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Playoff puzzle still unfinished as final week of regular season approaches
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East Hall’s Jacques Ash finds running space against Franklin County on Oct. 24 at East Hall Stadium. - photo by Jared Putnam | The Times

Friday's games

Gainesville at Flowery Branch

White County at North Hall

Banks County at East Hall

Johnson at Dawson County

Lumpkin County at West Hall

Chestatee at Monroe Area

Lakeview Academy at Commerce

Riverside Military Academy at Social Circle

Buford at Stephens County

Jefferson at Hart County

Morgan County at Jackson County

Washington-Wilkes at Union County

Chattahoochee at Habersham Central

East Hall is one of the many local programs that have the peace of mind knowing they will play in the postseason.

However, like the vast majority of the high school football field, the Vikings (5-4, 3-2 Region 7-AAA) are still in a battle to improve their playoff position for first round games on Nov. 14.

With a game Friday against Banks County to round out the regular season and finalize playoff seeding, the Vikings can go into the state tournament as either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, depending on the outcome of their game, along with Fannin County’s game at Franklin County.

Vikings coach Bryan Gray knows if his team wins, it goes in as a No. 3 and lock up a winning record for the first time since last making the playoffs in 2005.

“Earning a winning record is another mark we’ve been shooting for as a program,” said Gray, who is in his eighth season as East Hall’s coach. “Once we get into the playoffs, we’re playing with house money.”

Region 7-AAA, and East Hall’s quest to improve its playoff position, is indicative of the entire area. With the exception of Gainesville (7-2, 7-1 Region 8-AAAAA), every postseason qualifier can go up or down with their playoff spot, depending on the outcome of Friday’s games.

The Red Elephants, who face cross-county rival Flowery Branch on Friday, have already locked up the second spot in Region 8-AAAAA. Gainesville will open the postseason at City Park Stadium on Nov. 14, but will likely have to go on the road should it advance further.

After that, there’s plenty still riding on the final night of the regular season for those postseason bound. Consider this: Regions 8-AAAA, 8-AAA, 7-AAA, 8-AA and 8-A will all crown champions based on what takes place this week.

Class AAA’s fourth-ranked Jefferson (9-0, 5-0 Region 8-AAA) and Class AAAA’s top-ranked Buford (9-0, 6-0 Region 8-AAAA) both still need a win to secure a region title.

Union County (8-1, 4-1 Region 8-AA) could be slotted anywhere from No. 1 to No. 4 based on the outcome of its game Friday against Washington-Wilkes (6-3, 3-2) in Blairsville, factored in with Greene County’s (5-4, 4-1) contest against current frontrunner Rabun County (7-2, 5-0) in Tiger.

Even though Gainesville is still the exception to the rule, already knowing its playoff position, it doesn’t take anything away from Friday’s matchup against the Falcons (5-4, 4-4), who are riding a three-game region winning streak.

The Red Elephants and Falcons have played in many great high-scoring battles over the past decade, including Gainesville’s win in a 2009 Class AAA state semifinal game.

Though slim, Flowery Branch still has a shot at making the postseason. The Falcons, first, have to beat Gainesville.

Secondly, Flowery Branch would need Salem (5-3 in region play) to lose to winless Cedar Shoals (0-9) in Athens.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller feels like Flowery Branch is especially dangerous right now.

“Flowery Branch has been playing a lot better and they really have nothing to lose,” said Miller, who has guided the Red Elephants to the postseason every year since he arrived in 2002. “This game is for bragging rights, so you can take the records and throw them right out the window.”

Flowery Branch owns the head-to-head advantage over Salem for the final playoff spot after last Friday’s 7-6 come-from-behind win in Conyers.

In Region 7-AAA, West Hall (8-1, 5-0) hosts Lumpkin County (5-4, 4-1) on Friday with the championship going to the victor in Oakwood. Neither program has even won a region championship in football, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

Both programs are already a lock to host a first-round playoff game as the top two seeds to the postseason. In Region 8-AAAA, White County (5-4, 3-3) is right on the playoff bubble.

The Warriors need a win against North Hall (2-7, 2-4), or Madison County loss at North Oconee (6-3, 5-1) to lock up No. 4 to the postseason.

While the top spot in Region 8-AAAA is technically still up in the air, it’s likely Buford will claim its 25th region title in program history. The defending state champions need a win against Stephens County (7-2, 5-1) in Toccoa to wrap up the region title.

The Wolves’ defense has already pitched four shutouts this season, while Buford has scored more than 50 points five times this season.

Stephens County’s lone loss was 21-14 in overtime against North Oconee last Friday. Buford topped North Oconee head to head 58-3 on Oct. 24 in Bogart.

In Class A, Commerce is on track to continue its playoff streak that dates back to 1997. The Tigers, currently ranked No. 5 in the Class A public school bracket, host Lakeview Academy (3-6, 3-4) on Friday. The top 16 schools in both the public and private school standings make the postseason in the state’s smallest classification.

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