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High school football previews: Week 9
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Gainesville at Clarke Central

When: 7:30Friday

Where: Billy Henderson Stadium, Athens

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Clarke Central, Ahren Self

Records: Gainesville (6-1, 5-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Clarke Central (5-1, 4-0)

Key players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 195 Sr.); RB Michael Byrd (5-5, 160 Jr.); LB Devan Stringer (5-11, 195 Sr.). Clarke Central, QB Cameron Johnson (6-3, 190 Jr.); WR/DB Jaquan Dowdy (6-1, 185 Jr.); WR Austin Johnson (6-1, 185 Jr.).

Outlook: The gridlock at the top of Region 8-AAAAA will at least partially be broken up tonight in Athens. The Red Elephants and Gladiators both enter undefeated in region play. Both programs still have a game remaining against Flowery Branch, which sits at 5-0 in region play.

Gainesville’s path to this point in the season has been highlighted by superb defense, along with the great work by Deshaun Watson at quarterback. The Red Elephants have yet to allow double digits in a region game, while scoring no less than 48 in any of the five contests.

For the season, Watson has thrown for 2,120 yards and 26 touchdowns, while also rushing for 343 yards and another four scores. Byrd is the Red Elephants’ leader in rushing yards (467, seven touchdowns) and has also been a leading receiver (357 yards, TD).

Jay Gaudlock has emerged as Watson’s leading target (763 yards, eight touchdowns), followed by Rodney Lackey (557, eight touchdowns).

On defense, J.D. Sosebee is leading the way with 82 stops, followed closely by Stringer with 61 tackles.

Meanwhile, Clarke Central has already matched its win total from 2012 in the first season under Ahren Self, a first-year head coach. The Gladiators’ only loss was in the season opener against Marist, 29-18.

East Hall at West Hall

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Spartan Field, Oakwood

Coaches: East Hall, Bryan Gray; West Hall, Tony Lotti

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

Key players: East Hall, QB Devin Watson (5-10, 170 Jr.); WR/DB Milton Whelchel (5-9, 170 Sr.); LB Corey Reece (5-10, 185 Sr.). West Hall, QB Zach English (5-10, 180 Sr.); TE/DE Hunter Atkinson (6-6, 250 Sr.); RB/DB Kwon Williams (6-0, 185 So.).

Outlook: West Hall has had a week to shake off a loss to top-ranked Buford and resume its chase for a playoff spot in Region 7-AAA. East Hall, also coming off a bye week, desperately needs a win to cling to any hope of making the playoffs this season.

The Spartans are currently knotted in a three-team tie at 2-1 in Region 7-AAA play, with games against the other two (White County and Dawson County) still left on the schedule. Meanwhile, the Vikings have fought hard in all three region losses to this point, most recently a 56-31 loss at North Hall on Oct. 4.

West Hall has been led offensively by the yardage on the ground by Kwon Williams (476 yards, eight touchdowns), and the arm of Zach English (522 yards, eight touchdowns). Atkinson is West Hall’s leading receiver with 26 catches for 324 yards and six scores.

For East Hall, Devin Watson has put together a marvelous season with 1,668 passing yards and 15 touchdown passes, along with 422 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. In the Vikings’ most recent outing, Watson passed for 331 yards against a tough North Hall defense.

North Hall at White County

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Warriors Stadium, Cleveland

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

Records: North Hall (6-0, 3-0 Region 7-AAA); White County (4-2, 2-1)

Key players: North Hall, QB Andrew Smith (5-7, 150 Sr.); RB Zac Little (5-9, 190 Sr.); OL/DL Thomas Marchman (6-4, 260 Sr.). White County, LB/RB Dalton Whitfield (6-3, 230 Sr.); DB/WR Will Flowers (5-11, 180 Sr.); DB/WR Coley Loudermilk (5-11, 180 Sr.).

Outlook: North Hall is right where it wants to be in the race for the Region 7-AAA championship with only four games left in the regular season: undefeated. 

With a game against top-ranked Buford the final night of the regular season at The Brickyard, the Trojans will likely need to stay perfect to keep a chance at the region title and top seed to the postseason alive.

North Hall has been simply dominating in region play, scoring at least 50 points each night out, while allowing more than 10 points only once. The Trojans’ average margin of victory in region play is 43 points.

The Trojans have now rushed for 2,431 yards on the season (405 yards per game). Little is leading North Hall’s rushing attack with 737 yards and eight touchdowns, while Smith has carried the ball 67 times for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Brannon Dyer and Isaac Seid are also both over 200 yards rushing for the season. White County is coming off its only region loss of the season, 42-6, last Friday in Buford. The Warriors are in a three-way tie at 2-1 for third place in the region with Dawson County and West Hall. 

White County plays host to Dawson County on Oct. 25, then visits West Hall the following week.

Flowery Branch at Heritage

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Evans Memorial Stadium, Conyers

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin; Heritage, Mike Parris

Records: Flowery Branch (5-2, 5-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Heritage (4-3, 3-2)

Key players: 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.). 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: Flowery Branch’s final three games of the regular season are against the other three teams from the top four of Region 8-AAAAA.

Heritage, which currently sits in fourth place, has remained in the playoff hunt through a series of close finishes this year. All four of the Patriots’ wins have been by 10 points or fewer, including an overtime win over Cedar Shoals on Sept. 20. Heritage also has a two-point loss.

The narrow finishes have made for an interesting statistic. While Heritage boasts the fourth-best defense in the region at 18 points allowed, its offense is at the very bottom with an average of 12 points per game. That’s fewer than both Cedar Shoals and Apalachee, which are the only two winless teams in the region.

A big offensive night could put Flowery Branch in full control of the contest. Luckily for the Falcons, their 34 points per game is second-highest among region teams. They haven’t scored fewer than 38 points during their current five-game winning streak.

Buford at Dawson County

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville

Coaches: Buford, Jess Simpson; Dawson County, Jeff Lee

Records: Buford (6-0, 3-0 Region 7-AAA); Dawson County (4-2, 2-1)

Key players: Buford, LB Korie Rogers (6-2, 215 Sr.); DB/RB Thomas Wilson (5-11, 185 Sr.); RB/LB Joshua Thomas (6-0, 200 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: Buford’s incredible scoring clip this season could put them in record books if it keeps up the pace. The Wolves can become just the 14th team in state history to eclipse 500 points during the regular season if they continue to dominate opponents like they have through six games this year.

They’re currently on a 10-game pace for 525 points, but the Wolves are certain to tally more than that with a deep run in the state playoffs. The current team scoring record, with playoffs included, is 682 by Dublin in 2006. Buford came a yard short of tying that record the following year.

The Wolves can shatter 700 points and set a new state record if they continue their current pace of 52.5 per game.

The next team to attempt to slow them down is Dawson County, which is coming off its biggest win of the season in a 42-19 rout of Banks County. The Tigers have seen momentum sway back and forth the past month. They squeaked out a 23-20 over Class AAAAA’s Forsyth Central on Sept. 13, but also gave up lopsided losses to North Forsyth and North Hall.

Johnson at Druid Hills

When: 5:30 Friday

Where: Adams Stadium, Atlanta

Coaches: Johnson, Jason Roquemore; Druid Hills, Mark Adams

Records: Johnson (2-5); Druid Hills (2-4, 0-3 Region 2-AAAAAA)

Key players: Johnson, RB/DL Jesse Griggs (5-9, 210 Jr.); OL/DL Devan McClay (6-3, 245 Sr.); RB/DB Luis Hernandez (6-1, 185 Sr.). Druid Hills, DE DaJour Maddox (6-0, 200 Jr.); WR/FS K’Tjuan Clark (5-9, 150 Jr.); RB/DB Hasaan Enis (5-11, 180 Jr.).

Outlook: Johnson finally put an end to its four-game losing streak with last week’s 31-21 win over Clarkston, taking advantage of key turnovers to pick up its second win of the season.

The Knights have an opportune chance to string together back-to-back wins when they visit a struggling Druid Hills team that has lost its last three games by a combined score of 121-7. The Red Devils have not won in more than a month.

A win tonight could be key in helping Johnson salvage its season and finish with a 5-5 record should it win its final two games, both of which are at home. With the Knights returning to a region schedule in 2014, finishing the year strong with a young team would set a solid foundation for the future.

In recent games, Johnson has made it clear that its offense is powered by junior Jesse Griggs, who carried the ball 34 times last Friday for 114 yards. He was the bright spot in the Knights’ 48-7 loss to Chestatee two weeks ago, rushing for 73 yards.

Riverside Military vs.Social Circle

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Maginnis Field, Gainesville

Coaches: Riverside Military, Gary Downs; Social Circle, Ron Sebree

Records: Riverside Military (2-4, 1-3 Region 8-AA); Social Circle (0-6, 0-3)

Key players: Riverside Military, LB John-Mark MacFarlane (5-10, 190 Sr.); QB Collin Pettell (6-3, 220 Sr.); RB/DB Raleigh Beougher (5-9, 165 Jr.).

Outlook: Riverside Military needs to win out with three games left in region play to keep any playoff hopes alive. Tonight is a great way to get the momentum started for the Eagles against the winless Redskins.

Riverside Military is coming off a tough loss to Union County, 40-24, which put the Panthers in a position to control its own playoff destiny. Meanwhile, Social Circle is coming off its third straight shutout loss and has been outscored 141-0 in losses to Rabun County, Greene County and Oglethorpe County in 8-AA play.

Riverside Military has presented a balanced offense, averaging 160 rushing yards and 113 passing yards per game. Pettell has completed 41 of 65 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns. The Eagles’ top receivers are Beougher (402 yards, touchdown) and C.J. Howard (13 catches, 229 yards).

MacFarlane is Riverside’s top defender with 64 tackles, two stops a loss.

St. Francis at Lakeview Academy

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Jock Horner Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: St. Francis, Brennen Booth; Lakeview Academy, Matthew Gruhn

Records: St. Francis (5-2); Lakeview (1-5)

Key players: St. Francis, WR/SS Lance Pecot (5-10, 160 Sr.); RB/DB Knox Edenfield (5-11, 155 Jr.); OL/DL Seth Cecil (6-0, 260 Jr.). Lakeview Academy, QB Jackson Strickland (5-10, 160 Sr.); RB Drake Hollander (5-10, 170 Sr.); LB Patrick Avery (6-1, 210 Sr.).

Outlook: With its first win of the season now out of the way, Lakeview Academy can turn its focus to wrapping up its home schedule with a victory against surging St. Francis.

The Knights enter the contest on a four-game winning streak, including a 41-0 shutout against Baconton Charter last week. The fourth-year program out of Alpharetta has already broken the school’s single-season wins record.

Lakeview, however, may have some new motivation after snapping a five-game skid with last Friday’s 42-0 win over Cross Keys. The Lions excelled in their three-quarterback offense, most notably from the efforts of senior Jackson Strickland (140 rushing yards, 2 TDs).

Playing an eight-game schedule, Lakeview has just two games remaining on the road against North Cobb Christian and Towns County.

Jefferson at Oglethorpe County

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Patriot Stadium, Lexington

Coaches: Jefferson, Ben Hall; Oglethorpe County, Larry Milligan

Records: Jefferson (4-2, 2-1 Region 8-AA); Oglethorpe County (1-5, 1-2)

Key players: Jefferson, QB T.J. Skelton (6-0, 180 Jr.); RB Tristen Jackson (5-9, 190 Sr.); DL Tyler Bowen (5-10, 220 Sr.). Oglethorpe County, RB/DB Juvuan Mallory (5-7, 168 Sr.), QB/DB Tyler Hooper (5-7, 158 So.), LB Zytavious Watkins (6-0, 210 Sr.).

Outlook: Jefferson kept its chance alive for a repeat at the region championship with an exciting 26-20 overtime win against Rabun County last Friday. Now, the Dragons need to win out and hope that Washington-Wilkes (the only program to beat Jefferson) stumbles in its matchup against Rabun County tonight to create gridlock at the top.

The Dragons pulled out the win over the Wildcats behind a gritty effort of T.J. Skelton, who completed 14 throws for 170 yards and a touchdown pass. Jackson remains the rushing leader for Jefferson with 462 yards and six scores.

Jefferson only has one of its final four opponents with a winning record (4-2 Union County on Nov. 8).

Oglethorpe County’s first victory of the season came last week against winless Social Circle, 28-0. Mallory leads the Patiorts with 435 yards of rushing.

Hart County at Jackson County

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Panthers Stadium, Jefferson

Coaches: Hart County, William DeVane; Jackson County, Benji Harrison

Records: Hart County (6-0, 3-0 Region 8-AAA); Jackson County (2-4, 2-1)

Key players: Hart County, WR Zach Harris (5-8, 155 Sr.); QB Dakota Mitchell (5-9, 184 Sr.); MLB Mason Buchanan (5-10, 206 Sr.). Jackson County, WR Xavier Harper (6-0, 185 Sr.); QB Jacob Lewis (6-1, 175 Jr.); WR Ben Brissey (6-3, 195 Sr.).

Outlook: Jackson County had two weeks to prepare for tonight’s matchup against undefeated Hart County. The Panthers last played Oct. 4 when they routed Franklin County, 56-12. Tonight will be one of the tougher matchups for the young Panthers, who still have hopes of claiming one of the region’s playoff spots.

Jackson County can take a major step in securing a second straight playoff berth and shake up the region with a win against a Hart County team that has scored over 40 points in each of the last three region contests, all wins coming against teams that have yet to win a region game.

Fannin County at Banks County

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Leopard Stadium, Homer

Coaches: Fannin County, Greg Chambers; Banks County, Biff Parson

Records: Fannin County (1-5, 0-3 Region 7-AAA); Banks County, (0-6, 0-3)

Key players: Fannin County, QB Trevor Stone (6-0, 205 Sr.), RB/CB Jacob Greer (5-8, 160 Jr.), WR Dominik Leben (6-0, 150 So.). 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.).

Outlook: It has been a season filled with struggles for Banks County. The Leopards are winless and are being outscored 233-65 on the season, which includes a 63-0 loss to top-ranked Buford. Things haven’t been much easier for Fannin County.

The Rebels are 1-5 and their lone win came over Union County. Since the win on Sept. 6, the Rebels have dropped their last four games, including a 62-7 loss to North Hall last week.

Lumpkin County at Eastside

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Sharp Stadium, Covington

Coaches: Lumpkin County, Brad Waggoner; Eastside, Rick Hurst

Records: Lumpkin County (1-5, 1-2 Region 8-AAAA); Eastside (3-3, 1-2)

Key players: Lumpkin County, QB Daniel McCrary (6-1, 175 Sr.); WR/DB Johnathan Gilreath (6-2, 190 Sr.); OL Caleb Stepp (6-1, 280 Sr.). Eastside, RB Carlos Huggins (Jr.); QB Damario Terrell (5-9, 144 Sr.); OLB/RB Anthony Henderson (5-11, 190 Sr.).

Outlook: Lumpkin County is looking for its second victory of the season and, more importantly, in the region when it visits the Eastside Eagles, who are looking to remain in playoff contention with a win.

The Eagles are 3-3 overall but are just 1-2 in region play, making tonight a pivotal game in regards to the region standings. The winner will remain in the hunt for a playoff berth, while the loser will essentially be eliminated from playoff contention.

Lumpkin County’s offense struggled in the beginning part of the season, but managed to score 31 points in a win over Walnut Grove and 21 in a loss to Madison County.

Tonight, the Indians face an Eagles defense that is allowing an average of 27.1 points per game this season and showed weakness in stopping the running attack of Chestatee, a run-first team like Lumpkin County, earlier this season.

North Gwinnett at Habersham Central

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Raider Stadium, Mount Airy

Coaches: North Gwinnett, Bob Sphire; Habersham Central, Michael Pollock

Records: North Gwinnett (6-0, 4-0 Region 7-AAAAAA); Habersham Central (0-7, 0-5)

Key players: North Gwinnett, QB Hayden Sphire (6-2, 200 Sr.); RB CJ Leggett (5-10, 210 Sr.); WR Nate Brown (6-3, 180 Sr.). 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.).

Outlook: Habersham Central wasted its best chance at securing a victory this season when it lost to Meadowcreek, 21-14, last week, ending the Mustangs’ 52-game losing streak. The Raiders are 0-7 with three games remaining.

North Gwinnett, meanwhile, is the state’s top-ranked team and is coming off an exciting 50-47 win over rival Mill Creek.

In the game, the Bulldogs showed their will to win, when they overcame a 47-28 fourth-quarter deficit in the final six minutes to shock the Hawks.

Athens Academy at Commerce

When:Friday

Where: Ray Lamb Stadium

Coaches: Commerce, Michael Brown; Athens Academy, Michael Gunn

Records: Commerce (4-3, 2-1 Region 8-A); Athens Academy (4-2, 1-1)

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.). Athens Academy, LB Zander Mason (5-10, 170 Sr.); QB/K Michael Santamaria (5-9, 150 Sr.); WR/LB Richard Ferguson (5-11, 170 Jr.).

Outlook: Commerce is in prime position to make the Class A public school playoffs, while Athens Academy needs to keep winning in order to make the competitive private school playoff bracket.

Tonight, the two teams meet in Athens looking to secure a victory that will help move them towards securing playoff berths in their respective divisions in Class A. Commerce enters with a 4-3 overall record but has key Class A wins over George Walton Academy and Athens Christian and has victories over larger classification schools East Jackson and Banks County.

All the victories have helped the Tigers climb to the No. 8 spot in the Class A public school rankings. The top 16 teams make the playoffs.

Greene County at Union County

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville

Coaches: Greene County, Robert Edwards; Union County, Brian Allison

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

Key Players: Greene County, DE/FB Demone Kemp (6-3, 232 Jr.); DE Jonathon Cleveland (So.); QB Christian Whitner (Jr.). Union County, WR Robert Prunier (5-9, 175 Jr.); WR Jacob Rogers (6-3, 185 Jr.); OL/DL Luther Jones (6-0, 290 Sr.).

Outlook: Union County will depend on tonight’s game against Greene County to truly make an impact on the region and help push it toward a playoff spot.

With games remaining against Rabun County and Jefferson, the Panthers need to earn a win against Greene County and Social Circle in order to earn a playoff berth.

Union County finished with a better overall record than Greene County last season, but a loss to the Tigers dropped Union County’s region record to 3-4, giving Greene County the No. 4 seed and leaving the Panthers out of the playoffs for the 11th-straight year.

Towns County at North Cobb Christian

When: 7:30 Friday

Where: North Cobb Christian School, Acworth

Coaches: Towns County, Blair Harrison; North Cobb Christian, Scott Ryle

Records: Towns County (1-5); North Cobb Christian (1-5)

Key Players: Towns County, QB Jackson Noblet (5-10, 205 Sr.); OL/DL Jaryd Gurley (6-2, 303 Sr.); RB/DB Zach Sewell (5-7, 165 Jr.). North Cobb Christian, RB David Brittingham (5-8, 160 So.); LB Reese Park (5-11, 163 So.); WR John Towne (6-4, 195 Sr.).

Outlook: The Indians earned their first win of the season against Copper Basin (Tenn.) on Oct. 4 and had a bye week last week to improve upon their successes. 

North Cobb Christian is another one-win team with a vastly different schedule, but the Eagles have found ways to put up 19 or more points in each of their last three games.

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