Believe it or not, the high school football season is just a mere six weeks away from kicking off Aug. 17. That’s great news for fans eager to pack the stands on those warm Friday nights at the start of the season and see their favorite school play.
Even closer is the start of football practice in pads, which takes place for the first time July 25, per GHSA guidelines. All 10 Hall County high school football programs will be diligently using their time to sharpen their skills to put the best product on the field in Week 1.
Early in the season is when the fun comes in with county rivalries before everyone splits up into their respective regions.
However, all the best matchups are not based on geographic proximity. Largely, it’s a measuring stick for how each team looks in the first month of the season leading up to the all-important region matchups.
Here’s a look at the best matchup on Sept. 7:
Week 4: Chestatee vs. East Hall
If this year’s game between the War Eagles and Vikings is anything like the last two, fans in attendance will experience quite the treat.
Their 2017 meeting was a wild affair that nearly topped 100 points as East Hall made enough defensive stops to complement its offense in a 59-37 win. The year before, Chestatee held on for a 23-21 victory in a game shortened by more than 16 minutes due to inclement weather.
However, most of the offensive players who headlined those frantic matchups are gone.
For the Vikings, 2018 will be about adjusting to life without quarterback Austin Parker, whose 4,563 passing yards last year were the second-most in a single season in GHSA history. Top receiving targets Sedrion Morse, Austin Brock, Tripp Rider and Amir Ellison also graduated, while coach Bryan Gray resigned to move into an administrative role.
The War Eagles, meanwhile, will be without do-it-all player Nick Lyles. A two-way starter who was on the field for just about every snap of each game, Lyles rushed for almost 2,500 yards over the last two seasons and handled different defensive assignments based on matchups.
Much like East Hall, Chestatee also must replace a long-standing starter at quarterback. Storm Yarbrough manned the position for nearly three full years after a teammate’s injury forced him into action early in his sophomore season.
Though the absence of those explosive players will influence both teams in 2018, their replacements should be settled in by Week 4.
War Eagles and Vikings coaches certainly hope so — region play begins for both squads shortly after their Sept. 7 clash. Chestatee faces Fannin County before opening games in the revamped but still brutal Region 7-4A, while East Hall has a bye week leading up to the start of its Region 7-3A schedule.
The Vikings will at least be able to lean on bruising, beefy running back Cambren Harrison as they try to return to the playoffs, where they earned a historic upset of top-seeded and seventh-ranked Morgan County last season.
The War Eagles missed the state tournament a year ago after qualifying in 2016.
OTHERS TO WATCH: Flowery Branch, which lost a slew of seniors before dropping to Class 4A this season as part of the GHSA’s mid-cycle adjustment, will try to punch above its weight at home against Class 6A Winder-Barrow.
For those seeking another all-Hall County contest, Riverside Military hosts Johnson. The Eagles return a large crop of athletic players under second-year coach Nicholas Garrett, while the Knights may still be striving for their first win since 2015.