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East Hall, Gainesville, Buford, Dawson County and Jefferson all host first-round playoff games
West Hall and North Hall will travel on the road to face top 10 opponents
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Read a preview of The Times' Game of the Week, East Hall vs. Sonoraville here

Gainesville vs. Alexander

West Hall at Calhoun

East Hall vs. Sonoraville

North Hall at Sandy Creek

Buford vs. Fayette County

Dawson County vs. Ringgold

Jefferson vs. Pepperell

East Hall vs. Sonoraville

Records: No. 2 7-AAA East Hall (6-4), No. 3 6-AAA Sonoraville (7-3) 

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: East Hall Stadium, Gainesville

Gainesville vs. Alexander

Records: No. 2 8-AAAAA Gainesville (7-3), No. 3 5-AAAAA Alexander (8-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Bobby Gruhn Field, Gainesville

Game notes: A regular to the postseason, the Red Elephants are opening the postseason for the eighth consecutive season at City Park Stadium. Gainesville’s No. 2 seed was locked up with a 29-26 win against Flowery Branch last Friday, thanks to a late fourth-quarter driver helmed by senior quarterback Messiah Dorsey.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s two losses came against No. 9 Allatoona (9-1) and South Paulding (8-2), which is just outside the top 10 in Class AAAAA. The Cougars have made it into the postseason each of the past three seasons under sixth-year coach Matthew Combs.

Gainesville’s offense is quite a bit different in years past, picking up more of its yards rushing than in the passing game. The Red Elephants have rushed for 1,775 yards, led by Dorsey with 895 and senior running back Chris Byrd tallying 711.
Dorsey has thrown for 1,362 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Meanwhile, Alexander is tilted slightly toward passing the football. Cougars senior quarterback Baylor Whitfield has thrown for 2,200 yards and 24 touchdowns.

However, Alexander has a very good option in the running game as well. Junior Daetrick Harrington has carried for 1,383 yards (6.6 per carry) and 14 touchdowns. Harrington’s best games came early in the regular season, picking up 201 yards against Paulding County on Sept. 4, then 217 the following week against Chapel Hill.

This marks the first meeting between Gainesville and Alexander. The winner advances to face the winner of top-ranked Stockbridge (10-0)/Columbus (7-3) on Nov. 20.

West Hall at No. 1 Calhoun

Records: No. 4 7-AAA West Hall (5-5), No. 1 6-AAA Calhoun (10-0)

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Phil Reeve Stadium, Calhoun

Game notes: The Spartans showed a lot of grit making it into the postseason, after starting 0-3 in region play. West Hall got into the postseason for the third time in coach Tony Lotti’s four years in Oakwood, thanks to wins against Fannin County, Banks County and Lumpkin County to wrap up the regular season. West Hall got its late-season streak with a 40-37 double-overtime victory against the Rebels on Oct. 23 in Blue Ridge. Spartans senior Cesar Villa sent the game to overtime with a 50-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

The first-round will be as tough as it gets for the Spartans. The Yellow Jackets are the defending state champion and haven’t lost since the 2013 state championship game against Benedictine Military at the Georgia Dome. The Yellow Jackets have made six state-championship game appearances since 2008. Calhoun has not been put out in the first round since 2000, the second year under current coach Hal Lamb.

This season, the Yellow Jackets are paced by a steady senior quarterback Kaelen Riley, who has thrown for 1,730 yards and 19 touchdowns with only four picks. He’s rushed for 443 yards and seven more scores.

Junior Olico Dennis has been the most effective on the ground for the Yellow Jackets, rushing for 939 yards on just 73 touches and 19 touchdowns.

The winner will face Josey (6-4)/Peach County (8-2) in the second round.

North Hall at No. 9 Sandy Creek

Records: No. 3 8-AAAA North Hall (6-4), No. 2 5-AAAA Sandy Creek (8-2)

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: The Battlefield, Tyrone

Game notes: The Trojans locked up their playoff spot with a 30-13 win against White County last Friday in Cleveland. The Fighting Patriots’ only losses in the regular season were against top-ranked Woodward Academy (10-0) and No. 6 Jonesboro (9-1), early in the season. Led by Kyle Bacus (827 yards, 10 TDs), North Hall has successfully returned to its roots as a run-based offense that can grind out time from the clock. The Trojans continued to move the chains with a steady offensive, rushing for 5 yards per carry in the regular season. North Hall’s season-high 586 rushing yards came in a 56-28 region win against Madison County.

However, the Trojans can still mix in an effective passing set, led by quarterback Jackson Madonna (559 passing yards, four TDs) and receiver Sam Jackson (401 receiving yards, 45 yards per reception).

As for Sandy Creek, it is in the postseason for the 14th consecutive season, 11 of those under current coach Chip Walker.

The Fighting Patriots have, like in seasons past, continued to pick up the bulk of their yardage on the ground. Sandy Creek has rushed for 1,924 yards this season, led by a pair of junior running backs Marvin Hubbard (749 yards, nine touchdowns) and junior Jaelen Green (635 yards, 8 TDs). Sophomore quarterback Bryant Walker has been consistent this season, completing 60 percent of his throws for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Just like North Hall, Sandy Creek also has a big-play threat at wide receiver with senior Korey Banks, who has 41 catches for 644 yards and six trips to the end zone.

The first time these two schools met, North Hall won 21-7 in a second-round postseason game of the 2007 playoffs at The Brickyard.

Tonight’s winner moves on to the second round to face the winner of No. 5 Bainbridge (10-0)/Griffin (6-4).

No. 3 Buford vs. Fayette County

Records: No. 1 8-AAAA Buford (9-1), No. 4 5-AAAA Fayette County (3-7)

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Game notes: Buford should have an easy time of it against Fayette County. Running an offense like a well-oiled machine, the third-ranked Wolves put up more than 40 points in all but one regular season game. Meanwhile, Fayette County had a difficult time all season putting points on the board, as it was held under 20 points six times this season.

Buford’s stats paint the picture well of a dominating unit. The Wolves, looking for their fourth consecutive state championship, have scored 67 touchdowns this season, while allowing just 10. Buford has racked up 2,478 rushing yards with a diversified backfield, led by Anthony Grant (614), Martin Mangram (484) and Anthony Turner (414). Twelve separate Buford players have rushed the ball into the end zone this season.

Most of Buford’s games have been settled by halftime, outscoring the opposition a total of 321-30 in the first half through the regular season.

On defense, the Wolves are a lock-down group that has allowed 478 rushing yards through the regular season.

The Wolves locked up the region championship and home-field advantage for at least the first two round of the postseason with a resounding 42-0 win against Stephens County last Friday at Tom Riden Stadium.

Fayette County is limping into the postseason after losing 21-0 against Sandy Creek last week.

Despite a losing record, Fayette County was able to secure a playoff berth since its region only consists of six teams.
Buford has made it to the second round of the postseason each season since 1999.

The winner of tonight’s game draws the winner of Worth County (7-3) vs. Locust Grove (9-1).

Dawson County vs. Ringgold

Records: No. 1 7-AAA Dawson County (7-3), No. 4 6-AAA Ringgold (6-4)

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville

Game notes: Dawson County is fresh off its first region championship in school history. Coach Sid Maxwell arrived in Dawsonville this April, after stints at Lambert and Sequoyah, and quickly transformed a 2-8 team in to region champs.

Maxwell is known for running an offensive system that best fits his players and decided to implement a spread offense this season for the Dawson County Tigers which differs from the Wing-T he ran at Lambert. Dawson County ran a hybrid Wing-T offense last season without much success. Under the spread formation, sophomore quarterback Coey Watson has thrived, throwing for 1,556 yards and 12 touchdowns. Watson is also second on the team in rushing with 112 carries for 346 yards and eight touchdowns. The dual-threat nature of the sophomore quarterback adds an extra dimension to the Dawson County offense that the Ringgold defense will look to contain.

The Ringgold defense has given up an average of 22.4 points per game but has two shutouts on the season and has held their last three opponents to seven or fewer points. The Ringgold Tigers run a pass-heavy offense. Senior quarterback Devin Lancaster leads the attack with 2,080 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Five different recievers have caught a touchdowns for Ringgold. Freshman receiver Andre Tarver is Ringgold’s deep threat averaging over 25 yards a catch for a total of 707 yards and six touchdowns, his longest touchdown went for 80 yards. Junior receiver Mac Brower leads the team with 30 catches.

Where Ringgold likes to pass, Dawson County likes to run. Dawson County’s leading rusher, senior Hunter Mitchell, has run for almost as many yards (920) as Ringgold’s entire team (939). Mitchell is averaging 7.5 yards a carry and has scored nine touchdowns.

Dawson County enters tonight having won three staright games and six of the last seven. Following their only loss during that stretch, Dawson County preceded to outscore its next three opponents by a combined score of 113-14 including two shutouts. Ringgold has also won three straight with an impressive 103-20 combined score.

The winner tonight will play the winner of the Spencer (7-3)/Washington County (5-5) matchup.

No. 5 Jefferson vs. Pepperell

Records: No. 2 8-AAA Jefferson (9-1), No. 3 5-AAA Pepperell (7-3)

When: 7:30 p.m. tonight

Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson

Game notes: Jefferson’s only blemish this season was a 36-35 double overtime loss to region champion Oconee County on Oct. 30. The resilient Jefferson Dragons were able to rebound the following week with a decisive 43-27 win over Hart County to clinch this home playoff matchup with Pepperell. It will be the fourth straight year Jefferson has opened the playoffs at home reaching at least the quarterfinal round each of the previous three seasons including a state championship in 2012. Jefferson has now made the playoffs 15 of the last 16 seasons.

It is no secret that sophomore running back Colby Wood will carry the load for Jefferson tonight. Wood has rushed for a school record 1,965 yards on 286 carries with 31 total touchdowns (30 rush). To stop feeding him the ball now would be downright insane. Wood is responsible for 59 percent of Jefferson’s offense this season, expect more of the same tonight.
Pepperell finished third in their region behind two 9-1 teams (Callaway and Central). The Pepperell offense is led by a couple of sophomores in quarterback Trevor Thomas and running back Tae Hammond. Thomas’ best game came on Oct. 30 in a 39-34 win against Cedartown where he threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Hammond had 142 rushing yards that game and rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns the week before in a 35-14 loss to Callaway.

Both Jefferson and Pepperell boast high scoring offenses. Jefferson averages 31.5 points per game, while Pepperell averages a near identical 31.6. This matchup might come down to which team’s defense can limit the opponent’s offense. In that respect, the advantage should go to a Jefferson defense that has allowed just 11.2 points per game including three shutouts, opposed to the 23 points per game allowed by Pepperell.

The winner of this game will play the winner of the game between Cook (7-3) and Blessed Trinity (9-0-1).

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