As the regular season comes to a close, the focus of many turns to the state playoffs.
This year, while many of the usual suspects are closing in on playoff berths, there are a couple of teams that are new to the scene.
East Hall (5-4, 3-2 8-AA North), after a big win over Banks County on Friday, has a chance at its first playoff berth since 2000. Coming off of four consecutive losing seasons, the Vikings will face the second seed in 8-AA South, Elbert County (8-1, 5-1), with a chance to win six games for the first time since 2005.
Banks County (7-2, 4-1) while dropping the game to the Vikings, will still have a chance to play for its first region title in school history. It will play North Oconee (9-0, 6-0) for the championship and a chance at its most wins since 1998 on Friday.
Also in 8-AA, Dawson County, after a three-win season a year ago, will play Jefferson for a chance at advancing to the playoffs.
There are, of course, many of the regulars contending once again.
Gainesville will face Stephens County on Friday in an attempt at its fourth consecutive region championship. Meanwhile, Flowery Branch, which has already clinched its seventh straight playoff appearance, will play Clarke Central. A win in this game will give the Falcons their first region title in school history.
GAINESVILLE STRONG BOTH WAYS IN 2011: After losing a number of key starters on the defensive side of the ball, the Red Elephants were forced with a difficult task in 2011. After recording three shutouts in region play, including limiting opponents to less than 100 yards in its last two games, Gainesville appears to have passed the test.
On Friday, it also got a big game on offense from an unexpected source, freshman running back Michael Byrd. On a wet night where passing became more difficult, the Red Elephants got 211 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Byrd. As a team, Gainesville had a season high in rushing with 378 yards in the game.
MILESTONES: A number of milestones were achieved during play on Friday.
Dawson County running back Zach Martin rushed for 165 yards in a 41-7 win over Rabun County to boost his season total over 1,000 yards. He has also scored 16 touchdowns on the ground.
East Hall’s Jamond Witt and Jeremy Haley of Flowery Branch also crossed the 1,000-yard plateau. Witt carried 25 times for 135 yards in a 34-17 win over Banks County, while Haley picked up 134 on 15 carries in a 54-8 Falcons win over Salem.
North Hall running back Imani Cross quietly passed 1,500 yards for the season, gaining 65 in a 39-14 loss to Stephens County.
Lakeview Academy achieved a team milestone for the second year in a row, winning four games and tying the school record for wins in a season.