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High school football previews: Week 7
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Game of the Week: Flowery Branch hosts Habersham Central

Johnson at West Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Spartans Stadium, Oakwood

Radio: 102.9-FM

Coaches: Johnson, Paul Friel; West Hall, Mike Newton

Records: Johnson (0-5, 0-1 Region 8-AAA South), West Hall (1-4, 1-0)

Key players: Johnson, RB/DB Cedric Harris (6-1, 175 Jr.), RB/DB A.J. Millwood (5-11, 155 Jr.), QB/DB Justin Thomson (6-1, 170 So.). West Hall, QB Chandler Newton (6-1, 190 So.), WR/DB A.J. Stephens (5-8, 165 Sr.), OL/DL Dexter Jackson (6-2, 315 Jr.).

Outlook: Even though neither had a great first half of the season, there isn't any time for a pity party. With the playoff qualifying process in Region 8-AAA, both can finish strong and play for a postseason spot on Nov. 4.

In fact, with last Friday's win against Walnut Grove, the Spartans are right in the thick of things, despite dropping their first four games this year.

Meanwhile, Johnson knows that anything is still possible, but it has to have a win tonight to try to stay in the fight for one of the top three spots in the South subregion.

Both teams have found success, but in very different ways. The Knights' offense likes to keep the ball on the ground, led by Harris and Millwood. Harris rushed for 109 yards last week against Gainesville and stands currently at 645 for the year. Millwood has 580 yards.

West Hall has found its passing game under Chandler Newton (612 yards, six touchdowns). He passed for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the Spartans' win against the Warriors.

Despite a winless record, Johnson is actually outgaining opponents 307-289 yards per game. The Knights have won three out of the last four against West Hall, and each of the last three games, including a 56-55 win by West Hall in 2008, have been decided by four points or less.

Prediction: JOHNSON. The Knights have a very tough running game that will push West Hall to the limits.

North Hall at White County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: White County Stadium, Cleveland

Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; White County, Bill Ballard

Records: North Hall (2-3, 1-0 Region 8-AAA North), White County (1-4, 0-1)

Key players: North Hall, RB/LB Imani Cross (6-2, 230 Sr.), RB Caleb Faulkner (5-9, 175 Jr.), OG/DE Cam Howell (5-8, 215 Sr.). White County, RB Ryan Kennedy (5-11, 180 Sr.), LB Dalton Whitfield (6-1, 220 So.), QB Will Brock (6-2, 190 Jr.).

Outlook: The Trojans started the 2011 season with three consecutive losses. In each game, the defense allowed 38 or more points en route to a double-digit loss.

It would have been easy to write off the team just by watching the scoreboard, but that would have been a disservice to a team that is much more talented than its losing record would suggest. It has shown that in the past two weeks with back-to-back blowout wins over Walnut Grove and Chestatee.

Those three opening losses for North Hall came against teams with a combined 14-2 record, a trying task for any team to start the season.

This game starts and ends on the ground for North Hall, particularly with Cross, arguably the best running back in the region. Cross has recorded 961 yards on the ground, 280 of which came last week against Chestatee, to go with 13 scores.

Focusing on Cross, however, will take attention away from running back Caleb Faulkner, who topped 100 yards on the ground a week ago and has totaled 304 for the season.

On the other sideline, White County has struggled to replace the production it lost from a 2010 team that went 9-3 and swept its games in the subregion. Despite the struggles, it is still within two plays of being 3-2, losing its opener to East Jackson, 28-27, and another, 27-24, to Oconee County.

Prediction: NORTH HALL. The "Imani Cross Show" has turned into a dangerous two-headed ground attack that will be difficult to stop down the stretch.

East Hall at Union County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville

Coaches: East Hall, Bryan Gray; Union County, Brian Allison

Records: East Hall (3-2, 1-0 Region 8-AA); Union County (1-4, 0-1)

Key players: East Hall, RB/DB Jamond Witt (5-10, 173 Sr.), RB/DB Austen Mahaffey (5-8, 175 Jr.), QB Cameron Davis (5-10, 175 So). 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: East Hall is looking to start 2-0 in subregion play with a win at Union County.

On paper it would appear to be an easy win against a team on a four-game losing streak, but the Panthers' record only obscures what will be a dangerous team for the Vikings to face.

Union County has allowed just 22 points per game on defense, the second-lowest mark in the subregion. On top of that, the Panthers were just a few plays away from being 1-0 in the subregion, falling 16-14 last week against Banks County after stalling twice deep inside Leopard territory.

East Hall will be challenged to run the ball as well as it did last week against Rabun County when the Vikings racked up over 300 yards. Leading rusher Witt has carried the ball 45 times for 413 yards (9.2 average) and five touchdowns this season.

The Union County offense is led by dual-threat quarterback Bentley, and is averaging just 13 points per game.

Prediction: EAST HALL. The Vikings rushing attack is too strong for the Panthers to stop.

Commerce at Riverside Military

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Maginnis Field, Gainesville

Coaches: Commerce, Marvin Justice; Riverside Military, Sheldon Ward

Records: Commerce (2-3, 1-0 Region 8-A); Riverside Military (1-5, 1-1).

Key players: Commerce, QB Cody Streetman (6-0, 200 Sr.), TE/DE Jake Vaughn (6-2, 200 Sr.), FB/LB Chance McClure (6-0, 215 So.). Riverside Military, QB Collin Pettell (6-5, 200 So.), Marlan Edwards (6-2, 212 Sr.), OL/LB John-Mark MacFarlane (5-10, 176 So.).

Outlook: Both of these programs went a long way toward shaking off a sluggish start with wins last Friday. Riverside Military picked up its first win of the season, a 21-0 shutout of Social Circle, while Commerce is coming off a 41-0 win against Athens Christian. Both teams need a win tonight to keep pace in Region 8-A.

Last week, Commerce had a new star step up in running back Quay Little, who rushed for 115 yards on nine carries as part of a 480-yard night for the Tiger offense. Senior quarterback Cody Streetman is still the team leader in rushing with 405 yards and four scores.

Meanwhile, the Eagles got in the win column behind the passing efficiency of Pettell, who threw for two scores against the Redskins. For the second consecutive game, Riverside Military also scored on defense as Quentin Young picked up a fumble and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown. The 21-point output was a season high for the Eagles, who are averaging 6.8 points per game.

Forty-one points was also a season-high for Commerce, which struggled offensively during a challenging non-region schedule.

Prediction: COMMERCE. The Tigers' brand of smash-mouth football will prove too much for an inexperienced Riverside defense.

Dawson County at Banks County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Leopard Stadium, Homer

Coaches: Dawson County, Jeff Lee; Banks County, Philip Jones

Records: Dawson County (2-3, 1-0 Region 8-AA North); Banks County (3-2, 1-0)

Key players: Dawson County, QB Tyler Dominy (6-5, 185 Jr.), WR Bruce Clark (6-4, 190 Jr.), RB/LB Zack Martin (5-10, 190 Jr.). Banks County, QB Tyler Hubbard (5-9, 150 Sr.), RB Dean Ewing (6-1, 200 Sr.), WR/DB Greg Cannon (6-0, 160 Jr.).

Outlook: In 8-AA, the only way to clinch a playoff berth before the final week of the regular season is to win your subregion. Doing so is especially important in the North subregion, which was swept 3-0 by the South in region play-in games last year.That only makes tonight's game in Homer that much more important for Dawson County and Banks County after each team opened the subregion slate with wins last week.

Dawson County is led by one of the area's most prolific offenses. Boasting the area's leading passer in Dominy (1,258 yards, 13 touchdowns) and leading receiver in Clark (37 receptions, 472 yards, eight touchdowns), the Tigers are putting up nearly 400 yards of offense per game.

The Tigers have struggled on defense, though, giving up more than 32 points per contest. Last week's 35-30 win over Fannin County snapped a three-game slide.

The Leopards take a more old-school approach, grinding out yards with the running game and leaning on the defense to get their wins. It's worked well so far in Jones' first year as the Leopards coach: his defense is yielding only 16.6 points per game, the fifth-best average in the area.

Banks County won last week, 16-14, over Union County.

Prediction: DAWSON COUNTY. The Tigers can score in bunches and have faced the tougher schedule.

Oconee County at Gainesville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Bobby Gruhn Field, Gainesville

Radio: 1240-AM

Coaches: Oconee County, Mitch Olson; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Records: Oconee County (2-3, 0-1 Region 8-AAA South); Gainesville (4-1, 1-0)

Key players: Oconee County, QB Connor White (6-4, 180 Sr.), RB Davis Aiken (5-9, 180 Jr.), OL Logan Reach (6-3, 230 Sr.). QB Deshaun Watson (6-2, 185 So.), WR Justin Cantrell (6-2, 177 Jr.), DB Michael Pittman (5-9, 195 Jr.).

Outlook: The meaning of this game is pretty easy to see. If Gainesville wins, it's just one step closer to winning the subregion title outright. The Red Elephants will still have a hurdle remaining against Monroe Area on Oct. 14 in Gainesville.

For Oconee County, a win means they are right back in a tie for the subregion lead. Last Friday, the Warriors had a heartbreaking 37-30 loss in overtime to the Purple Hurricanes.

The biggest strength for Gainesville continues to be the passing game, but the defense isn't bad either. Last Friday, Watson threw for 212 yards and five touchdowns with a pair of interceptions. For the year, Watson has thrown for 1,238 yards and has a 4-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio (16-4). Cantrell, Stephen Mason, Lahius Leverette and Tray Harrison all had a touchdown catch last week against Johnson and are averaging at least 10 yards per catch for the year.

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. Oconee County has struggled defensively and will have too much on its plate trying the stop the Big Red passing game.

Stephens County at Chestatee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: War Eagles Stadium

Coaches: Stephens County, Travis Noland; Chestatee, Stan Luttrell

Records: Stephens County, (4-1, 1-0 8-AAA North). Chestatee, (3-2, 0-1).

Key players: Stephens County, RB Chaz Thornton (5-9, 180 Jr.), WR T'omas Colbert (6-0, 180 Jr.), QB Dionte Mayfield (6-0, 180 Jr.); Chestatee, RB Quan Clark (5-10, 180 Jr.), DE Garrett Bennett (5-10, 205 Sr.), QB Jordan Degraff (6-2, 170 Jr.).

Outlook: After a 3-0 start, Chestatee's once-promising season has been stuck in neutral for the last two weeks. After a close loss, 41-35, to Monroe Area, the War Eagles fell last week at North Hall, 48-7, in the subregion opener.

The difference in the team's successes and shortcomings begin and end on the defensive side of the ball. In its first three games of the season, all wins, Chestatee's defense allowed 339 yards and 16.3 points per game. In the two losses since, those numbers have jumped to 444 and 44.5, respectively.

Part of that can be attributed to the offenses they were facing, but if those numbers don't come down, the War Eagles will have a difficult time surviving the subregion.

Offensively, Chestatee has been led by Degraff all season. Last week, Degraff went down with an ankle injury late in the first quarter, and the offense was unable to rebound.

Luttrell said that an X-ray and MRI both came back negative on Degraff's ankle, and that he is day-to-day. He added that no decision has been made on the quarterback's status for the game tonight.

If Degraff plays, the offense will obviously get a much needed jolt against a defense that is allowing just 12 points per game this season. If he sits, the War Eagles will need much better production out of their running backs.

Prediction: STEPHENS COUNTY. Chestatee may get some better production, but Stephens County is a difficult team to match.

Lumpkin County at Franklin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Ed Bryant Stadium, Carnesville

Coaches: Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones; Franklin County, Tommy Welch

Records: Lumpkin County (4-1, 1-0 8-AAA North); Franklin County (1-4, 0-1)

Key players: Lumpkin County, RB/WR/CB Ian McIntosh (5-10, 185 Sr.), FB/DT Lee Cagle (5-10, 185 Sr.), FB/LB Trevor Eudy (5-8, 200 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: Following the progress it made in a six-win 2010 season, Lumpkin County is looking to take the next step in pursuit of its first trip to the state playoffs since 2003.

So far this season, the Indians have been winning games behind a productive ground game and, more importantly, an extremely opportunistic defense.

In its five games thus far in 2011, Lumpkin County has recorded 17 takeaways while turning the ball over just twice. The combination of protecting the football and taking advantage of its opportunities on defense has made it a difficult team to beat.

When you factor in a ground game, led by McIntosh's 629 yards and six scores is averaging 230.6 yards per game, the team's success should come as no surprise.

If there is one concern for the team, it is its weak strength of schedule. The Indians' four wins this year have come against teams that have combined for a 3-18 record. In their lone game against a team above .500, the Indians fell 23-2 to Monroe Area.

Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. Teams that win the turnover battle usually win a lot of football games. Tonight will be no different.

Jefferson at Oglethorpe County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Patriot Stadium, Lexington

Coaches: Jefferson, T. McFerrin; Oglethorpe County, Larry Milligan

Records: Jefferson (4-1, 1-1 Region 8-AA South); Oglethorpe County (3-3, 1-2)

Key players: Jefferson, QB Bryant Shirreffs (6-3, 200 Jr.), WR Will Puckett (6-3, 190 Sr.), WR McKay Dickens (5-11, 170 Sr.). Oglethorpe County, QB Kendrick Presley (Sr.), RB Corey Davenport, WR Josh Jarrells (Sr.)

Outlook: There is one stat that best shows how to beat Jefferson: Through their first four games, all wins, the Dragons did not turn the ball over once. Last Friday they gave it up three times and subsequently took their first loss.

This week is fall break for Jefferson, but the Dragons have been practicing every morning to turn last Friday's 38-28 loss to North Oconee into a temporary setback.

Oglethorpe County runs a triple option offense similar to Georgia Tech, according to McFerrin, and will be a threat with a talented group of skill players, starting with Presley at quarterback.

The Patriots average 15 points per game, so the Jefferson defense won't likely be pushed as hard as last Friday against a high-scoring North Oconee. But the Patriots allow only 17 points per game and have posted two shutouts.

Led by Shireffs, who passed for 242 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions last week, the Dragons have the top offense in 8-AA South with 41 points per game.

Jefferson has won nine straight over Oglethorpe; the last Patriots win in the series came in 1997, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Patriots lack the firepower to keep pace with the Dragons.

Jackson County at North Oconee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Titans Stadium

Coaches: Jackson County, Billy Kirk; North Oconee, Terry Tuley

Records: Jackson County (2-4, 1-2 Region 8-AA South), North Oconee (5-0, 1-0)

Key players: Jackson County, RB Dustin Scott ( Jr.), MLB Andy Williams (5-11 210, Sr.), QB Kyle Daniel (6-2 195, Jr.). North Oconee, RB Kawon Bryant (5-9 173, Fr.), RB David Pinkerton (5-9 175, Sr.) Blake Gaubert (6-2 210, Sr.)
Outlook: The Panthers earned their second win of the season last Friday, beating Olglethorpe County 30-13 on the road and ending a four-game skid.

Meanwhile, the Titans continued to show their dominance on the gridiron as they traveled to Jefferson and won 38-28 in a game of two unbeaten teams.

Last year, in the only meeting of these teams, North Oconee shut out Jackson County 37-0 in Panther Stadium.

A key to the game for Jackson County is to have a solid running game so that Daniel can have a little less pressure in the pocket from a Titan defense that had three sacks on a mobile quarterback in Jefferon's Bryant Shirreffs last week.

In Jackson County's two wins this season, Scott has rushed for more than 70 yards, including a 126-yard, three touchdown effort last week versus Johnson. In the losses he has yet to go for more than 62 yards.

The Titans are no stranger to the run and will try to get their duo of Bryant and Pinkerton the ball early and often.

Prediction: NORTH OCONEE. The Titan offense proves to be too much for the Panthers to overcome.

Lakeview at River Ridge

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: River Ridge Stadium, Woodstock

Coaches: Lakeview, Matthew Gruhn; River Ridge, Robert Braucht

Records: Lakeview (1-3), River Ridge (4-1)

Key players: Lakeview, QB/FS Matt Askounis (Sr. 5-9 160), RB/LB Trevor Price (5-10, 160 Jr.), K Tyler Kimball (Jr.). River Ridge, OLB Malik Moore (Sr.) QB Josh Maisel (Jr.), RB/DB Austin Schwarz (Sr.).

Outlook: The Lions are coming off their first win of the season, a 10-7 last-minute comeback over Hebron Christian in which Ted Reynolds had a 26-yard touchdown run with 47 seconds left to secure the first victory for Lakeview.

In their third year of football, the Knights were having their best season yet before the 23-8 loss to Gordon Lee last Friday.

River Ridge will look to Moore, their senior leader on defense, to stop the triple option Lions attack. He had 14 tackles and three fourth-quarter sacks in a 40-14 victory over Model earlier this season.

The Lions will need to find some way to lessen his effect on the game in order to come back home with a win.

Prediction: RIVER RIDGE. The Knights have an average margin of victory of more than 31 points. They win big here again and improve to 5-1.

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