Johnson at Gainesville
Lumpkin County at White County
North Hall at Chestatee
Walnut Grove at West Hall
Oconee County at Monroe Area
Stephens County at Franklin County
The first half of the regular season in Region 8-AAA has been a nice way to whet the appetite of fans across the span of this spread out region.
There has been some nice early season matchups and a few surprise programs that have grabbed attention, but for the most part, the first four games have been a way to prime teams for the postseason stretch that begins Friday with subregion play.
“It’s exciting,” said Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell. “We know how competitive this region is and the fact that any team is capable of winning on any given Friday night.”
The main course begins Friday with games that will go a long way to determining which teams earn a spot in a region play-in game the final week of the regular season that will determine playoff seedings. In fact, each of the next five games weigh equally in Region 8-AAA for teams looking to get one of the top three spots in the subregion, necessary for earning a playoff berth.
All 12 playoff-eligible teams in Region 8-AAA have a game against a subregion opponent this week, highlighted by Lumpkin County’s (3-1) trip to face White County (3-1) in Cleveland. As opposed to a straight region schedule, one loss in a subregion format is much more damaging.
“You only play five subregion games,” Gainesville coach Bruce Miller said. “So if you lose just one, then you’re hurting.
“Personally, I like a straight region schedule so you don’t have five games that carry so much weight, but this is the system we all have to play.”
The top three teams in each subregion will play the region play-in game in the final week of the regular season for a playoff spot in the following format: the Region 8A-AAA champion plays host to the Region 8B-AAA for the region title, while No. 2 vs. No. 3 from the crossover subregion will play at the host site of the team from the north subregion for the second playoff spot from each side.
The important thing to realize from this new format is that three teams from the same subregion could conceivably earn a playoff spot. That can happen if the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 from the same side of the region win the region play-in contest. Each subregion champion is assured a spot in the playoffs and is playing exclusively for seeding in the play-in game.
The popular sentiment currently is that Region 8A-AAA, or the north subregion, is the tougher side of the region with Chestatee, North Hall, White County, Lumpkin County, Franklin County and Stephens County all battling for just two playoff spots and none of these teams currently have a losing record.
“Only time will tell if one side of the region is better than the other,” Lumpkin County coach Tommy Jones said. “Right now, it’s hard to tell.”
North Hall coach Bob Christmas has felt all along that the north side of the region is considerably tougher. White County interim coach Tommy Flowers considers the Trojans (2-2), which didn’t lose a subregion game in Region 7-AAA from 2006-2009, the team to beat until someone else proves otherwise.
The mystery for local programs still is Stephens County, Oconee County and Franklin County — all in Region 8-AAA last season before re-classification.
However, few are doubting the legitimacy of Monroe Area (4-0). After dropping 20 straight games in Class AAAA heading into the season, the Purple Hurricanes dropped to Class AAA and seem to be on a roll, led by an electrifying offense and quarterback Demontavious Smith, and a stout defense, led by Notre Dame commit Stephon Tuitt on the defensive line.
“You look at Monroe Area, wow, they have three Division-I prospects on that team,” Miller said.
Right now, it looks like it’ll be a battle between Monroe Area and the Red Elephants (3-1) for the top two spots, with the third spot still up in the air. The Purple Hurricanes play host to Gainesville next Friday at Hurricanes Stadium.
“Looking at it from a distance right now, that may happen (Gainesville and Monroe Area the top two in the subregion),” Miller said. “But you never know what will end up happening.”
Faced with a GHSA-sanctioned one-game suspension for last Friday’s ejection — due to unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for equipment violations by two players — Miller will travel to Monroe on Friday to get a first-hand look at the Purple Hurricanes.
“Due to the circumstances, I’m going to use myself to go scout,” Miller said. “I figured, what better way to use my time?”
With five weeks remaining in the regular season, coaches know anything can still happen in Region 8-AAA. One bad night by a team can set a chain reaction into place that puts a previous longshot into contention.
Miller recalls that in 2006 his Red Elephants were expected to finish as one of the top seeds in Region 7-AAA. However, a loss to Flowery Branch and a loss to Johnson in the final week of the regular season, put Gainesville on the road to open the playoffs.
It’s still too early to know how things will pan out this season, but teams that win this week will certainly have an important leg up.
“Each week, we’re going to learn a little bit more about which teams are the best,” Christmas said. “We’ve certainly got a tough road ahead.”