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High school football playoff previews
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Oconee County at Gainesville
7:30 p.m., Bobby Gruhn
Field at City Park

Radio: 1240-AM

Directions: From downtown Gainesville to City Park, take Green Street NE. Stay right when the road forks into Thompson Bridge Road and Riverside Drive. The stadium will be on the right.

Records: Oconee County (4-6); Gainesville (10-0)

Coaches: Oconee County, Mitch Olson; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Players to watch: Oconee County, QB Zach Mettenberger (6-5, 228 Sr.), LB Alston Harper (6-2, 200 Sr.), RB/OLB Jamie Stephens (5-10, 175 Jr.). Gainesville, QB Blake Sims (6-1, 195 Jr.), WR T.J. Jones (6-0, 185 Jr.), DE Josh Jackson (6-2, 260 Sr.).

When Oconee County has the ball:
Spread vs. 3-4

Oconee County’s offense starts and ends with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who is verbally committed to the University of Georgia. At 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds, Mettenberger, who is the top-ranked QB by, has more arm strength and accuracy than any quarterback that Gainesville has faced this season.

While facing a prolific passer will prove to be a tough test for the Red Elephants defense, Gainesville has proven that it can rise to a challenge. In the region-title clinching win against Flowery Branch, the defense came up with two game-changing turnovers that catapulted Gainesville to the region championship. Senior lineman Josh Jackson is the anchor of that defense, and leads the area with 12 sacks. Gainesville also boasts an athletic linebacking corps that includes sophomore A.J. Johnson, who recorded 14 tackles and an interception in the win last week. The secondary can be thrown on, but if Gainesville is winning, look for Miller to incorporate T.J. Jones and Teryan Rucker as safetys to limit Mettenberger’s passing skills.

When Gainesville has the ball:
Spread vs. 4-4

While Mettenberger leads Oconee County on offense, junior quarterback Blake Sims is the catalyst for Gainesville’s spread attack. Whether it’s in the air or on the ground, the 6-1 Sims is a do-it-all quarterback that can single-handedly win a game. But Gainesville’s offense does not end with Sims. Jones is a highly-touted receiving prospect with great pass catching ability and speed and agility in the open field. Although the duo has combined for 33 touchdowns this year (12 by Jones), Gainesville can also win on the ground with the solid running back tandem of Devon Pierce and Rucker.

Oconee County’s defense comes into this game surrendering 28 points per game, and 38 in its six losses. The Warriors do have a outstanding player in free safety Isaac Givens, but one player isn’t enough to slow down the Red Elephants.

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants’ defense is too good for a one-dimensional offense to beat them.

Heard County at

7:30 p.m., Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Records: Heard County (6-4); Buford (10-0)

Coaches: Heard County, Tim Barron; Buford, Jess Simpson

Players to watch: Heard County, QB Santez Emory (6-0, 180 Sr.), LB Zack Janney (Sr.), WR Jaquay Williams (Fr.). Buford, OL/DL Dallas Lee (6-4, 295 Sr.), TE/DE Andrew Sachais (6-1, 220 Sr.), RB/DB Cody Getz (5-7, 157 Sr.).

When Buford has the ball:
Multiple I vs. 3-5

Buford’s offense is deep with plenty of playmakers. Storm Johnson (812 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns), Cody Getz (715 yards, 16 TDs), and Jessel Curry (314 yards, seven TDs) are the leaders of the Wolves’ running game that averages 208 yards per game. Buford also has the ability to pass effectively. Senior quarterback Michael May is 64-of-93 passing for 898 yards and two touchdowns this season. Curry (246 yards) and Josh Rudnik (274 yards) lead the Wolves receiving group. The Wolves averaged 37 points per game in the regular season. Zack Janney, a senior, leads the Braves from his linebacker spot with 96 tackles this season. "Nobody wants this matchup in the first round of the playoffs, but it is what it is," Barron said. "There’s a big difference from where our program is and where their (Buford’s) program is.

"Everyone in the state knows about Buford’s tradition."

When Heard County has the ball: I-formation vs. 4-3:

Barron says that the Braves are going to keep the ball on the ground primarily. Heard County junior quarterback Santez Emory leads its offense with 917 rushing yards (seven touchdowns) and 449 passing yards (eight touchdowns) this season. Freshman wide receiver Jaquay Williams is the Braves’ leading receiver with seven catches for 217 yards. Junior fullback Jeremiah Hill will be back for the Braves after missing much of the season with injury. Heard County averaged 26 points per game during the regular season. Barron said a game against LaGrange early in the season was scheduled to have his program ready for a possible first round matchup in the playoffs against a team of Buford’s caliber. Buford’s defense is paced by Georgia verbal commitment Dallas Lee (78 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, five sacks), Trevor Warbington (73 tackles, 13 QB pressures) and Andrew Sachais (51 tackles, six sacks).

"I think it’s a good opportunity for our program to get to play Buford," Barron said. "We’re just going to have to make them earn everything they get."

Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves will be 9-0 in first round playoff games since 2000 after tonight’s contest.

Flowery Branch
at Stephens County
7:30 p.m.,
The Reservation, Toccoa

Radio: 550-AM

Records: Flowery Branch (8-2); Stephens County (8-2)

Coaches: Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw; Stephens County, Travis Noland

Players to watch: Flowery Branch, FB/DE Daniel Drummond (6-3, 230 Sr.), QB Connor Shaw (6-1, 285 Jr.), DE Izaan Cross (6-4 250 Sr.). Stephens County, RB Ren Teasley (5-9, 190 Sr.); QB/DB Dacen Cash (5-10, 150 Jr.), TE/DE Cody Martin (6-2, 200 Sr.).

When Stephens County has the ball:
Spread vs. Multiple

In the two teams last meeting, Flowery Branch gave up 178 yards through the air and 180 on the ground. However, with a defense that has allowed 11.3 points per game since and should be flying high after holding a potent Gainesville passing game to only 69 yards, the Indians won’t have quite the balance they did last time. Izaan Cross and Daniel Drummond lead the Falcons with five and four sacks respectively, while Greg Palmer leads the team with 99 tackles, followed by Cory Sanderson’s 75. Indians’ quarterback Dacen Cash leads the passing game having thrown for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns on the year. Absent from the first matchup was the running back who would become the rushing leader for the Indians, Ren Teasley. Teasley has 1,164 yards and 12 touchdowns on the year. Cody Martin, who had three catches for 37 yards in the Aug. 29 game, is the team’s leading receiver with 436 yards and five touchdowns.

When Flowery Branch has the ball:
Multiple spread option vs. 4-4

Flowery Branch has a bevy of weapons at its disposal including Drummond (9.5 yards per carry and seven touchdowns), leading rusher and passer Connor Shaw (709 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, 1,289 yards passing and 13 touchdowns) and freshman Imani Cross, who has come out of the shadows in the last three games and rushed for 372 yards and five touchdowns. Throw in the receiving corp, led by Chris Lipscomb’s four touchdowns and the Falcons are a vastly different team than the one who put up 25 points against Stephens County the first time around. Over the last nine games, Flowery Branch has averaged 34.8 points per game using a balanced attack with efficiency in both the running and passing games.

The Indians are led by Dustin Royster’s 38 tackles and Tra Burtch’s 3.5 sacks.

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons don’t just have weapons anymore, they use them. And with the defense riding high after a great performance against Gainesville, Flowery Branch won’t squander its opportunity at redemption.

Hart County at North Hall
7:30 p.m., The Brickyard

Radio: 102.9-FM

Records: Hart County (7-3); North Hall (7-3)

Coaches: Hart County, Joby Scroggs; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Key Players: Hart County, RB John Blackwell (Sr.), LB Jeffrey Rucker (Sr.), LB Keitius Harper (Sr.). North Hall, LB Thomas Sprague (6-1, 200 Sr.), DB Nathan Jones (5-11, 170 Jr.), WR/DB Graham Duncan (5-10, 170 Sr.).

When North Hall has the ball:
Wing T vs. 4-3

The Trojans are going to run the ball the bulk of the time in their wing-T offense. Avery Nix (706 yards, 11 touchdowns), Matt Christmas (530 yards), and Peyton Wilhoite (389 yards) have seen most of the carries. North Hall averages 215 yards per game on the ground.

Hart County’s ability to play against the Wing-T is going to be the deciding factor in this game. Scroggs said that most schools in Region 8-AAA use some form of the spread offense. When North Hall does throw the ball, Graham Duncan (23 catches, 395 yards) gets most of the touches. The Trojans are averaging 95 yards per game passing. Hart County is led by three seniors on defense with defensive lineman Jeffrey Rucker (90 tackles, seven sacks and two interception returns for touchdowns), linebacker Keitius Harper (80 tackles) and tackle Brandon Hamm (four sacks). Johnny Christopher, Quinn Sturghill and Jermonte Hickman each have two interceptions for the Bulldogs this season.

When Hart County has the ball:
I-formation vs. 4-4

Hart County’s offense is like North Hall’s in that it likes to run first, pass second. The Bulldogs have a steady stable of running backs led by John Blackwell (746 yards, four touchdowns), Josh Carey (379 yards, three touchdowns), Jermonte Hickman (456 yards, seven touchdowns) and Harper (250 yards, six touchdowns). The Bulldogs are averaging 25 points per game and 218 yards per game rushing. Hart County is averaging 85 yards passing per game. North Hall’s defense has already shown this season that it can limit a solid running game. Thomas Sprague in the Trojans’ leading tackler with 134 tackles and four tackles for a loss. North Hall junior safety Nathan Jones was the area’s leader with eight interceptions during the regular season.

Prediction: NORTH HALL. It’s kind of crazy how similar each team’s stats are. The Trojans can find a way to win a very close game at The Brickyard.

Riverside Military
at Pepperell

7:30 p.m., Lindale

Records: Riverside Military (7-3); Pepperell (9-1)

Coaches: Riverside Military, Chris Lancaster; Pepperell, Jeff Shiflett

Players to watch: Riverside Military, RB Julian Suber (5-9, 170 Jr.), QB Lucas Bersin (6-0, 200 Jr.), LB Diego Osegueda-Weiner (6-1, 215 Sr.). Pepperell, RB Brandon Whitaker (5-8, 181 Sr.), QB Jonathan Watters (6-3, 180 Sr.), RB Marcus Jackson (5-10, 164 Jr.).

When Riverside has the ball:
Multiple vs. Eight-man front

The Eagles favor running the ball and using Julian Suber’s 4.4 speed to their advantage, but with Pepperell looking to jam the lines and create traffic at the line of scrimmage, Riverside may get to open up its passing game. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as quarterback Lucas Bersin (66 percent completion percentage, 1,439 yards, 14 touchdowns) has proven this year that he is comfortable passing. He has a couple of different receivers to spread his passes to, with receivers Kyle Glennon (25 catches, 438 yards), Adrian Quinones (22 catches, 250 yards) and tight end Brandon McKinney (29 catches, 349 yards) all being big targets.

When Pepperell has the ball:
Multiple vs. 3-4

The Dragons are similar to Riverside offensively in that they have threats both running and throwing, but favor their rushing game. But instead of having just one running back handling all their carries, they split time between fullback and leading rusher Brandon Whitaker (167 carries, 1,596 yards) and Marcus Jackson. But if Pepperell plans to carry the ball up the middle, it will have to get through 250-pound tackle Colton Keig (50 tackles) and two big Riverside linebackers in Diego Osegueda-Weiner (110 tackles) and Aaron Gambrah (103 tackles).

Prediction: PEPPERELL. The Dragons are coming into this game with fire after a one-point loss to Calhoun last week. Their high-speed offense should be enough to keep Riverside from earning its first GHSA playoff win.

Banks County at Calhoun
7:30 p.m., Phil Reeve Stadium, Calhoun

Records: Banks County (6-4); Calhoun (8-2)

Coaches: Banks County, Blair Armstrong; Calhoun, Hal Lamb

Players to watch: Banks County, RB Justin Beasley (5-9, 175 Sr.), WR/DB Kane Duncan (6-3, 165 Jr.), DE Lyn Hester (6-3, 250 Sr.). Calhoun, DL Eric McDaniel (6-2, 295 Sr.), QB Michael Johnson (6-0, 180 Jr.), RB/DB Kedron Aker (6-0, 198 Jr.).

When Banks County has the ball:
Wing-T vs. 3-3-5

As Beasley goes, so go the Leopards. The senior running back surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for the year with more than 300 rushing yards in a 34-13 win over Union County last week. This season, only North Oconee has held Beasley to less than 100 yards. Not surprisingly, the Leopards only mustered seven points in that game.

That’s not to say there aren’t other weapons on this offense.

Quarterback Chris Porter provides good balance, Duncan has proven to be a capable threat at receiver and senior running back Demetric Dempson complements Beasley well. But if Banks County is to move the ball consistently against Calhoun, a defense which limits opponents to 14 points per contest, Beasley will no doubt be a big part of the Leopards offense.

McDaniel, who’s verbally committed to Purdue, is force on the Yellow Jackets’ front. He’s complemented by big, fast athletes throughout the linebacker corps and secondary, but No. 6 Pepperell proved that the unit can be vulnerable against a strong running game, piling up close to 300 rushing yards in a 28-27 loss last week.

When Calhoun has the ball:
Spread vs. 4-4

The Yellow Jackets are scoring more than 33 points per game, thanks to a wealth of offensive weapons.

Johnson has big, fast receivers to throw to, and sophomore running back Dustin Christian is explosive with the ball. Last week Christian rushed for 159 yards against a Pepperell defense that was only giving up about five points per game at the time.

The Leopards were gashed early this season, giving up 122 points in their first three games. They’ve been stingier of late, though, giving up fewer than 12 points per game in their last seven games. They’ve faced spread offenses twice in last month, falling 34-22 to Jefferson before upending Union County last week.

Led by Hester, Tyler Hulsey and Billy Pinson the Leopards have proven their ability to pressure opposing passers. Doing so tonight will be key.

Prediction: CALHOUN. The Leopards made a big step forward this season, but they’re not yet ready to make the giant leap that beating a power like Calhoun would represent.

at Wilkinson County

7:30 p.m., Irwinton

Records: Commerce (5-5); Wilkinson County (7-3)

Coaches: Commerce, Steve Savage; Wilkinson County, James Hagins

Players to watch: Commerce, RB/DB Deon Orsborne (5-9, 155 Jr.), RB Jon Cash (5-9, 160 Jr.), RB Javon Womack (5-11, 175 Sr.). Wilkinson County, QB Toni McRea (5-9, 165 Sr.), OL/DL Damian Todd (6-0 270 Sr.), OL/DL Fabian Todd (6-1, 290 Sr.).

When Commerce has the ball:
Triple option vs. 4-3

Commerce’s offensive strategy all season long has been to own the clock and push the ball forward with short but effective running plays, and tonight’s game will be no different. The Tigers have three running backs in Deon Orsborne (102 carries, 729 yards), Jon Cash (97 carries, 625 yards) and Javon Womack (52 carries, 229) that will likely carry the ball multiple times. Quarterback Phillip Edwards (101 carries, 449 yards) is also a threat if the offensive line makes a hole for him. But with 560 pounds between defensive tackles Damian and Fabian Todd, running up the middle could be dangerous, as is going outside, where the sub-4.5 speeds of Toni McRea and Immanual Shinholster wait in the backfield.

When Wilkinson County has the ball:
Multiple vs. Eight-man front

Commerce’s eight-man front makes for a busy defensive line, but also allows the linebackers to drop back and cover short passes. The Tigers show no true strength in one place, but instead have a well-rounded defense that anticipates any type of play. Commerce is anchored by linebackers Josh Streetman (84 tackles), Travaris Glasper (76 tackles) and Doug Maloch (62 tackles). They will have to be alert, as McRea and running back Demontez Crockett were members of the 4x100-meter relay teams that finished first and second at the track and field state championships in May and will lead the offense for the Warriors.

Prediction: WILKINSON COUNTY. The Warriors are big on the lines, extremely fast at skill positions and could go deep in this year’s playoffs.

Coosa at Jefferson
7:30 p.m., Jefferson
Memorial Stadium

Directions: From Gainesville, drive south on US Hwy. 129 for 21 miles and turn left on Old Swimming Pool Road. Jefferson Memorial Stadium is on the right.

Records: Coosa (6-4); Jefferson (10-0)

Coaches: Coosa, Chad Perry; Jefferson, Bill Navas

Players to watch: Coosa, QB Shane Smith (Sr.), RB/LB Fatir Pillow (Sr.), RB Quentin Hight (Sr.).
Jefferson, QB Darius Minor (6-1, 180 Jr.), DB/WR Tab Martin (5-8, 170 Sr.), WR/DB Zac Crosby (5-9, 175 Sr.)

When Coosa has the ball:
Spread vs. 4-4

After coming off an emotional win that clinched its first playoff berth since 2004, Coosa has to travel more than an hour and a half to face Region 8-AA’s top-team and the fourth-ranked Jefferson Dragons.

The Dragons are undefeated when playing first-round home playoff games, and with a defense that is surrendering only 11 points per game, home field advantage won’t be the only thing hampering Coosa’s offense.

Fatir Pillow and Shane Smith lead the Eagles offense that is averaging 18 points per game, but scored 55 points against Temple two weeks ago. Pillow had four touchdowns in that game, and will more than likely be marked by a Jefferson defender all night.

Sophomore Kyle Mosley leads the Dragons in tackles and has more than 10 tackles for a loss on the year. Mosley, along with fellow linebackers Patrick Allen, Lucas Redd and Jay Fowler have the ability to shut down an opposing team’s run game and limit the quarterback’s effectiveness at the same time. The Dragons are surrendering only 11 points per game, and have recorded three shutouts on the season.

When Jefferson has the ball:
Spread vs. 4-4

Moving up a class didn’t slow down Jefferson, it actually made it 10 points better. The Dragons come into tonight averaging 38 points per game and have scored more than 40 points six times. Jefferson is led by the tandem of Virgil Abbleby and Darius Minor, who have combined for more than 1,500 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns.

Minor is also completing more than 65 percent of his passes and has thrown 18 touchdowns, nine of them to Tab Martin and Lucas Redd.

Only one team (North Oconee) has slowed the Dragons’ offense all year, and if that one-point win is removed from the equation, Jefferson is winning by an average margin of 30 points.

Prediction: Jefferson. The Dragons have too much offense and too much defense to lose this game.

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