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Week 1 High school football previews
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Holloway: Change in football is a good thing

Season opener a clash of titans

East Hall at West Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Spartan Field, Oakwood

Coaches: East Hall, Brian Grey; West Hall, Mike Newton

Records: East Hall (0-0); West Hall (0-0)

Key players: East Hall, OL/DL Sterling Bailey (6-5, 265 Sr.), DE/RB Chaz Cheeks (6-5, 221 Sr.), WR/DB Chris Johnson (5-10, 170 Sr.). West Hall, QB Shunquez Stephens (6-4, 240 Sr.), WR William Stroup (6-6, 210 Sr.), WR Brandon Fuqua (5-10, 170 Jr.).

Outlook: Just because these two are not necessarily cross-town rivals doesn’t mean there isn’t pride on the line. The Vikings’ lone victory last year came against West Hall, and the Spartans hope to start the season with a much-needed win.

Three Elite 11 members are at the focal point of this matchup, with Stephens leading West Hall, while Bailey and Cheeks lead the Vikings. Stephens is coming off a 2,331-yard, 24-touchdown season and his teammates have one year under their belts in experience, which means those numbers could increase this year.

It won’t be easy against East Hall, a team featuring two Division-I recruits on defense in Bailey and Cheeks. Bailey led the team with 22 tackles for a loss and five sacks last year, and he and Cheeks have shown through the years they are capable of getting through any offensive line to pressure the quarterback.

There’s no telling if West Hall has that type of ability on defense, as the team has switched defensive schemes and although Newton said it would contain “the best 11 players,” the majority are inexperienced. That could be good news for the Vikings, who will utilize the spread formation to get their bevy of athletes on offense some space. Although the Vikings had seven games in which they scored seven points or less last year, they are poised to perform better in 2010.

Prediction: EAST HALL. This will come down to the defenses and the Vikings have more talent and experience on that side of the ball.

Flowery Branch at Madison County

When; 7:30 tonight

Where: Red Raider Stadium, Danielsville

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Madison County, Randell Owens

Records: Flowery Branch (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-AAAA); Madison County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-AAAA)

Key players: Flowery Branch, QB Austin Brown (6-1, 195, Sr.), K/P Will Monday (6-4, 190, Sr.), LB Sydney Cheeks (5-11, 195, Jr.); Madison County, QB Alex Jordan (6-0, 170, Jr.), RB Cedrick Bush (5-9, 165, Sr.), RB Stan Maxwell (6-2, 185, Sr.)

Outlook: Madison County might be the perfect game for the Falcons to gauge how they’ll fare their first season in AAAA. The Falcons move from 7-AAA to 8-AAAA, where the Red Raiders finished 5-5 last season.

In 2009, the Red Raiders were competitive in all but one of their games — a 28-6 season-opening loss to state semifinalst Rockdale County — and compiled all their wins during a five-game stretch from Week 2 to 6.

Don’t be surprised if Flowery Branch comes out with a chip on its shoulder. The Falcons feel they have much to prove after losing 10 starters, including six on offense. Their leading passer, rusher and tackler are gone. Plus they’ve moved up a classification.

Austin Brown’s familiarity with 8-AAAA — he was a two-year starter at Habersham Central before transferring — could prove valuable as the Falcons transition. The Falcons will also find out what they have at running back with junior Jeremy Haley, who takes over for Imani Cross, now at North Hall.

Hopefully for the Falcons, defense won’t be the issue it was during times last year, when they gave up 35 points or more four times and went through a two-game stretch giving up 100 points. On the flip side, in Madison County’s five-game win streak, they averaged 33 points.

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons will be motivated to prove everyone, including their new foes in 8-AAAA, that they can continue to enjoy success at the next level.

Johnson at Jackson County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Panther Stadium, Jefferson

Coaches: Johnson, Paul Friel; Jackson County, Billy Kirk

Records: Johnson (0-0, 0-0 Region 8B-AAA); Jackson County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8B-AA)

Key players: Johnson, OL/DL David Harkins (6-0, 280 Sr.), TE/DE Cody Lewallen (6-6, 205 Jr.), QB/DB Luke Gilleland (5-10, 175 Jr.). Jackson County, ATH Alex Crawford (5-8, 140 Sr.), LB Kelly Moates (5-11, 190 Sr.), OL Ben Brown (5-11, 225 Sr.).

Outlook: Despite the fact this is a nonregion game, both teams would like nothing more than to start the season on a winning note.

For Johnson, it would mean the young, inexperienced players on the roster are ready for Friday nights and the constant battles in Region 8-AAA.

For Jackson County, it would mean last year’s 3-0 start wasn’t a fluke, and these Panthers may be able to compete for a playoff spot out of what is expected to be a very competitive Region 8B-AA. Jackson County hasn’t reached the postseason since 1992.

Regardless of the outcome, both coaches expect to learn plenty about their team at the conclusion. The Knights enter 2010 with a bevy of new skill players on offense, and tonight will be several of the players’ first time playing on Friday night.The Panthers are more experienced than Johnson, which should play a role in how the game plays out. It’s their second year in the spread offense, and Crawford and quarterback Jalen Banks have shown they’re capable of improvement in 2010.

Both defenses struggled last year, but are more experienced and ready because of those issues. Johnson boasts a strong defensive front anchored by Mason Borders, Harkins, Lewallen and Blake Forrester. Those four, combined with the linebacking corps of Joey Brooks, Kevin Avila and Taylor Whitmire, have the ability to disrupt the Panthers’ offense.

Moates is the key man on Jackson County’s defense, which lost six straight region games last year by a combined score of 194-48.

Prediction: JACKSON COUNTY. The Panthers continue their year-to-year gains under Kirk with a 1-0 start.

Lakeview Academy at Fellowship Christian

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Paladins Stadium, Roswell

Coaches: Lakeview Academy, Matthew Gruhn; Fellowship Christian, Hunter Chadwick

Records: Lakeview Academy (0-0), Fellowship Christian (0-0)

Key players: Lakeview Academy, QB Jackson Wells (6-5, 175 Sr.), RB Nick Drury (5-11, 175 Sr.), OL/DL James Bagwell (5-10, 200 Sr.). Fellowship Christian, RB/LB Nathan O’Reilly (5-11, 175 Sr.), WR/DB Cooper Weyant (5-10, 170 Sr.), OL/DL Ben Brigham (6-0, 190 Sr.).

Outlook: Both teams will be fighting for a win tonight, but equally as important is trying to stave off attrition to the roster. Lakeview Academy dresses out 24 players and Fellowship Christian may have as many as 20, according to Chadwick.

With such small numbers, quite a few players will stay on the field for the entire game with relatively few snaps off.

“The fourth quarter is going to be interesting,” Gruhn said. “They’ll all be tired by then.”

Prediction: LAKEVIEW ACADEMY. The Lions lost by one point in the season opener to Fellowship Christian last year, but have an edge with the skill positions this season.

Riverside Military at Lumpkin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Indians Stadium, Dahlonega

Radio: 104.3 FM

Coaches: Riverside Military, Chris Cotter; Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones

Records: Riverside Military (1-0, 0-0 Region 8-A), Lumpkin County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8A-AAA)

Key players: Riverside Military, RB Justin Martin (6-1, 175 Fr.), OL/DL Tarvin Dukes (6-2, 215 Sr.), QB Michael Gallup (6-0, 160 Fr.). Lumpkin County, WR/DB Ian McIntosh (5-9, 170 Jr.), TE/LB B.J. Dorsey (6-3, 220 Jr.), RB/DL Michael Flanagan (6-2, 230 Sr.).

Outlook: Riverside Military is trying to compete against a school in a much larger classification. Lumpkin County is just trying to hold things together in the season opener without starting quarterback Taylor Guthrie.

Coming off a 7-3 win against Pinecrest Christian last Friday, the Eagles are looking to tighten up some areas of concern for Cotter. Despite a solid defensive effort last week and some success moving the ball up and down the field (Martins finished with 108 yards rushing), the Eagles are looking to cut down on the turnovers that kept them from scoring more touchdowns.

However, it’s pretty clear that the Indians are going to pose more of a threat that Pinecrest, a school new to the GHSA. Lumpkin County is looking to get around two significant injuries sustained during two weeks ago in a scrimmage against Jefferson. Guthrie, a senior, went down with a broken finger on his non-throwing hand and could return as early as Week 2 at Union County. In his place, junior Logan Moye, a starting defensive back will be starting under center.

The other injury was to senior safety Kaylen Temples with a fracture in his lower back. With a rotation of players in the secondary, Jones says that cornerback Ian McIntosh will take his place.

Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. Guthrie’s absence is cause for concern, but the Indians have enough size and depth to emerge with a win.

White County at East Jackson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Eagles Stadium, Commerce

Coaches: White County, Gregg Segraves; East Jackson, Frank Caputo

Records: White County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8A-AAA); East Jackson (0-0, Region 8B-AA)

Key players: White County, WR/RB/DB Ashely Lowery (6-2, 205 Sr.), QB/DB Cole Segraves (6-4, 200 So.), DL Adam Hooper (6-0, 265 Sr.). East Jackson, WR/DB B.J. Young (6-2, 170 Sr.), RB C.J. Allen (5-8, 170 Jr.), RB Chaz Malcolm (6-2, 170 Sr.).

Outlook: White County picked a formidable opponent to start the season. While the Warriors are hoping to break their two-year playoff drought, while East Jackson is seeking a second consecutive postseason berth in Region 8-AA.

Since this game doesn’t have bearing on the region standings, it’s a chance for Segraves to look at the make-up of his players and how they’ll respond to playing under the lights. White County’s coach wants to start to get a true picture tonight for what his team depth looks like. He’ll also get to see how young players respond in key positions, such as linebacker.

The Warriors are also going to be studying the special teams play, most notably how their new kicker responds.

“This first game I want to check the commitment of the guys on our team,” Segraves said. “East Jackson is a very good team and I’m happy we get to see a Wing-T team early in the season.”

Prediction: WHITE COUNTY. Too much offensive firepower for East Jackson to shut down in season opener.

Jefferson at Commerce

When: 8 tonight

Where: Tiger Stadium, Commerce

Radio: 1270 AM

Coaches: Jefferson, T. McFerrin; Commerce, Steve Savage

Records: Jefferson (0-0), Commerce (0-0)

Key players: Jefferson, RB/LB Chris Jackson (5-11, 185 Sr.), FB/DE Zach Allen (6-1, 230 So.), G/DT Cody Berryman (5-10, 240 Sr.). Commerce, QB Cody Streetman (6-0, 185, Jr.), C Zach Harmon (6-2, 200, Sr.), LB Tyler Adams (5-10, 185, Sr.)

Outlook: This long-storied rivalry that dates back nearly seven decades hasn’t been a region contest since 2007, but that doesn’t mean it won’t have the same intensity of a game that counts towards postseason eligibility. With the Tigers and Dragons both in crowded regions — Commerce is part of an 11-team 8-A, Jefferson a 13-team 8-AA — the only chance these Jackson County programs can face off is in the season opener, which is what they’ll do for the third-straight year.

Though Commerce has the all-time series lead at 39-18-5, Jefferson has won the last three meetings, and a win tonight would bring the Dragons within another victory of matching the school’s longest win streak in the series history.
Both teams have a number of key starters on offense and defense, and both coaches say their trying to find the identity of their teams. Both also expect the game to be competitive.

Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons have fielded the better team in recent years and until Commerce proves otherwise, there is no reason to believe this year is any different.

Habersham Central at Apalachee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: W. Clair Harris Stadium, Winder

Radio: 99.3 FM

Coaches: Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham; Apalachee, Shane Davis

Records: Habersham Central (0-0), Apalachee (0-0)

Key players: Habersham Central, QB Kevin Ellison (6-0, 175 Jr.), RB David Griffin (6-0, 180 Sr.), OL Garrett Dutton (5-6, 270 Jr.). Apalachee, FB Alex Camp (5-9, 170 Sr.), OL/LB Javier Crawford (6-0, 225 Sr.), DE Ervin Sutton (6-2, 205 Sr.).

Outlook: Having to play the defending 8-AAAA champions is not the easiest game for the Raiders to open with while they try to establish a new identity. They’re returning just four starters — three on offense, one on defense — from last season’s team. The good news is the Wildcats will also field a completely different team, only returning six starters themselves — four on offense, two on defense.

The potential for this to be an unpolished game is definitely there, given the inexperience of both teams, which means it will likely go down to the run game.

Prediction: APALACHEE. While it’s relatively unknown what each new-look team is capable of, the Wildcats’ home field advantage coupled with their recent region domination will likely prove too much for the Raiders to overcome.

Dawson County at Pickens

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Dragons Stadium, Jasper

Coaches: Dawson County, Jeff Lee; Pickens, Steve Sewell

Records: Dawson County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8A-AA); Pickens (0-0, 0-0 Region 7B-AAA)

Key players: Dawson County, OL/DL Zach Johnson (6-3, 300 Sr.), QB/WR Ethan Brown (6-0, 175 Sr.), QB Tyler Dominy (6-4, 165 So.). Pickens, RB/LB Jordan Shaw (Sr.)

Outlook: Dawson County has recorded four straight losing seasons and only won one game in 2009, but there is reason to hope. With region realignment, Dawson finds itself in 8A-AA, which features only two teams that had winning records a year ago and no playoff qualifiers. If the Tigers want a winning record this season, a win over a Class AAA opponent would be a good place to start.

Brown and Dominy will split time at quarterback for the Tigers. Dominy will be under center on most passing downs, with Brown coming in during running situations. Brown might also see time at wide receiver.

Running back duties will be split between senior Eian Perry and sophomore Zack Martin, with sophomore Bruce Clark being the main target in the passing game.

Prediction: DAWSON COUNTY. The skill-position depth of the Tigers wins out over the Dragons’ tough defense.

Banks County at Social Circle

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Stephens Park, Social Circle

Coaches: Banks County, Blair Armstrong; Social Circle, David Seawright

Records: Banks County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8A-AA); Social Circle (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-A)

Key players: Banks County, DE Eli Autry (6-0, 220 Sr.) LB Jeremy Greenway (5-9, 185 Sr.) RB Dylan Lackey (5-10, 175 Sr.). Social Circle, QB/DB Marvae Crawford (Sr.) OL/LB Levi McCarty (Sr.) WR/DB Branden Daniel (Sr.)

Outlook: With 19 total starters returning, Banks is hoping to rekindle the fire that led them to a 6-5 season in 2008 and an appearance in the state playoffs.

Several seniors will start on the offensive line for Banks, which should help Lackey get off to a strong start running the ball and take the pressure off of senior quarterback Harrison Dale who started four games last season.

The Leopards’ defense will return the top two tacklers and the sack leader from a year ago and should be secure. Greenway and Matthew Patton combined for 237 tackles last year, while Autry led the team in sacks with five.
Social Circle, despite going to the state playoffs the past nine seasons, hasn’t made it to the second round since 2005, and hasn’t had a winning record since ’06. To change that, the Redskins could use a season-opening win over one of the two Class AA opponents they’ll face this season.

First-year Redskins coach David Seawright will have returning starter Crawford, who was named Social Circle’s co-offensive most valuable player last season after compiling 450 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. McCarty returns as the team’s leading returning tackler from 2009 (57, 28 solo).

Prediction: BANKS COUNTY. The Leopards have the edge in experience and enter the season with a chip on their shoulder.

Union County at Towns County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Frank McClure Stadium, Hiawasse

Coaches: Union County, Brian Allison; Towns County, Kyle Langford

Records: Union County (0-0, 0-0 Region 8A-AA); Towns County (0-0)

Key players: Union County, QB/RB Jesse Wright (6-1, 180 Sr.) WR/LB Tyler Thomas (6-1, 205 Sr.) OL/DL Thomas Herbert (6-6, 240 Sr.). Towns County, RB/DB Noah Calhoun (5-10, 170 Jr.) WR/DB Billy Meier (5-7, 180 Sr.) RB/DL Taylor Denton (5-11, 220 Sr.)

Outlook: Towns County will have 16 returning starters taking the field Friday, including several four-year starters on the defensive side of the ball. The Indians’ linebacker corps is five to six players deep, something Langford is counting as one of his team’s biggest strengths going into the season.

The Indians’ chances will depend on freshman quarterback Jackson Noblet’s game management and how stout the run game of Calhoun will be. With all five starting offensive lineman having started during their careers, Calhoun should have opportunities to make plays.

Union County faces the opposite situation. The Panthers lost 16 starters from last year’s team and as of Wednesday had not named a starting quarterback. Both senior Jesse Wright and sophomore T Bentley are in the running and both will see time at quarterback and running back.

One strength the Panthers have on their side is experience at wide receiver with seniors Thomas and Josh Schultz. But depth at that same position may prove to be a weakness.

Returning starters at the linebacker position, Ian Petkevich and Thomas, will anchor a defensive unit that returns six starters from last season.

Prediction: UNION COUNTY. While the experience of the Indians will keep them in the game, the Panthers’ numbers will wear down short-handed Towns County and give Union County its ninth straight win in the series. 

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