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West Hall, Dawson to meet Friday to decide last playoff spot in Region 7-AAA
Spartans looking for first postseason berth since 2002
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West Hall offensive coordinator Luke Wiggs shows the offense a play diagram during practice Wednesday in Oakwood. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Friday’s games

Flowery Branch at Gainesville

Buford at North Hall

West Hall at Dawson County

White County at Banks County

Madison County at Chestatee

Fannin County at East Hall

Riverside Military at Greene County

Jefferson at Union County

Morgan County at Jackson County

Commerce at Pinecrest Academy

Lumpkin County at Stephens County

Towns County at Hebron Christian

The postseason implications of West Hall’s game Friday against Dawson County are so clear cut, Spartans coach Tony Lotti equates it to a playoff contest. However, it’s only the winner that gets the final spot in the postseason from Region 7-AAA.

With both programs sporting the same 5-4 overall record and 3-3 in Region 7-AAA, the winner is postseason bound as the No. 4 seed, while the loser is kept out of the playoffs.

“For us, the playoffs started this week,” the second-year West Hall coach said.

Dawson County is no stranger to the playoffs after making the first round in Class AAA last season as the same fourth seed that it is seeking again this season, while West Hall is trying to get into the playoffs for the first time since a 9-2 finish in 2002.

The road to this playoff-qualifying game has been marked with highs and lows for both programs. The Tigers and Spartans both lost head-to-head against the three teams owning the top three spots in the region — Buford, White County and North Hall.

“It’s pretty cut and dry,” Dawson County coach Jeff Lee said. “The winner moves on and the loser stays home.”

As a result of two hard-fought seasons, the respect cuts both ways between the Spartans and Tigers.

“I know (Dawson County) coach (Jeff) Lee has done a great job and will have his guys ready to go,” Lotti said. “We also have to go up there, so we have to be ready to try and match their intensity.”

Lee says that this season has been affirmation that the program is headed in the right direction, after having to reload following the graduation of 27 starters from the 2012 playoff squad.

“We expected to be here this season, but figured it would probably come down to Game 10 like this,” Lee said.

West Hall senior tight end Hunter Atkinson believes having a win-or-go-home game to end the regular season makes it easier to not get sidetracked with the outcome of other games that impact a team’s fate.

A Spartans win also secures their first winning record since that trip to the playoffs 11 years ago.

“This is really exciting to play in a game as important as this one,” said Atkinson, who picked up an official scholarship offer recently from the University of Cincinnati. “It makes it a lot easier to know we control our own destiny.”

On Friday, West Hall might have to go without the services of senior quarterback Zach English. A week ago, he was injured on an interception return against White County and was held out of the second half. Lotti said Tuesday that English is still being evaluated and is questionable to be ready against Dawson County.

English was replaced Friday by freshman signal caller Jacob Satterfield.

Lotti doesn’t believe playing in such an important game is going to be overwhelming to the Spartans. They’ve approached each week focused squarely on the next team on the schedule. This one just so happens to be with a playoff spot hinging on the outcome.

Dawson County’s coach says the challenge of playing in Region 7-AAA is great preparation for possibly facing the best from other parts of the state.

“This region is so tough,” Lee said. “It’s been tough on everyone.”

The rest of Region 7-AAA is not quite as set in stone, yet.

Top-ranked Buford (9-0, 6-0) visits No. 6 North Hall (8-1, 5-1) for the region championship Friday at The Brickyard.

If the Wolves win, they’re automatically region champion, while North Hall needs a victory by 12-or-more points, based on region tiebreaker criteria, to win the region.

A Buford win or North Hall win by less than 12 means White County finishes as the No. 2 seed, while a North Hall region title would mean Buford is the second seed and White County is No. 3.

White County owns head-to-head advantage over North Hall thanks to a 21-7 win on Oct. 18 in Cleveland. Buford won head-to-head against White County Oct. 11 at Tom Riden Stadium.