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HS football previews: Week 7
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Game of the Week: Washington-Wilkes at Jefferson

Holloway: Johnson players making the most of nonregion schedule

Gainesville at Cedar Shoals

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Waters-Wilkins Stadium, Athens

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Cedar Shoals, Chris Davis

Records: Gainesville (4-1, 3-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Cedar Shoals (3-2, 1-2)

Key players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 190 Jr.); WR Rodney Lackey (5-10, 160 So.); LB Devan Stringer (5-11, 180 Jr.). Cedar Shoals, RB Adrian Washington (6-0, 210 Jr.); WR Chris Middlebrooks (6-1, 170 Sr.); QB Darius Jordan (5-11, 160 Jr.).

Outlook: Watson has the Gainesville offense clicking on all cylinders. The Red Elephants defense has also held up its end of the bargain.

Watson has shot to the front of the pack as the area’s leading passer with 1,423 yards and 17 touchdowns through the air, while fifth in the area with 403 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. After surpassing 60 points twice in region play, the Red Elephants are first in the area with 44.4 points and 453 yards per game.
An unproven young player to start the season, Lackey has surged to the front of the pack in the area with 452 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Gainesville’s defense has been a bit overshadowed by a prolific offense, but remains one of the area’s best. Opponents are only averaging 16 points and 190 yards per outing against Gainesville, which is led by Stringer at linebacker (63 tackles, three for a loss), while defensive tackle Damian Grayson has four sacks and a pair of quarterback hurries.

Gainesville has only allowed an average of 11 points in its three region contests.

Cedar Shoals can not afford to lose again if it hopes to stay in the playoff race. The Jaguars lost back-to-back region games by wide margins against Flowery Branch and Heritage last month. Cedar Shoals has given up an average of 30 points per game in region play. Last week, the Jaguars won their first region game against Loganville, 28-26.

Cedar Shoals is led in the running game by Washington (777 yards, eight touchdowns). Cedar Shoals quarterback Darius Jordan has completed 65 percent of his passes for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Jaguars are too vulnerable on defense to keep up with the Big Red.

Flowery Branch at Apalachee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: R. Harold Harrison Stadium, Winder

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin; Apalachee, Shane Davis

Records: Flowery Branch (3-2, 3-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Apalachee (1-3, 0-2)

Key players: Flowery Branch, RB Justin Curry (5-11, 180 So.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 237 Sr.), QB Jackson McDonald (5-11, 172 Jr.). Apalachee, DE Johnny Thompson (6-3, 205 Sr.); LB Rakim Peters (6-2, 225 Sr.); RB Eric Tanner (5-10, 200 Sr.).

Outlook: Flowery Branch has had a relatively easy start to the region schedule with three wins — including last week’s 35-18 win over Salem — by an average score of 42-20.

That also happens to be the score of last year’s win against Apalachee, the Falcons’ next opponent and a team that has been lurking just outside of the top half of the region since going 10-0 and winning a Region 8-AAAA title in 2009.

The Wildcats, 4-6 a year ago, run the Wing-T, led by fullback Tanner (400 yards rushing and three touchdowns) and wing back Zay Henry (337 yards and three touchdowns). This year, the run-based attack has averaged just 18 points per game against a tough early season schedule, which included a pair of defending region champions: Gainesville (the defending 8-AAA champion) and Clarke Central (co-Region 8-AAAA champion).

Flowery Branch has been led this season by an increasingly effective McDonald (62 for 97 for 613 yards passing and eight touchdowns; 378 yards rushing and seven scores), who accounted for all five of the team’s touchdowns last week, three through the air and two running. Curry continues to power the running game, with 549 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 76 carries, good for third in the area.

Allen has a team-high 56 tackles for a Falcons’ defense that has allowed only 16 per game in its last two games.

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons’ offense is starting to click, and the Wildcats don’t have the firepower to keep up.

Chestatee at Johnson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium, Oakwood

Coaches: Chestatee, Stan Luttrell; Johnson, Jason Roquemore

Records: Chestatee (3-1, 2-0 Region 8-AAAA); Johnson (3-2)

Key players: Chestatee, RB Quan Clark (5-10, 188 Sr.), RB A.J. Sijiye (5-11, 150 So.), QB Jordan Degraff (6-0, 155 Sr.). Johnson, RB Cedric Harris (6-0, 200 Sr.); OL/DL Mason Borders (6-2, 315 Sr.); TE/LB Jose Martinez (6-1, 210 Sr.).

Outlook: The War Eagles are flying high after opening the region schedule with wins over two of their new region’s expected top contenders: Eastside and Stephens County.

Now they stepped briefly out of region play for a matchup with Johnson and star running back Harris, who leads the area with 718 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries running out of Roquemore’s newly installed triple-option offense.

The Knights had a bye last Friday, a week after beating East Hall 22-21.

The War Eagles have been good at winning close games too, beating Eastside 57-56 in two overtimes, and Stephens County 24-20.

Like Johnson, the Chestatee running game has been key. Clark is behind only Harris in the area with 584 rushing yards and four scores on 90 carries, and Degraff has added 283 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 41 carries, while running the split-back veer offense, which has averaged 312.8 rushing yards per game. The offense has also averaged 35.8 points per game, third in the area.

Johnson hasn’t been as explosive on offense, but the defense has kept every team but one — a 55-7 loss to North Hall — under 30 points scored. Martinez leads the team with 45 tackles, 11 for loss, and defensive back Dre Johnson has two interceptions.

Chestatee won last year’s matchup 46-13.

Prediction: CHESTATEE. After two big region wins, the War Eagles are on fire heading into the rivalry game.

North Hall at East Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: East Hall Stadium, Gainesville

Radio: 102.9-FM, 1330-AM

Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; East Hall, Bryan Gray

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

Key players: North Hall, T.J. Tate (5-8, 165 Sr.); QB/DB Andrew Smith (5-8, 145 Jr.), RB/OLB Kevin Christmas (5-8, 170 Sr.). East Hall, FB/LB Edward Vergara (5-5, 162 Jr.), OL/DL Devonte Benton (6-5, 263 Sr.), RB Austin Mahaffey (5-9, 185 Sr.).

Outlook: These two Hall County rivals are playing a region game again for the first time since 2007, with the Trojans looking to remain a frontrunner after a 47-14 blowout of fellow region contender Dawson County 47-14 last week, and the Vikings still looking for a region win after a 41-12 loss to White County.

Both teams lean on the running game. North Hall’s wishbone offense has been powered by Tate (40 carries for 381 yards and seven touchdowns) and Christmas (40 carries for 391 yards and three touchdowns), both of whom average over 95 yards rushing per game for a an offense that averages over 339 rushing yards per game.

The Trojans also have an all-purpose weapon in Smith, who has thrown two passes, both touchdowns, to go along with 166 yards rushing and three scores. He is also the team’s leading tackler with 45 on a defense that has allowed an average of 119 rushing yards and 104 passing.

The Vikings will look run up North Hall’s defensive numbers behind a running attack of their own, led by Vergara (team-high 228 yards rushing and five touchdowns), who scored two more touchdowns last week, and Mahaffey (212 yards rushing and three touchdowns), who led the team with 91 combined rushing and receiving yards in the loss.

Prediction: NORTH HALL. The Trojans just shut down the same team — Dawson County — that took care of East Hall 42-0 at the beginning of the season.

West Hall at Buford

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Coaches: West Hall, Tony Lotti; Buford, Jess Simpson

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

Key players: West Hall, RB/LB Isaiah Rowe (6-2, 215 So.); OL Blake Manning (6-6, 300 Sr.); QB Zach English (5-11, 175 Jr.). Buford, RB/LB Dontravious Wilson (5-11, 215 Sr.); OL/DL Josh Cardiello (6-4, 285 Sr.); TE/LB Korie Rogers (6-2, 210 Jr.).

Outlook: Even though West Hall has made great strides this season under its first-year coach, playing Buford is too big of a task in almost any season. After a big region win against Banks County, the Spartans fell to Fannin County 31-8 last Friday in Oakwood.

Meanwhile, Buford hasn’t allowed a point in its last two games, following a 19-15 loss to Gainesville on Sept. 7.

The Wolves jumped head first into Region 7-AAA with a 63-0 win against Banks County last Friday. The week before, Buford topped Hancock Central 43-0.

After not playing against Gainesville, Wilson has jumped to the top of Buford’s rushers with 27 carries for 272 yards, including 118 yards last Friday against the Leopards. Tre’ Neal leads the Wolves’ receivers with eight catches for 158 yards. The Wolves are fourth in the area with 34 points per game.

Rowe is the Spartans’ leading rusher with 68 carries for 298 yards and four touchdowns. English has passed for 573 yards and five touchdowns for West Hall. Chase Jarrard is the team’s leading receiver with 13 catches for 200 yards. West Hall’s defense has played well, allowing an average of 275 yards per outing.

Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves are starting to play with some swagger.

Rabun County at Riverside Military

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Maginnis Field, Gainesville

Coaches: Rabun County, Lee Shaw; Riverside Military, Gary Downs.

Records: Rabun County (3-1, 1-0 Region 8-AA); Riverside Military (0-4, 0-2)

Key players: Rabun County, WR/DB Charlie Woerner (6-4, 190 Fr.); QB Wes Holcombe (6-0, 175 Jr.); LB Hunter O’Shields (5-10, 190 Jr.). Riverside Military, QB Collin Pettell (6-4, 220 Jr.); OLB Montana Ogbu (6-0, 190 Sr.); OL/LB John-Mark McFarlane (5-11, 190 Jr.).

Outlook: At 3-1, Rabun County is off to its best start since 1999 when it finished 6-4, one year after a state quarterfinal appearance in Class A. The Wildcats’ biggest improvement has been on offense, averaging almost 33 points per appearance. Rabun County’s only loss this season was a 18-17 come-from-behind win by Commerce on Sept. 21. Rabun County rebounded nicely behind senior Kendall Woodard’s 115 rushing yards and won 49-23 against Social Circle last Friday.

Rabun County’s offense is very balanced with 724 rushing yards and 708 passing to date. Holcombe has thrown for 644 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 369 yards and three touchdowns. Woerner is his leading receiving target with a team-high 260 receiving yards. On defense, Woerner has a team-high 47.5 tackles with two interceptions and O’Shields has 34.5 tackles, five for a loss.

Riverside Military is back at Maginnis Field for the first time since the season opener against Whitefield Academy, a 41-0 loss. After not scoring in its first two games, Riverside Military scored a season-high 12 points last Friday against Oglethorpe County in Lexington.

Prediction: RABUN COUNTY. The Wildcats are starting to play with confidence under Shaw’s leadership.

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 (3-2, 1-1 Region 7-AAA); Banks County (1-4, 0-2)

Key players: Dawson County, QB Tyler Dominy (6-4, 178 Sr.), WR/DB Bruce Clark (6-4, 210 Sr.), WR/DB Chris Sayler (5-9, 160 Jr.). Banks County, QB Tyler Hubbard (5-9, 180 Sr.), RB/DB Wes Faulkner (5-9, 180 Jr.), RB/LB Eli Smallwood (6-0, 200 Sr.).

Outlook: Both teams enter tonight’s game in need of a win. For Dawson County, which lost 47-14 to North Hall last week, a victory would keep the Tigers where they expected to be: fighting for a playoff spot. For the Leopards, a win would snap a four-game losing skid and wipe away the memories of last week’s 63-0 loss to Buford.

Space in the 7-AAA playoff race is suddenly very limited with Buford, North Hall and White County taking early steps to pull away from the field, but the Tigers can position themselves well if they avoid an unexpected slip-up.

Though the offense stumbled against North Hall, Dawson County remains among the area’s leaders in points and yardage, thanks largely to Dominy. The lanky senior signal-caller has thrown for 1,337 yards and 16 touchdowns, second in the area in both categories.

His counterpart Hubbard helms Banks County’s spread option offense and poses a dual threat.

The Leopards’ difficulties have come on defense, where they’re allowing more than 35 points per game.

Prediction: DAWSON COUNTY. The prolific Tiger offense should find its footing with some big plays tonight.

Jackson County at Franklin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Ed Bryant Stadium, Carnesville

Coaches: Jackson County, Benji Harrison; Franklin County, Tommy Welch

Records: Jackson County (3-2, 1-1 Region 8-AAA), Franklin County (1-3, 0-1 Region 8-AAA)

Key players: Jackson County, RB/DB Dustin Scott (5-9, 165 Sr.); QB Kyle Daniel (6-2, 190 Sr.); WR Xavier Harper (6-1, 180 Jr.). Franklin County, QB Dakota Mitchell, LB Matthew Boy, LB Dillon Paul.

Outlook: The Panthers possess a number of offensive and defensive weapons that few other teams can match. Daniel is currently the third-best quarterback in the area at 75 for 111 passing with 846 yards and 11 touchdowns. His primary target is Harper, who is second in the area in receiving with 19 receptions for 376 yards and six touchdowns. On the ground, Jackson County relies upon Dustin Scott, one of the top rushers in the area with 365 yards and three scores on 58 carries.

Jackson County’s defense, however, is almost as strong as their offense. Evan Breakspear leads the defense with 56 tackles and two tackles for loss. Daivon Ledford has 49 tackles with three for loss, and Chris Foster has 45 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and five sacks on the season. Keyshaun Curry has a pair of interceptions this season for the Panthers.

Jackson County has only beaten Franklin County once in the history of the two teams, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, but this season’s Panthers are a balanced team with the ability to execute.

Prediction: JACKSON COUNTY. The Panthers offense is starting to find a way to work consistently and will be strong enough to beat a struggling Franklin County team.

Athens Christian at Commerce

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Ray Lamb Stadium, Commerce

Coaches: Athens Christian, Steve Brooks; Commerce, Marvin Justice

Records: Athens Christian (1-4, 0-1 Region 8-A); Commerce (4-1, 0-1)

Key players: Athens Christian, QB/DB Brett Branton (6-1, 170 Jr.), WR/DB Levi Cummings (6-1, 170 Jr.), RB/LB Malik Sims (5-10, 220 Sr.). Commerce, QB Drew Whitfield (5-9, 160 Jr.), OL/LB Chance McClure (6-1, 215 Jr.), RB/DB Terrick Ramsey (5-9, 165 Sr.).

Outlook: Through the first four games, Commerce went unbeaten by dominating late in games, often maintaining possession for a vast majority of the second half. Last week, they took their first loss when George Walton applied the same method, overcoming the Tigers’ 14-7 leads with 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Nonetheless, don’t expect Commerce to switch its game plan and abandon the run-heavy offense that’s made it a force in Class A. Prior to last week, the Tigers had outscored opponents 62-7 in the second half thanks to the running of Ramsey (473 yards, 11.3 avg.), Whitfield (348 yards, 5.0 avg.), Jamal Browner (376 yards, 5.2 avg.) and Quay Little (241 yards, 6.1 avg.). The Tigers rank second in the area in rushing offense at 317 yards per game, fourth in yards allowed per game (240.6) and third in points allowed per game (15.6).

Athens Christian comes to Commerce tonight after losing three straight, including a 40-0 loss to region frontrunner Prince Avenue Christian last week. The Eagles have been shut out in back to back games and average 10 points per game this season, while giving up 32.2.

Prediction: COMMERCE. The Tigers even their region record with convincing victory.

Union County at Oglethorpe County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Patriot Stadium, Lexington

Coaches: Union County, Brian Allison; Oglethorpe County, Larry Milligan

Records: Union County (3-1, 0-1 Region 8-AA); Oglethorpe County (3-1, 1-0)

Key players: Union County, QB T Bentley (6-0, 190 Sr.), OL/DL Luther Jones (6-0, 275 Jr.), LB Chase Barnett (5-7, 185 So.). Oglethorpe County, QB Kendrick Presley (5-10, 190 Sr.); DL Casey Pacheco (6-0, 265 Sr.); MLB Tanner Bowman (6-0, 185 Sr.).

Outlook: Neither Union County or Oglethorpe County have been perfect this season. Union County took its first loss last week, 36-0, vs. seventh-ranked Washington-Wilkes, while the Patriots lost their season opener against Johnson. But when the teams are winning it’s easy to see why.

Union County has been led by a stingy defense that’s giving up only 11.7 points per game in its three wins and is second in the area against the run with only 92.8 rushing yards allowed per game. Jones, who is tied for the area lead with 13 tackles for loss, is a leader up front, while sophomore Barnett is averaging nearly 15 tackles per game.

Conversely, the Patriots’ triple-option offense has been the star in their three victories. Presley leads the attack, and in the last two weeks he’s rushed for 226 yards and six touchdowns.

Prediction: UNION COUNTY. The Panthers are better balanced and battle tested.

Towns County at Copper Basin, Tenn.

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Copper Basin, Tenn.

Coaches: Towns County, Kyle Langford; Copper Basin, Pat Daley

Records: Towns County (0-5, non-region schedule); Copper Basin (5-1, 1-1)

Key players: Towns County, RB/LB Wesley Bloodworth (5-10, 230 Sr.); WR/DB Cruz Shook (5-9, 160 So.); OL/DL Luke Parker (6-3, 275 Sr.). Copper Basin, WR/RB Bryce Nicholson (Sr.); RB Denzel Brown (Jr.); QB Dylan Boggs (Sr.).

Outlook: Towns County continues to struggle this season, losing their closest game yet 37-35 to Rabun Gap two weeks ago. The Indians have had a week off to prepare for a challenge against a strong Tennessee team who has already defeated Hayesville, N.C. this season, 41-14.

The Indians lost to Hayesville in Week 1, 20-12. Towns County isn’t losing by huge margins, the largest being 45-7 against Rabun County, and are averaging 16 points per game, while allowing 27.5. The Indians have shown that they can compete, but they have yet to show that they can win, and this Copper Basin team will not make that feat easy.

Prediction: COPPER BASIN. The Indians simply cannot generate enough offense to overcome this high-scoring team.

Habersham Central at Norcross

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Norcross Stadium, Norcross

Coaches: Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham; Norcross, Keith Maloof

Records: Habersham Central (0-5, 0-3 Region 7-AAAAAA); Norcross (5-0, 3-0)

Key players: Habersham Central, RB Sydnee Mulligan (5-11, 190 Jr.), LB Tucker Williams (So.), LB Gunner Hedden (So.). Norcross, RB Alvin Kamara (5-11, 190 Sr.); RB/WR Myles Autry (5-10, 170 Jr.); QB Joseph Wilber (6-0, 175 Sr.).

Outlook: The Raiders are beginning to see some players emerge as leaders on defense. Williams leads the area in tackles with 64, and Hedden is not far behind with 52. But although these players have shown some of their skill, Habersham Central still allows 36.5 points per game while only scoring an average of 5.8 points. The offense has yet to find players that can produce at the level of the Kevin Ellison-led 2011 team.

The Blue Devils are undefeated this season with their closest win a 49-41 victory over Mill Creek last week. Kamara has 555 yards and seven touchdowns on 55 carries, and Wilber is 66 for 94 with 918 yards passing and 10 touchdowns.

Autry is a threat rushing and receiving. He’s run for 209 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown, and 22 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

Prediction: NORCROSS. Habersham Central hasn’t found the right combination of players this year, and Norcross is a strong Gwinnett County team on a winning streak.

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