The Blitz: Your source for high school football
This week’s predictions
Falcons over 49ers: Atlanta gets a slight edge coming off a bye week, but this one isn’t a must-win either. The NFL season is too long to say that about a 2-1 team in Week 5.
Georgia over Tennessee: Saturday’s SEC slate is about as close to perfect as it gets — unbeaten
Auburn at Arkansas, noon; Dogs at Vols, 12:21 p.m.; Bama at Ole Miss, 3:30 p.m.; No. 1 Florida at No. 4 LSU, 8 p.m. But only one of those games qualifies as a must-win, and it’s Georgia’s. If for no other reason than to hold their spot in the SEC East pecking order and calm a restless fan base, the Dogs need this one.
Georgia Tech over Florida State: The Seminoles need it more than the Jackets, but seem hopelessly distracted by BobbyGate.
Flowery Branch over North Hall: Falcons get their first win at the Brickyard in a close one.
Apalachee over Habersham Central: The Wildcats continue to march toward their first region title.
Chestatee over Gilmer: An ugly second-half schedule starts tonight for the Bobcats.
Commerce over Athens Christian: Biggest threat to the Tigers: looking past this one to next week’s
showdown with Wesleyan.
Creekview over White County: The Grizzlies have more impressive wins (Sequoyah, Flowery Branch) on their resume.
Buford over Cross Keys: Next...
Gainesville over East Hall: The Red Elephants head into their bye week on a high note.
Franklin County over Jackson County: The Panthers are still hunting their first 8-AAA win.
Johnson over West Hall: They’ll need to limit last week’s mistakes, but the Knights should notch their second win of the season.
Social Circle over Lakeview: The Lions should be rested and ready, but the Redskins are better tested.
Lumpkin County over Pickens: The Indians’ strength is their defense, and the Dragons haven’t scored since Week 1.
Last week: 13-3.
Must-win is a phrase that gets tossed around a lot.
We hear it any time an SEC team is coming off an early season loss or when an NFL team starts the season 0-1.
Sometimes it fits — like when Georgia was 0-1 and about to open the SEC season with old pal Steve Spurrier coming to town.
Sometimes it doesn’t — like this week when the Atlanta Falcons are travelling across the country and looking to avoid a second straight loss.
More on those teams later.
The focus today is on Flowery Branch and North Hall.
The Falcons travel to the Brickyard tonight in what has become one of the most highly anticipated games of the year for both schools. Flowery Branch (5-1, 2-0 Region 7B-AAA) is ranked seventh in Class AAA, and the Trojans (3-2, 2-0 Region 7A-AAA) are coming off big back-to-back wins over subregion contenders. Both the Falcons and Trojans have been to the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, and both should be back again this year.
It’s a big game, no doubt.
But it’s not a must-win game.
For both teams’ region championship hopes it could be called one. Barring any big-scale upsets, both need to win every Friday night from here through Nov. 6 in order to have a shot at the 7-AAA title.
And while region championships are a fine and worthy goal — those banners look nice hanging in the gym — they shouldn’t be the ultimate goal for any team that can compete at a statewide level. And both of these teams can do that.
Flowery Branch fell short of a region title last year and took a No. 3 seed into the playoffs. But with a quarter and a half left in the 2008 season, a state championship was still within reach. For 7-AAA teams with that kind of goal in mind, the real must-wins are the subregion games that determine who gets to tee it up with a Region 6-AAA representative on the second Friday in November.
Even so, there are few teams Flowery Branch and North Hall would rather beat than each other, and tonight’s game will give both a preview of what they can expect come playoff time.
North Hall took its lumps with lopsided losses to powerhouses Buford (No. 3 in AA) and Gainesville (No. 1 in AAA), but the Trojans have rebounded with avengeance. Two weeks ago they hammered Creekview, which was a top-10 team at the time, and they followed that with a convincing shutout of White County.
Their running game was slowed early in the season, but seems to have found its groove lately and is now averaging better than 220 yards per game on the ground. Defensively, they’ve had mixed success against spread offenses: Gainesville threw for 365 yards, but White County was only 3-for-20 through the air last week.
Talent-wise, Flowery Branch is more Gainesville and less White County, but the Trojans have to feel good about their chances after last week’s dominant performance.
For Flowery Branch, quarterback Connor Shaw is completing passes at an otherworldly rate (78.5 percent), and the Falcons are achieving near-perfect balance offensively. Led by Shaw, sophomore running back Imani Cross and a bevy of capable receivers, they’re averaging 45 points per game.
But defensively, they’ve been hurt by the run this season. Creekview, which runs a Wing-T scheme similar to North Hall’s, ran for 400 yards in a 38-35 win in Week 3. For the season, the Falcons are giving up 213 yards per game on the ground, and have been hurt by the absence of linebacker Cory Sanderson, who was leading the team in tackles before suffering a herniated disk two weeks ago against Johnson.
It shapes up to be a competitive contrast in styles; the kind of Friday night fans and players long for in the offseason.
But it’s not a must-win, even if it feels that way.
Both teams have bigger Fridays ahead.
Brent Holloway is The Times’ sports editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.