon Moore (5-11, 160 Sr.). Peachtree Ridge, OL Orlando Brown (6-8, 365 Sr.); LB Joe Smith (6-2, 185 Jr.); RB Jordan Ellis (Sr.).

Outlook: Peachtree Ridge just brushed past Mill Creek last week. The Hawks missed an extra point with less than two minutes to play, securing the Lions’ 31-30 victory and an undefeated start to the season.

Ellis led the Lions in the win with 143 yards on 29 carries and 21 yards on three receptions. Smith will be key on Peachtree Ridge’s defense after recording 11 tackles last Friday night.

Habersham Central will look for Mulligan, Hedden and Moore to carry some of the offensive load, along with quarterbacks Logan Gosnell and Bennett Black as the team eyes its first win of the season.

The Raiders, however, have yet to score more than 14 points in a game and will rely on the defense, led by Aaron Sloan, to prevent Peachtree Ridge from scoring so the offense can have a chance to make plays.

Tonight’s game starts the toughest stretch of the season for the Raiders, who face fourth-ranked Peachtree Ridge tonight, former No.1-ranked Norcross next week and top-ranked North Gwinnett Oct. 18.

The Raiders’ saving grace could be a game against Meadowcreek Oct. 11. The Mustangs were the Raiders’ lone win last season and haven’t won a game since 2008.

Compiled by Jared Putnam, Mitch Blomert, Bill Murphy, Ed Hooper and Kelsey Williamson

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