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HS Football Previews: Playoffs first round
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Gainesville vs. Creekview

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Creekview, Terry Crowder

Records: No. 2 Region 8-AAAAA Gainesville (8-2); No. 3 Region 7-AAAAA Creekview (6-4)

Key players: Gainesville, QB Mikey Gonzalez (5-9, 165 Sr.); RB Michael Byrd (5-7, 170 Sr.); LB J.D. Sosebee (6-0, 220 Sr.). Creekview, QB Kyle Wilkie (6-0, 190 Jr.); RB B.J. Smith (5-6, 180 Sr.); WR/DB Dawson Ewers (6-1, 165 Jr.).

Outlook: For the seventh consecutive season, the Red Elephants are opening the postseason at City Park Stadium. Gainesville earned the second seed to the postseason, after winning four straight in region play to round out the regular season. Creekview, making its third straight postseason, also won four straight to wrap up region play.

Both the Red Elephants and Grizzlies like to open it up on offense with the passing game but also have viable running threats. After completing 12 of 14 passes against Flowery Branch, Gonzalez is up to 2,454 passing yards and 29 touchdown throws. The Red Elephants have plenty of options for the one-year starter at QB to throw the ball.

Messiah Dorsey (698 receiving yards), Chris Williamson (669 yards) and Rodney Lackey (561 yards) are Gonzalez’s top three targets. In the running department, Byrd has three straight 100-yard games and is up to 528 yards.

Gainesville has rushed for 933 yards this season. The Red Elephants have scored more than 40 points five times this season.

For Creekview, Wilkie has thrown for 2,071 yards. He has 16 touchdown passes and thrown 12 interceptions. Ewers has 800 receiving yards (20 per reception), while backup quarterback Chandler Wold has 32 catches for 521 yards. Smith has picked up big yards for Creekview running the ball, carrying it 190 times for 813 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Grizzlies have gone over 40 points twice.

Creekview made it to the postseason out of a region with 14 teams.

This is the first all-time meeting between Gainesville and Creekview.

The winner advances to face the Warner Robins/Harris County winner on Nov. 21.

Buford vs. SE Whitfield

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Coaches: Buford, Jess Simpson; Southeast Whitfield, Sean Gray

Records: No. 1 Region 8-AAAA Buford (10-0); No. 4 Region 7-AAAA Southeast Whitfield (6-4)

Key players: Buford, RB Joshua Thomas (6-1, 210 Sr.); TE/DE Isaac Nauta (6-4, 245 Jr.); WR/DB David Curry (6-2,195 Sr.). Southeast Whitfield, RB Tyler Brown (Jr.); QB Will Swantic (Jr.); RB/LB Devin Fields (Jr.).

Outlook: Buford and Southeast Whitfield are on the opposite end of the football tradition spectrum. The top-ranked Wolves, riding a 35-game winning streak, have made the postseason every season since 1999. Meanwhile, Southeast Whitfield advanced to the postseason for the first time since 1986, after a 7-0 10-minute mini-game win against Heritage-Ringgold to determine the final playoff spot in Region 7-AAAA on Monday at Coahulla Creek High.

Buford, led by Thomas in the running game, has rushed for 2,539 yards through the first 10 games. Meanwhile, the Wolves’ stellar defensive unit has allowed just 391 rushing yards all season. To further prove the domination of the Wolves’ defensive unit is the fact they have allowed just one rushing touchdown all season. Buford has more than tripled the offensive production of its opponents in games this season: 3,469 yards of offense against 1,019 yards allowed.

Buford went over 50 points six times in the regular season, while putting together five defensive shutouts.
The mini-game victory got Southeast Whitfield into the postseason, despite losing four of its last five games in the regular season.

Despite only 58 carries through the regular season, Thomas is Buford’s leading rusher with 565 yards and 11 touchdowns. Xavier Gantt is second for the Wolves running backs with 49 carries for 531 yards and seven touchdowns.

With most of Buford’s regular-season games well under control by halftime, it has had 28 different ball carriers this season. On defense, Konnor Houston has a team-high 50 tackles and a pair of sacks for the Wolves.
In the second round, the winner advances to face the Mary Persons/Westover winner.

Lumpkin County vs. Elbert County

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega

Coaches: Lumpkin County, Ty Maxwell; Elbert County, Sid Fritts

Records: No. 2 Region 7-AAA Lumpkin County (5-5); No. 3 Region 8-AAA Elbert County (7-3)

Key players: Lumpkin County, RB/LB Zach Matthews (6-1, 190 So.); QB/DB Gunner Wood (5-10, 175); OL/DL Garrett Gray (5-10, 225 Sr.). Elbert County, RB/LB Rantious Reed (5-10, 175 Sr.); QB/DB Mecole Hardman (5-11, 170 Jr.); WR/DE/P Montavious Finch (6-3, 200 Jr.).

Outlook: After proving tough in Region 7-AAA all season, the Indians are playing their first home playoff game in school history, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. After losing in the region championship game to West Hall last Friday, Lumpkin County is in the postseason for the first time since 2003, when Maxwell was a two-way starter.

The program’s only four previous playoff appearances were 2000-2003, all four first-round exits.

Lumpkin County got into position to earn the No. 2 spot from Region 7-AAA with three straight wins to open region play.

Elbert County has played probably a more significantly tougher schedule, only losing in region play to Hart County and Jefferson. Both the Bulldogs and Dragons entered the Region 8-AAA title game ranked and undefeated on the season, before Jefferson emerged victorious 21-14.

Elbert County relies heavily on the ground game. Reed is coming off a 216-yard outing against Oconee County, a season-high, and has rushed for 1,140 yards and 19 touchdowns for the year. Reed has gone over 100 yards in four straight outings, which started with a season-high four touchdowns against Jackson County on Oct. 10. The Blue Devils have accounted for about 80 percent of their offensive yards running the ball with 2,811 yards.

Hardman is second for Elbert County rushing with 543 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sophomore Turner Banks has completed 32 of 72 passes for 548 yards for the Blue Devils.

White County at Cartersville

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: Weinman Stadium, Cartersville

Coaches: White County, Bill Ballard; Cartersville, Joey King

Records: Region 8-AAAA No. 4 White County (6-4); Region 7-AAAA No. 1 Cartersville (9-1)

Key players: White County, RB/CB Maurice Sutton (6-0, 190 Sr.); RB/LB Sam Turner (5-11, 205 Sr.); DE/WR/TE Tucker Cook (6-3, 195 Sr.). Cartersville, QB Trevor Lawrence (6-4, 180 Fr.); WR/CB Trase Fezzia (5-10, 162 So.); WR Terrius Callahan (6-0, 165 Jr.)

Outlook: The Warriors closed the season with consecutive victories against Chestatee, Monroe Area and North Hall to wrap up a school-record third straight playoff appearance under Ballard, in his fourth year, and fourth postseason trip in five seasons.

Meanwhile, the Purple Hurricanes continued their program’s recent tear with a third straight region championship that boosted their overall record to 33-3 since the start of the 2012 season. Cartersville did it with first-year head coach King at the helm.

Sutton has led the way for the White County offense, with 13 rushing touchdowns, three receiving scores and a touchdown pass. Turner and Max Taylor share the carries with Sutton, with senior quarterback A.J. Vandiver also a running threat. Sutton paced the Warriors with 122 yards and three touchdowns at North Hall, and Turner totaled 76 yards and two touchdowns on five carries.

White County has averaged 47 points in its current three-game winning streak and scored 30 points per game for the whole season, but the Warriors offense faces a tall challenge against a Purple Hurricanes defense that has allowed 8.5 points per contest. Cartersville allowed a mere 17 points in its final six games, including two shutouts and a 27-2 win against Pickens last week to secure the region title.

A White County defense allowing 27.9 points per game will be tested by a Purple Hurricanes offense averaging 41 points. Lawrence, Cartersville’s freshman quarterback, has thrown for 2,141 yards, 19 touchdowns and four interceptions while completing 64.6 percent of his passes to lead an attack that hit the 40-point mark seven times.

The Purple Hurricanes come in on an eight-game winning streak of their own, with their lone loss coming 27-26 at North Cobb on Sept. 5.

Cartersville won state championships in 1991 and 1999.

Jefferson vs. Franklin County

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson

Coaches: Jefferson, Ben Hall; Franklin County, Jerry Underwood

Records: No. 1 Region 8-AAA Jefferson (10-0); No. 4 Region 7-AAA Franklin County (4-6)

Key players: Jefferson, RB Sammy Williams (5-7, 170 Sr.); QB Evan Shirreffs (6-5, 195 Sr.); LB Trent Sorrells (6-0, 190 Sr.). Franklin County, RB Conner Williams (5-8, 150 So.); QB Tyrique David (5-11, 170 So.); LB Ben Smith (Jr.).

Outlook: With a win in the Region 8-AAA championship game against Hart County last Friday, fourth-ranked Jefferson completed its first perfect regular season since 2009, winner of its first 11 straight through the first round of the postseason. That season, the Dragons lost a close battle to Buford 30-22 in the second round of state.

Everything seems to be going right for Jefferson this season. The seven-point win against No. 9 Hart County for the region championship was the Dragons’ closest of the season. Jefferson put up more than 40 points in six regular season games, while holding the opposition under 10 six times.

Shirreffs orchestrates Jefferson’s offense with his strong right arm. He’s completed almost 75 percent of balls thrown for 2,050 yards and 19 touchdowns. Dalton Hill is the Dragons’ main long-range passing threat with 36 catches for 869 yards and nine touchdowns. T.J. Skelton is second on the team with 32 catches for 671 yards and six touchdowns.

Williams has taken over as Jefferson’s main rushing threat with 177 carries for 1,110 yards and 17 touchdowns. Early in the season, he was splitting carries with freshman Colby Wood, who now stands at 650 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Despite a losing regular-season record, Franklin County is in the postseason for the first time since 2011. The last time the Lions won a playoff game was 2000.

The winner faces the Westside (Macon)/Dodge County winner in the second round on Nov. 21.

Union County vs. Model

When: 7:30 Friday night

Where: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville

Coaches: Union County, Brian Allison; Model, Gordon Powers

Records: No. 2 Region 8-AA Union County (9-1); No. 3 Region 7-AA Model (8-2)

Key players: Union County, QB Joseph Mancuso (6-4, 200 Jr.); WR/LB Jacob Rogers (6-2, 180 Sr.); RB/LB Chase Barnett (5-9, 200 Sr.). Model, RB/LB T.J. Arnold (Jr.); QB/DB Tyler Dean (Sr.); WR/DB Jamaunn Bailey (Sr.).

Outlook: Union County is hosting its first playoff game since 2001, the final year in Allison’s initial six-year stint as coach at Union County. The Panthers’ only loss during the regular season was against Region 8-AA champion Rabun County, 45-31, on Oct. 17 in Blairsville.

The Panthers are seeking their first postseason victory in 58 years playing football, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Union County is in the postseason for the second straight year.

Mancuso has thrown for 2,672 yards, the most of any quarterback in Northeast Georgia, with 33 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He went over 300-passing yards four times during the regular season.

Union County has a pass-heavy offense, throwing for 2,699 yards and rushing for 1,765 during the regular season.

Rogers has been the Panthers’ leading receiver with 41 catches for 815 yards and 15 touchdowns. Senior Robert Prunier is second in receiving yards with 42 catches for 622 yards and seven touchdowns for the Panthers.

Barnett is Union County’s leader in both rushing yards (550) and tackles (137).

Model surged into the postseason with back-to-back region victories against Chattooga and Gordon Lee to wrap up the regular season. Both of the Blue Devils’ region losses this season (Coosa and Darlington) were by a touchdown.

Model is in the playoffs for the third straight season but has not won a postseason game since finishing 15-0 and Class AA state champions in 1979.

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