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High school football: Don't be surprised
A few bold predictions for the upcoming season
White County's Ashely Lowery - photo by Times file photo

The winner of the Chestatee-White County game will make the playoffs 

Last season Creekview stepped into Region 7-AAA playing a varsity schedule for the first time and made themselves at home, winning six straight games to finish the regular season and grabbing the North subregion’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Most prognosticators have them back in the playoffs in 2009. Some even predict the Grizzlies will dethrone North Hall.

But the program lost the only quarterback it’s ever had (2008 All-Cherokee County performer Collins Wold).

Eight defensive starters are also among the more than 25 graduated seniors from last season’s team, leaving the Grizzlies vulnerable.

And White County and Chestatee are two teams ready to pounce and get back to the postseason.

Chestatee lost a slew of linemen and their top two tacklers off last year’s team, but they return the area’s leading rusher (Ben Souther), and coach Stan Luttrell has said this has been his favorite group of War Eagles.

White County went 6-4 last fall, but a loss to Creekview kept the Warriors from their second straight trip to the postseason and left them hungry for 2009.

Coach Gregg Segraves believes running back Ashely Lowery is ready to become one of the area’s elite backs.

Chestatee and White County play Oct. 16

Region 7-AAA will put three teams in the quarterfinals

The region almost achieved the feat last season when Flowery Branch went to the finals, Gainesville advanced to the quarterfinals, and North Hall fell just six points short.

In 2009, all the pieces are in place.

North Hall looks to be the class of 7A-AAA again.

The Trojans aren’t getting a lot of hype around the state, but with a massive offensive line, a backfield full of capable athletes and a dependable defense, they could be primed for a deep run in the postseason.

Flowery Branch and Gainesville are ranked among the state’s best teams and are the frontrunners to take the playoff spots in 7B-AAA.

One of these teams will have to go on the road in the first round, and possibly every game in the playoffs, but as the Falcons proved last season, that need not preclude postseason success — especially when you’ve got as much talent as these two teams will field.

Johnson will be the area's most-improved team

The Knights have been a popular darkhorse pick in 7-AAA for a couple of years now, but 2009 could be the year they start to turn the corner.

The past two seasons, Johnson’s progress has been stunted by the most basic factor — a lack of numbers.

After limping through 2008 with fewer than 30 players on some Friday nights, coach Paul Friel finally has some depth to go with playmakers like QB Anthony Prophet, RB Mantevius Rucker and LB Gilberto Espinoza.

The schedule won’t be easy. Five of their opponents won at least eight games last year, but Friel-coached teams have proven in the past to be undaunted by tall tasks (see Gainesville, 2006).

Union County will make its first playoff appearance since 2001

If you haven’t seen Panthers receiver Blake Gowder play yet, do yourself a favor and check out a Union County game this fall.

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver led the state last season with more than 1,400 receiving yards and has his quarterback, Kolt Owenby, returning this fall.

After six straight losing seasons, the pair helped led Union County win four straight games to open the 2008 season. But Owenby went down in the eighth game, and the Panthers slumped to a 5-5 record.

Region 8-AA looks to be well-balanced this season, with Jefferson, North Oconee, Riverside, Banks County and Fannin County among the teams vying for the top four spots.

But with Gowder, Owenby and five starters back on both sides of the ball, Union County could have one of the region’s most explosive offenses. With a little more defensive consistency in Year 2 of coach Brian Allison’s second term, the Panthers should find themselves back in the postseason.

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