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High school football: State quarterfinal previews
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Sandy Creek at Gainesville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville

Radio: 1240-AM

Coaches: Sandy Creek, Chip Walker; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Records: No. 1 Sandy Creek (12-0, No. 1 Region 4-AAA), No. 6 Gainesville (11-1, No. 1 Region 8-AAA)

Key players: Sandy Creek, WR JaQuay Williams (6-3, 204 Sr.), DE Quinteze Williams (6-3, 295 Sr.), OL Will Adams (6-3, 280 Sr.). Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-2, 185 So.), DB Fred Payne (5-9, 170 Jr.), WR Stephen Mason (5-10, 160 Sr.).

Outlook: Gainesville has survived two very tough tests in the playoffs to this point, but the Red Elephants draw the state’s best with the two-time defending state champion Patriots tonight at City Park Stadium. 

After Gainesville knocked off Dalton in the first round and survived a battle with Monroe-Albany last Friday at City Park Stadium, Sandy Creek comes to town with its 41-game winning streak. 

Sandy Creek’s average margin of victory this year is 30 points with only two wins by less than 10 (Stockbridge and Eastside).

Meanwhile, Gainesville is looking to get back on track offensively after a 16-point output against the Tornadoes last week. Red Elephants senior place kicker Aiden Reising helped keep the season alive with an 18-yard field goal to break a 13-13 tie with 4:05 left to play, sending Gainesville into the state quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons.

Sandy Creek hasn’t had any troubles in the playoffs so far. After a 55-12 first-round win against Butler, the Patriots knocked off Troup 42-14 last Friday in Tyrone. 

Sandy Creek’s roster is populated with Division-I recruits. WR JaQuay Williams (43 catches, 957 yards) is verbally committed to Auburn, while running back Mike Hilton (102 carries, 802 yards) is verbally committed to Ole Miss, according to

The line of scrimmage is also strong for Sandy Creek. Defensive end Quinteze Williams (37 tackles) is committed to the University of Florida, and Adams is planning the sign with Georgia Tech.

Still, Gainesville has the athletes to give Sandy Creek a battle. Watson has completed right at 60 percent of his passes this season for 2,713 yards and 35 touchdowns. 

He’s also the team’s leading rusher with 805 yards.

“You look at Sandy Creek and understand why they’ve won state back to back years,” Miller said. “They’re just solid all around.”

The Red Elephants’ leading targets at wide receiver are Mason (53 catches, 844 yards), Justin Cantrell (48 catches, 676 yards) and Tray Harrison (29 catches, 643 yards). 

Sandy Creek’s defense may be its strength, allowing only 8 points per game. 

Miller said if Gainesville plays at its best in all phases, it has a chance of winning. Miller’s not going to use Sandy Creek’s winning streak — which dates back to Week 1 of the 2009 season — as an excuse not to win.

“Somebody’s got to beat them eventually,” Miller said.

Prediction: SANDY CREEK. It’s been a great season for the Red Elephants, but the Patriots are just a bit too strong on both sides of the ball.


Flowery Branch at Tucker

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Adams Stadium, Atlanta


Radio: 1330-AM, 102.9-FM

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Tucker, Franklin Stephens

Records: Flowery Branch (11-1 No. 3 Region 8-AAAA); Tucker (12-0 No. 1 Region 6-AAAA)

Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Kanler Coker (6-4, 210 Sr.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 220 Jr.), RB Jeremy Haley (5-8, 210 Sr.). Tucker, QB Juwaan Williams (6-0, 172 Jr.), RB/DB Jordan Landry (5-8, 163 Sr.), TE/LB Justin Rivers (6-1, 202 Sr.).

Outlook: The two top offenses in Class AAAA will meet at Adams Stadium tonight. Flowery Branch has averaged nearly 46 points per game while Tucker has averages more than 47.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the teams are in for a shootout because Tucker has also allowed just nine points per game on defense, while the Falcons have allowed just 17 per game.

The two teams are both in the quarterfinals for the third time in the last four years, but have taken very different roads to reach this spot.

Flowery Branch couldn’t have started any more dominant, leading the state in scoring for the first part of the season and winning eight of its first nine games by at least 21 points. 

Since the 9-0 start, the Falcons are 2-1 and have allowed 97 points while scoring 107. Flowery Branch rallied to defeat Johns Creek 41-38 on the final play in the first round of the playoffs and then erased a 14-3 deficit early to defeat Thomas County Central 31-21 last week.

Tucker opened the season with an 11-point win over Southwest DeKalb and a 15-11 win over Marist. Since then, the Tigers have outscored opponents by an average of 54-10. 

Even in the playoffs, the No. 1 team in Class AAAA hasn’t slowed down, blowing by Sprayberry 44-14 before shutting out Griffin 46-0 last week.

Stephens, who won a state title with the Tigers in 2008 and took the team to the semifinals last year, is 61-6 in five season at the helm, according to Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

Shaw, who has been at Flowery Branch since its start in 2002, is 79-40 at the school, including a loss in the Class AAA title game to Cairo in 2008.

Both coaches have multiple ways to attack defenses. 

Williams threw for two scores and 100 yards on just 4 of 6 passing last week against Griffin, and Yusuf Minor and Rivers accounted for three rushing scores and a kickoff return for a touchdown. Landry also caught a touchdown pass, ran for a touchdown and grabbed an interception on defense.

Flowery Branch also has a number of options on offense, led by Coker, who has 2,469 yards passing and 29 touchdowns through the air, along with 738 yards rushing and another 13 scores on the ground.

Haley has rushed for 1,280 yards and 20 touchdowns and senior wideouts C.J. Curry and Casey Osborne have combined to account for 20 receiving touchdowns.

While the defense has allowed more points recently, the Falcons have become more opportunistic, forcing another five turnovers last week against Thomas County Central, including four fumbles and an interception by cornerback Noel Padmore, who has a team-high three this season, two in the playoffs.

Prediction: TUCKER. Flowery Branch has rallied to defeat its first two playoff opponents, but the Tigers are too solid and talented to allow the Falcons any room for error.


Elbert County at Buford

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Coaches: Elbert County, Sid Fritts; Buford, Jess Simpson

Records: Elbert County (11-1 No. 3 Region 8-AA South); Buford (12-0 No. 1 Region 6-AA)

Key players: Elbert County, RB Tyshon Dye (6-2, 180 Jr.), FB Demetrious Sanders (5-11, 190 Sr.), QB/FS Hunter Blackmon (5-9, 160 So.). Buford, LB/TE Dillon Lee (6-5, 240 Sr.), RB/LB Andre Johnson (5-11, 220 Sr.), OL/DL Vadal Alexander (6-6, 340 Sr.).

Outlook: Not much can be said about Buford that hasn’t already been said this season. It wins in the same fashion each week — with stifling defense and a consistent running game.

The defense, after its shutout of Jefferson County last Friday, allows just 4.8 points per game, best in all of Class AA. The shutout was its sixth of the season, keeping its total points allowed this season at 58. By comparison, the Wolves have scored at least 49 points in seven games, and have topped 58 twice.

The running game gets production from a number of players. Most often it has been Johnson (787 yards and 15 touchdowns) or Dontravious Wilson (532 yards and seven touchdowns). Last week, it was fullback Nathan Staub who tallied 133 yards on just five carries, including a 90-yard touchdown run.

There’s very little drama in the Wolves’ wins.

Their closest contest this year has been a margin of victory of 28 points, which has occurred on three occasions. In the rest of its games, Buford wins by an average of about 45 points.

In a 31-0 win over Jefferson County last Friday, Buford held Dontavious Kitchens, a 1,000-yard rusher, to just 34 yards, and gave up only 85 overall.

Understandably, this game would appear to be a one-sided contest, despite the great things Elbert County has been able to do this year. 

The Blue Devils have lost just one game, 17-6 to North Oconee, and have often won games in a dominating fashion.They allow just 9.2 points per game, as compared to 31 scored on offense. 

Elbert County also presents perhaps the toughest individual offensive threat Buford has faced this season in running back Dye, who has more than 1,300 rushing yards this season, and has proven to be a dynamic player on offense.

The task for Elbert County, which runs the ball a large majority of the time, is to do what no one else has so far this season against Buford: move the ball on the ground. A successful running game would offer more scoring opportunities and would keep the grind-it-out Buford offense off the field.

If the Blue Devils can’t do that, it’s hard to imagine this game straying much from the script the Wolves have written all year.

Prediction: BUFORD. Elbert County is better than good, but don’t expect much difference in this result for Buford.

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