Gainesville coach Heath Webb is itching to get back on the field at City Park Stadium.
His players feel the same way.
For the Red Elephants (4-2, 1-1 Region 6-7A), it’s been four weeks since playing in front of their electric home environment.
All the anticipation has built up to Friday’s region matchup against South Forsyth (5-1, 2-0) in Gainesville.
“Man, it feels like a year since we’ve been playing at City Park Stadium,” Webb said. “The atmosphere we have at home is kind of a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that we have an amazing LED lightshow, biggest scoreboard east of the Mississippi (River), fans are all up close to the field, which is all such an awesome experience. And don’t forget the Elephant Walk, before the game with fans lining the hill as we come into the stadium, with the band playing.”
“The curse is that when we go on the road to the bigger stadiums, track around the field and fans further back, we don’t have that same atmosphere.”
And, as far as importance of home games go in the regular season, it doesn’t get much more important that this one against the War Eagles.
Gainesville is right in the middle of the seven-team field in its league, after it’s most recent outing was a 38-27 loss at Lambert on Oct. 1.
Here’s five things to watch for Week 9 of the regular season:
1. NO ROOM FOR ERROR: Gainesville’s coach said that South Forsyth is a team that ‘checks all the boxes.’
“South Forsyth is a very good team with a lot of experience back from 2020,” Webb said. “South has big linemen, a dual-threat quarterback and a wide receiver who is the defending 200-meter state champion in track and field. And, defensively, they’re just solid all around.”
The Red Elephants’ coach doesn’t look at this matchup as a must-win to stay in the hunt for the region title.
However, going to 1-2 in region play and a game against West Forsyth (3-0 in Region 6-7A) still remaining, would certainly make earning the No. 1 seed to state an uphill climb.
“I compartmentalize each game into its own season,” Webb said. “All I’m thinking about right now is playing South Forsyth. This region is so tough, you can’t look back and can’t look forward.”
2. BALANCE IN THE RUNNING GAME: South Forsyth has a big luxury in the running game with four running backs who each has a significant number of carries in 2021, led by 205-pound sophomore Maverick Schippman, who has 22 carries for 228 yards.
“South Forsyth has big-bruising guys who can run the ball and fast-quick guys who can also line up and run it,” Webb said.
3.BRANCH LOOKING TO TURN THINGS AROUND: Nobody who is paying attention could say that the Falcons (3-3, 0-2 Region 8-4A) have gottten off to a bad start to the season. With four region games left to play, and the two toughest teams in league play already in the past, it’s still entirely conceivable that Flowery Branch could again open the playoffs at home this season.
However, it all hinges on Friday’s game against Cedar Shoals (2-3, 2-1) at Falcons Stadium.
“We need to finish strong in region play,” Falcons coach Ben Hall said.
Facing the Jaguars is not going to be an easy task, Hall said.
“Cedar Shoals is a very athletic team that is capable of putting a lot of points on the board,” Hall said. “Offensively, they have a really good running back and speed on the perimeter that concerns you.
At running back, the Jaguars are paced by Jerdavian Colbert, who has gone over 500 yards this season.
4. CHEROKEE BLUFF DEFENSE SETTING THE PACE: To win, the Bears (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-3A) aren’t required to score a lot of points, even though they do.
Through six games, Cherokee Bluff has held the opposition to single-digit points in 5 of 6 games, including all three region victories.
Cherokee Bluff’s defense is paced by a pair of players who have started since Day 1 with the four-year-old program.
Senior linebacker Brayden Nance has 33 stops (8 for a loss) and three sacks this season, while defensive back Sam Stribling has 24 tackles, one interception and a fumble recovery.
5. TROJANS TRYING TO KEEP PACE: Cherokee Bluff is trying to repeat as region champion, but North Hall (5-2, 3-0) is going to make that difficult.
The Trojans have breezed through region play, winning these three games by a combined 126-31 margin.
Likely, the region title will be decided when North Hall hosts Cherokee Bluff on Oct. 29 at Lynn Cottrell Stadium.
On Friday, North Hall hosts Gilmer (2-4, 0-3) at Lynn Cottrell Stadium.
North Hall will have the benefit of a bye week to prepare for playing Cherokee Bluff.
Cherokee Bluff vs. Lumpkin County
Chestatee at Madison County
East Hall vs. North Oconee
Flowery Branch vs. Cedar Shoals
Gainesville vs. South Forsyth
Johnson at Apalachee
Lakeview Academy at Mount Pisgah
Lanier Christian at People’s Christian
North Hall vs. Gilmer
West Hall at Dawson County