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High school football previews: Week 7
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Cedar Shoals at Gainesville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: City Park Stadium

Coaches: Cedar Shoals, Chris Davis; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Records: Cedar Shoals (0-5, 0-3 Region 8-AAAAA); Gainesville, (4-1, 3-0)

Key Players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 195 Sr.); LB Devan Stringer (5-11, 195 Sr.); RB Michael Byrd (5-5, 150 Jr.). Cedar Shoals, RB Adrian Washington (6-0, 215 Sr.); QB Darius Jordan (5-10, 140 Sr.); WR Breshawrd Cooper (5-6, 140 Sr.).

Outlook: Gainesville has played lights-out football since its 38-14 loss to Buford on Sept. 6. The Red Elephants are 3-0 since then, outscoring opponents 165-13.

In typical fashion, quarterback Deshaun Watson was the catalyst behind another enormous night for the Gainesville offense in a 48-7 win over Heritage last Friday. The state’s all-time leading passer was 27 for 31 for 314 yards and six touchdowns, bringing his season yardage total to 1,570.

At that pace, he’s on target to throw for more than 3,000 yards for a third consecutive season.

Watson and the Red Elephants will need to continue stringing together region wins in order to keep pace with cross-county rival Flowery Branch in the region standings, as both teams currently sit at 3-0 in region play with a showdown scheduled at the end of the regular season. Third-place Clarke Central is half a game back at 2-0.

Cedar Shoals’ 0-5 record may be a little misleading of the team’s true quality, as the Jaguars have not lost a game by more than 15 points.

The Jaguars kept things close against a pair of Class AAA teams in Hart County and Elbert County, before falling by 14 to defending Region 8-AAAAA champion Flowery Branch on Sept. 13. Cedar Shoals lost 17-14 in an overtime struggle with playoff perennial Heritage the following week. Their margin of defeat was tight again last week in a 27-13 loss to Loganville.

Apalachee at Flowery Branch

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch

Coaches: Apalachee, Shane Davis; Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin

Records: Apalachee (0-4, 0-2 Region 8-AAAAA); Flowery Branch, (3-2, 3-0)

Key Players: Apalachee, RB/DB Jody Mathis (5-11, 150 Sr.); OL/DL Roosevelt Crum (5-11, 240 Sr.); RB/LB Alante Billings (6-2, 190 Sr.). 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: In a battle between two teams headed in opposite directions, Flowery Branch is going the right way. The Falcons have won three straight since an 0-2 start to the season, all three wins coming in region play. As a result, they’re tied with Gainesville atop the Region 8-AAAAA standings.

Flowery Branch doesn’t face much danger in being derailed this week by Apalachee, which has fallen on hard times with an 0-4 start after going 5-5 a season ago. Most recently, the Wildcats lost 43-19 to Clarke Central.

Falcons quarterback Jackson McDonald appears to have found his niche in the pocket after going 12 of 17 for 213 yards and two touchdowns against Salem last week.

Nevertheless, he still remains a running threat with 63 yards and two more scores on 12 carries in the 38-7 win.

Defensively, Flowery Branch had one of its best performances last Friday, holding the Seminoles to just 150 yards, including a mere 12 rushing yards.

Posting big numbers has been hard to come by for Apalachee this year, but running back Jody Mathis has put up a modest 249 yards and three touchdowns through four games.

East Hall at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

Coaches: East Hall, Bryan Gray; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Records: East Hall (3-2, 0-2 Region 7-AAA); North Hall (4-0, 1-0)

Key Players: East Hall, QB Devin Watson (5-10, 170 Jr.); WR Milton Whelchel (5-10, 150 Sr.); WR Jacques Ash (6-0, 164 Jr.). North Hall, QB/CB Andrew Smith (5-7, 150 Sr.); OL/DL Thomas Marchman (6-4, 260 Sr.); LB/RB David Epps (5-9, 210 Sr.).

Outlook: So far, so good for North Hall.

The Trojans are a perfect 4-0 this season, winning by an average of 31.75 points per game, and have marquee wins over Chestatee and Jefferson, the reigning Class AA state champion.

Last week, the Trojans routed Dawson County 51-6 in their Region 7-AAA opener. East Hall, meanwhile, dropped to 0-2 in the region with a 6-0 loss at home to White County. A loss tonight at North Hall will nearly eliminate the Vikings from postseason contention, considering they still have games remaining at improved West Hall and at top-ranked Buford.

North Hall’s strength this season has been its explosive offense. The Trojans are showing the ability to score early and often against their competition. 

Smith has been the X-factor at quarterback, and leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns and three passing scores this season. Zac Little leads North Hall in rushing, averaging 10.5 yards per carry and 115.3 yards per game.

On the ground, 10 different Trojans players have scored touchdowns, including five players that have multiple rushing TDs.

Defensively, East Hall faces the difficult challenge of slowing down the Trojan attack.

One positive is the Vikings faced an option offense in White County last week, and limited the Warriors to only six points.

Viking quarterback Devin Watson was roughed up by White County and will be looking to get back on track tonight. The junior was limited to six yards rushing,120 yards passing and no touchdowns a week ago.

Prior to last week, Watson was in charge of an East Hall offense that was scoring an average of 49 points per game and put up a season-high 67 points in a rout of East Jackson.

Despite his performance last week, Watson still leads the Vikings with 14 passing touchdowns and six rushing scores this season, making him one of the area’s top scorers.

Riverside Military at Rabun County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger

Coaches: Riverside Military, Gary Downs; Rabun County, Lee Shaw

Records: Riverside Military (2-2, 1-1 Region 8-AA); Rabun County (4-0, 1-0)

Key Players: Riverside Military, QB Collin Pettell (6-4, 220 Sr.); RB Joseph Garuba (5-10, 180 Jr.); RB/DB Raleigh Beougher (5-9, 170 Jr.). QB Wes Holcombe (Sr.); LB Cain Tomlin (Jr.); WR/DB Charlie Woerner (6-4, 200 So.).

Outlook: Year 2 under new coaches has both the Eagles and Wildcats headed in the right direction. At 1-0 in region play, Shaw has Rabun County as a viable candidate to contend for the 8-AA title in most likely a three-team race with Jefferson and Washington-Wilkes.

And at .500 in region play, Downs has Riverside Military in position to chase a playoff spot, something the program hasn’t accomplished since 2009.

The Eagles are coming off a hard-fought victory in the region opener against Oglethorpe County on the arm of Pettell, who has now thrown for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Garuba leads Riverside Military’s running game with 244 yards and a touchdown. Beougher has the most all-purpose yards with 473 yards, mostly on the receiving end.

Rabun County is off to its best start since 1998, when the Wildcats made it to the third round of the playoffs.

Woerner has rushed for 264 yards, caught passes for 178 yards and recorded 21 tackles on defense.

Tigers quarterback Holcombe is a dual threat with 789 passing yards and 11 touchdowns, while also rushing for 142 yards and another score.

Rabun County has outscored its opponents by an average margin of 50-5 this season with a pair of shutouts.

Jefferson at Washington-Wilkes

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tiger Field, Washington

Coaches: Jefferson, Ben Hall; Washington-Wilkes, Robby Robinson

Records: Jefferson (3-1, 1-0 Region 8-AA); Washington-Wilkes (5-0, 2-0)

Key Players: Jefferson, QB Evan Shirreffs (6-4, 175 Jr.); RB Tristen Jackson (5-8, 190 Sr.); RB Isaiah Blake (5-9, 180 Sr.). Washington-Wilkes, RB Jaquavious Blackburn (5-8, 160 So.); QB Deandre Harris (6-4, 192 So.); RB/OLB Tomarkus Young (5-11, 181 Sr.).

Outlook: Tonight’s game pits a pair of Region 8-AA heavyweights against one another, and could have a major factor on an eventual region champion this season. Washington-Wilkes is ranked fifth in Class AA, while reigning state champion Jefferson is ranked seventh.

Washington-Wilkes is undefeated and is winning by an average of 33.2 points per game. Jefferson, meanwhile, is 3-1 with its only loss coming to Class AAA power North Hall.

Both teams feature offensive units capable of putting up a lot of points. The Tigers are averaging 43.6 points per game, while the Dragons are averaging 44.5. Both teams pride themselves on running the football.

Jackson and Blake are the go-to running threats for the Dragons; each back is averaging over 5.5 yards per carry and has five rushing touchdowns this season.

Washington-Wilkes has several players capable of scoring touchdowns. In a win over Lincoln County earlier this season, five different Tiger players scored TDs.

It was Blackburn who dominated in a win over Riverside Military Academy on Sept. 20. The sophomore racked up 238 yards with two touchdowns in the rout.

While both offenses can score and rack up yards, the defenses can shine too. The Dragons started the year with back-to-back shutout wins over rivals Commerce and Jackson County, before allowing 41 in a loss to North Hall.

The Dragons rebounded with a 55-10 win over Greene County two weeks later.

Washington-Wilkes has been able to stifle opposing offensive units, and hasn’t allowed more than 14 points in a game all season.

Johnson at Chestatee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: War Eagle Stadium

Coaches: Johnson, Jason Roquemore; Chestatee, Stan Luttrell

Records: Johnson (1-4); Chestatee, (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA)

Key Players: Chestatee, TE/DL Khalil Cantrell (5-10, 260 Sr.); RB Zac Cheshire (5-7, 140 Sr.); QB Wyatt Burgess (5-11, 155 Sr.). Johnson, OL/DL Devan McClay (6-3, 245 Sr.); RB/DB Luis Hernandez (6-1, 185 Sr.); RB/DL Jesse Griggs (5-9, 210 Jr.)

Outlook: Chestatee gets a break from Region 8-AAAA play without taking a Friday night off when it hosts Johnson tonight. The Knights are a region team in all other sports, but have taken a two-year hiatus from region play and will rejoin for 2014.

The War Eagles have never played a season of football without facing Johnson, and history has fared well for them. They lead the all-time series 9-3 and currently hold a nine-game winning streak dating back to 2005. They won last year’s meeting 36-26.

Chestatee has dealt with a rough stretch of region opponents the last two weeks but remains unscathed in the standings, following wins over playoff contenders Eastside and Stephens County. The War Eagles are coming off their best defensive showing of the season when they held Stephens County to 149 yards for their first shutout of the year.

Cheshire continued his breakthrough season with 186 rushing yards and two touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 488 yards and six scores. He’s currently on pace for more than 1,200 yards.

Johnson looks to snap a three-game losing streak.

Franklin County at Jackson County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Panther Stadium, Jefferson

Coaches: Franklin County, Jerry Underwood; Jackson County, Benji Harrison

Records: Franklin County (0-4, 0-1 Region 8-AAA); Jackson County (1-4, 1-1)

Key Players: Franklin County, WR Kris Beasley (5-10, 160 Sr.); QB Ben Cheek (6-2, 190 Sr.); RB Bud Woods (5-4, 160 So.). Jackson County, WR Xavier Harper (6-0, 185 Sr.); QB Jacob Lewis (6-1, 173 Jr.); WR Ben Brissey (6-3, 195 Sr.).

Outlook: Jackson County could be in line for its second win of the season tonight, when it hosts winless Franklin County.

The Panthers are coming off a 62-27 loss to eighth-ranked North Oconee last week. In the loss, the Panthers allowed eight rushing touchdowns to Titan running back Kawon Bryant. Jackson County trailed by a small margin heading into the fourth quarter. Tonight, the Panthers will face a Franklin County team that is being outscored 117-47 on the season.

Offensively, Lewis is still looking to find a consistent rhythm at quarterback for the Panthers, while Harper remains the go-to threat.

Franklin County, which is in its first season under the direction of Underwood, runs a base I-form offense and has a few weapons outside. Size and depth are issues for the Lions, who have had just two winning seasons since 2000.

Commerce at Athens Christian

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Eagle Field, Athens

Coaches: Commerce, Michael Brown ; Athens Christian, Steve Brooks

Records: Commerce (3-2, 1-0 Region 8-A); Athens Christian (2-3, 0-1)

Key Players: Commerce, RB Jamir Walton (5-10. 175 Sr.); FB Chance McClure (6-1, 215 Sr.); QB/DB Drew Whitfield (5-9, 175 Sr.). Athens Christian, RB Marquez Henson (5-8, 165 Jr.); QB Brett Branton (6-1, 170 Sr.); WR/CB Levi Cummings (6-1, 170 Sr.).

Outlook: Athens Christian is looking to recover from a 40-point loss to Prince Avenue Christian a week ago, while Commerce is looking to build on its 31-21 win over George Walton Academy.

It has been a very up-and-down season for both teams. Commerce started the year with a 40-0 loss to rival Jefferson and back-to-back wins over East Jackson and Banks County, before falling to Rabun County 28-0.

Athens Christian started the season in similar fashion, losing its first game before bouncing back with a pair of wins over Banks County and Jackson County. But, the Eagles have dropped their last two games — to North Oconee and Prince Avenue Christian — by a combined score of 106-10.

With the loss last week, the Eagles are 0-1 in the region, while Commerce is 1-0 in region play with its win last week.

Tonight, the Tigers can take a big step toward the playoffs with a win over Athens Christian.

Offensively for Commerce, it all surrounds the running attack. Walton leads the team with 385 yards rushing and a team-high four touchdowns, while McClure is averaging 5.4 yards per carry from the fullback position.

On the season, the Tigers have attempted just 16 passes, completing eight for a total of 96 yards.

Norcross at Habersham Central

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Raider Stadium, Mount Airy

Coaches: Norcross, Keith Maloof; Habersham Central, Michael Pollock

Records: Norcross, (3-2, 2-1 Region 7-AAAAAA); Habersham Central (0-5, 0-3)

Key Players: Norcross, DE Lorenzo Carter (6-3, 235 Sr.); RB Josh Boyd (Sr.); QB A.J. Bush (6-4, 205 Sr.). Habersham Central, RB Sydnee Mulligan (5-9, 192 Sr.); WR Gunner Hedden (6-0, 156 Sr.); QB Logan Gosnell (5-11, 200).

Outlook: The state’s preseason top-ranked team in Class AAAAAA, Norcross lost two of its first three games — to Booker T. Washington (Fla.) 55-0, and North Gwinnett 36-17 — but has since recovered with wins over Duluth and, more impressively, then seventh-ranked Mill Creek a week ago.

After giving up four passing touchdowns in the second half against North Gwinnett on Sept. 13, Norcross shutout Mill Creek in the second half a week ago, rolling to a 27-13 win.

Now, the Blue Devils look to remain in contention for one of the top two seeds from Region 7-AAAAAA with a win tonight against winless Habersham Central.

The Raiders are in the midst of a brutal stretch of the season, where they’ll face three of the toughest teams in the region in four weeks. The Raiders lost to fourth-ranked Peachtree Ridge, 49-0, last week and now face former No. 1 Norcross

They’ll host top-ranked North Gwinnett in two weeks, following a game at winless Meadowcreek.

Habersham hasn’t scored a point in the last two weeks and has managed just a field goal in its three region contest. On the season, the Raiders have scored a total of 31 points, while allowing an average of 43 points per game.

Norcross is led offensively by Bush, who had 97 yards rushing and 90 yards passing against Mill Creek a week ago.

Boyd was the team’s top rusher in the win over the Hawks, finishing with 112 yards on just 15 carries. Carter is one of the nation’s top defensive prospects, and has helped anchor the Blue Devil defense that is on the rise in recent weeks.

Banks County at Dawson County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville

Coaches: Banks County, Biff Parson; Dawson County, Jeff Lee

Records: Banks County (0-5, 0-2 Region 7-AAA); Dawson County (3-2, 1-1)

Key Players: Banks County, RB/DB Wes Faulkner (5-9, 165 Sr.); WR/DB Malcolm Mitchell (5-10, 155 Jr.); FB/LB Matt Dilbeck (6-1, 210 Jr.). Dawson County, WR/DB Jackson Putnam (6-1, 180 Sr.); WR Chris Sayler (5-9, 171 Sr.); LB Keaton Toal (6-1, 225 Sr.).

Outlook: After a pair of blowout losses on the road, Banks County visits Dawson County tonight, looking for its first win of the season. The Leopards lost to West Hall, 48-13, two weeks ago, before being routed by top-ranked Buford, 63-0, last week. With the losses, Banks County is now 0-2 in region play.

Dawson County is looking to rebound from a 51-6 blowout loss to North Hall last week.

In the loss, the Tigers struggled to slow down the high-octane rushing attack of North Hall, which finished with 402 yards rushing.

Meanwhile, the Dawson County offense struggled to muster much production, being held to just 2 yards per carry and 103 yards passing.

A win tonight can get Dawson County back on track and keep it in contention for a playoff spot out of Region 7-AAA.

Currently, the Tigers are in fifth place in the region.

For the Leopards, they are 0-5 this season and have yet to score more than 16 points in a game. Meanwhile, they’re giving up an average of 38.2 points per game.

Tonight’s meeting is the 32nd all-time meeting between the two teams. Banks County owns a 23-9 advantage in the series, although Dawson County rolled to a 45-9 win over the Leopards in Homer last season.

Copper Basin (Tenn.) at Towns County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Frank McClure Stadium, Hiawassee

Coaches: Copper Basin, Patrick Daley; Towns County, Blair Harrison

Records: Copper Basin (0-5); Towns County (0-5)

Key Players: Towns County, QB Jackson Noblet (5-10, 205 Sr.); OL/DL Jaryd Gurley (6-2, 303 Sr.); WR/DB Cruz Shook (5-7, 170 Jr.).

Outlook: Towns County enters tonight’s game riding a five-game losing streak, having been outscored 199-55 in the five games.

So far this season, the Indians have yet to score more than 14 points in a game. That very well could change tonight as they face a Cougar team that is allowing an average of 43.4 points a game.

Copper Basin is 0-5, with three of those losses coming against ranked teams in Tennessee.  Last week, the Cougars fell to Andrews (N.C.), 33-20, their closest loss of the season.

Tonight is the 17th all-time meeting between the two schools. Last season, the Cougars beat the Indians 52-34 in a high-scoring affair in Tennessee. All-time, the Cougars lead the series 13-3.

Oglethorpe County at Union County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville

Coaches: Oglethorpe County, Larry Milligan; Union County, Brian Allison

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

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.). 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.).

Outlook: Region 8-AA play didn’t start well for Union County last week. The Panthers couldn’t turn a positive 2-1 start into a win against Washington-Wilkes, losing 41-10.

Their chances look much better this week, as they play at home for the first time in over a month and host a winless Oglethorpe County team.

Union County has a four-game winning streak alive against the Patriots dating back to 2008.

Oglethorpe County has faced offensive issues this season. Its 20 points against Riverside Military last week was the team’s highest offensive total this season and the first double-digit posting of the year. Prior to that, the Patriots hadn’t scored more than nine.