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High school football: Cherokee Bluff, North Hall geared up for always-important matchup
Cherokee Bluff's Jaylen Carroll (9) runs the ball against Chestatee on Sept. 16 in Gainesville. Photo courtesy Johanita Rose For The Times

There are a lot of different factors that figure into the outcome of any football game, and high school football in Hall County and all of Georgia is no exception.

That said, there is a pretty significant game in Region 8-4A taking place this week as Cherokee Bluff (2-2, 2-0 Region 8-4A) travels to North Hall (1-3, 1-1).

Here are a few thing fans may want to keep an eye on that could play a significant role in the outcome when the visiting Bears and host Trojans kick off Friday night at 7:30 at Lynn Cottrell Stadium.

THE STAKES: This game has occurred late in the regular season and decided the Region 7-3A championship the past two seasons, with Cherokee Bluff taking the title each time (North Hall wound up dropping to third last year with a loss to Dawson County the following week, and finishing as region runner-up in 2020).

Friday’s clash represents the midpoint of the regular season and near the midpoint of region slate, and in a new region that also includes No. 2 North Oconee, the dynamic of this year’s game could be a bit different.

That doesn’t mean that either team will take this game any less seriously, as it should still have a big impact on the region race, though it is less apparent as to the nature of that impact.

“To be honest with you, I think it’s a little too early to tell the implications this game is going to have,” Cherokee Bluff coach Tommy Jones said. “We’ll be able to look back at the end of the season and know a lot more. 

“In reality, this is a big game because this is the next game, it’s a region game, it’s a county game. We have a ton of respect for North Hall. We know their coaching staff over there, they do a great job. They’ve got good players, they play hard, they’re physical, they do a lot of little things really well. We know we’re going to have to bring our very best football game Friday night to have a chance.”

QUARTERBACK PLAY: Contributions from the offensive leader under center is always an important factor, but it could have an even more significant impact in Friday’s game due to personnel.

Cherokee Bluff starter Asher Wilson left with an injury late in the first quarter of last week’s home win over Chestatee, and while Jones is hopeful his 6-foot, 180-pound junior signal caller will be able to go, he said it will likely be a game-time decision.

If he can’t play, the good news is that sophomore back-up Brooks Brien did a solid job in relief of Wilson last week, completing 6 of 7 passes for 78 yards, including a touchdown, and leading the Bears to three second-quarter touchdowns that broke the game open.

On the other side, North Hall’s Tanner Marsh continues to grow into the starting job after essentially taking up the position on the Trojans’ junior varsity team last year.

The 6-3, 170-pound junior accounted for 264 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the Trojans’ big win at East Hall last week, though he knows this week’s game figures to be his toughest test yet this season, and he will need some help from the entire offense.

“Definitely, it starts in the front,” Marsh said. “Our line has to have one of the best games they’ve ever had, our receivers have to do (well) on the perimeter … Pretty much everyone has to have a (great) game, including me.”

DEFENSIVE DISCIPLINE: This will be of particular interest to North Hall head coach Sean Pender and his staff, and in particular, the Trojans’ defensive staff and players.

Cherokee Bluff has made good use of the numerous weapons it has on offense, which was especially evident in last week’s win, when five different runners averaged at least five yards per carry, led by Jaylon Carroll (11-133, TD) and Perry Haynes (18-102), and seven different receivers hauled in at least one pass, led by Max Eubanks (5-81, TD, plus a rushing TD).

That balance and depth will be a challenge for a North Hall defense that took a big step in the right direction in last week’s shutout win, led by Will Jackson (2 INTs, including a pick six) and Trey Patterson (9 combined tackles and assists).

“They have their targets and tendencies, but they’re a good football team,” Pender said of Cherokee Bluff. “We’ve just got to play sound football. … We have to play harder than them and we’ve got to get hats to the football and make them make mistakes. And we’ve got to make sure we don’t beat ourselves.

“We’ve just got to play our assignments and do our jobs, and when the ball comes our way, we’ve got to be ready for it … and be in position to make a play.”

Friday’s schedule

Cherokee Bluff at North Hall

Chestatee vs. North Oconee

East Hall at Cedar Shoals

Johnson at East Jackson

West Hall at Dawson County

Lakeview Academy vs. Strong Rock Christian

Lanier Christian vs. Pinecrest Academy

Riverside Military vs. Oglethorpe County

BYE: Gainesville

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