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First-round success came as no surprise
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The Blitz: Your source for high school football

Last Friday night we saw all three Hall County teams win in the first round of the playoffs.

Gainesville, the No. 1 seed from Region 7-AAA, beat Region 6-AAA’s four seed Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, 42-0. North Hall (No. 2 Region 7-AAA) beat a very good three seed, Ringgold, 39-21. And Flowery Branch proved to be the only four seed in Class AAA to beat a No. 1 seed, defeating Ridgeland on the road, 17-14.

Prior to last Friday night’s game, I felt Gainesville probably had a 90 percent chance of winning, while North Hall looked on paper to be very evenly matched, with the Trojans getting the advantage because they were playing at home.

I would not have bet against the Falcons, but on the road against a No. 1 seed, I thought that they had about a 30 percent chance of pulling an upset.

I saw the North Hall game and Ringgold had the best individual player I have seen this season, the third-rated fullback in the country, Martrez Eastland.

North Hall won with overwhelming intensity and great team play.

The playoffs are now down to the best 16 teams in Class AAA. Friday night about 10:15 p.m., it will be down to the best eight.

Dunwoody at Gainesville

Gainesville (11-0): Power Rating 7.46, Average points scored 46.8, Average points allowed 6.3.

The Red Elephants played last Friday night like they have played all season, like a team on a mission. They treated Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, like all of their previous 2009 opponents, like a minor bump in the road.

Led by one of the state’s finest linebacking corps, the Gainesville defense held the visitors to 1.1 yards per rush and only 2.2 yards per pass attempt.

Lakeview completed only 22 percent of its pass attempts and the Red Elephants defense intercepted one pass.

Led by quarterback Blake Sims and wide receiver Tai-ler Jones, the Red Elephants scored on their first three possessions.

The high-octane offense put up winning numbers passing, completing 80 percent of its pass attempts and averaging 22.6 yards per pass attempt. Let me remind you, anything over 8 yards per pass attempt is considered a winning number.

The Red Elephants also averaged 5.4 yards per carry.

Gainesville is now three wins away from a trip to the Dome and a chance to make history, and each week it gets tougher.

Dunwoody (7-4): Power Rating 1.69 Average Points scored 24.6, average points allowed 14.6.

Dunwoody, the No. 2 seed from Region 5-AAA, is coming off a 26-14 win over Elbert County in Round 1.

During the last 11 games, Dunwoody scored 27 or more points five times and its defense held two opponents scoreless.

The Wildcats’ defensive numbers are better than North Hall and Flowery Branch, but not near Gainesville’s.

On offense, all three of Hall County’s playoff teams have outperformed the 2009 Wildcats. Dunwoody lost to Region 5-AAA champs St. Pius X, 10-7, so they have shown they can go toe to toe against the best.

North Hall at St. Pius X

North Hall (9-2): Power Rating 1.76, Average points scored 33.5, Average points allowed 19.

Few teams play together with more intensity than the 2009 Trojans.

I had the pleasure, at one time in my life, to recruit two players who became All-Americans and first round draft choices with successful NFL careers.

Neither of those guys, to the best of my memories, were more impressive as athletes than Eastland.

Rated as the No. 3 fullback in the country, Eastland is 6-foot-2, weighs 235 pounds and runs a 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.

Eastland has great skills, yet the Trojans swarmed him all night and refused to let this great athlete keep them from winning and moving to the next round.

I predict a day will come when the proud young men who wore the green jerseys last Friday will see Eastland playing in the pros and remember they did not let this splendid athlete keep them from winning a playoff game.

We might find out someday he’s good enough to best the Cowboys, but he came up short against the Trojans.

The North Hall team that I saw run on the field in the third quarter was as fired up and ready as any team I have seen this season.
In the ultimate team game, last Friday night on offense, defense and special teams the North Hall team I saw played like the ultimate team.

If someday you need something tough done, hire a Trojan, he doesn’t know how to quit and no task is too big.

Led by Peyton Wilhoite, who carried the ball 30 times for 180 yards, the North Hall running game kept the Ringgold running game on the sidelines much of the time. North Hall ran the ball 59 times and averaged 6.1 yards per rush.

The North Hall passing game was very effective, averaging 12.4 yards per pass attempt.

St. Pius X (11-0): Average Points 38.9, Average Points allowed 6.6.

Last Sunday at church I talked to a longtime coach who had seen St. Pius play, and he told me they are one of the best teams he’d seen — very talented and well-coached.

The Golden Lions enter Round 2 undefeated, and only three times during the season did their defense give up two touchdowns.

Their toughest game was a 10-7 win over Dunwoody. Six times they scored 40 or more points, one time more than 50.

Flowery Branch at Grady

Flowery Branch (8-3): Power Rating 1.7, Average Points scored 40, Average Points allowed 23.9.

First off, let me remind you the Falcons were the only No. 4 seed in AAA which went on the road and beat a team that had every reason to believe that it could beat a fourth-seeded team.

Ridgeland had beaten perennial power Carrollton to finish the regular season.

I saw the Falcons beat a good Stephens County team, and I remember thinking Flowery Branch wins most of the kicking game plays.

My experience suggests in close, hard-fought games, special teams play is often the margin of victory. Flowery Branch won with great special teams, by far the best defense they had played all season, and an offense that controlled the clock and the football.

The Flowery Branch defense played a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, giving ground grudgingly, keeping all receivers in front, and running them down at all costs before they got to the goal line.

Falcons coach Lee Shaw used his high-scoring offense differently than he had all season.

The Falcons leaned heavily on the run, running the ball 36 times for 160 yards. This keeps the other team off the field and shortens the game.

On offense, Flowery Branch averaged 4.4 yards per run and completed 82 percent of its passes, each of those completed passes also keeps the clock running unless it is a first down.

I wasn’t there, but I was there in spirit, you got to love a bunch of kids which will play as hard as the 2009 Falcons.

Grady (10-1): Average Points Scored 30.4, Average Points Allowed 11.8.

Grady earned its way into the second round with a 26-21 win over Hart County.

The stats would suggest that, on average, Grady has not been as high scoring as the Falcons, but play better defense.

The Grey Knights pitched three shutouts on defense and allowed only one team to score more than 30 points, and that was 37 points to St. Pius in their only defeat.

The Grady offense was held to less than 20 points only twice and they won one of those two games.

Let me say this, I wouldn’t bet against the team which, when on the road last week, beat No. 1 seed Ridgeland.

My last thought, I really believe that when teams as good as Flowery Branch, North Hall and Gainesville have to play each other during the regular season it toughens them up for the playoffs. As a player and as a coach you already know what it’s like to compete against the best.

Chuck Clausen is a Hall County resident who coached high school, college and professional football for 28 years. His Power Ratings column appears each Thursday during high school football season. His opinions do not reflect that of The Times.

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