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High school football: Week 1 previews
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The Blitz: Complete coverage of high school football

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Game of the week: Falcons take flight against Stephens County

Chestatee at Gainesville

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: City Park

Coaches: Chestatee, Stan Luttrell; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Key players: Chestatee, RB Ben Souther (6-1, 200 Sr.), WR/DB Lamar Brooks (5-11, 190 Sr.), TE/LB Jeremy Wilkens (6-0, 205 Sr.). Gainesville, QB Blake Sims (6-1, 180 Sr.), WR Tai-ler Jones (5-11, 170 Sr.), LB A.J. Johnson (6-3, 220, Jr.).

Outlook: These two teams enter the 2009 with a vast difference in expectations. The defending Region 7-AAA champion Red Elephants are coming off a 12-1 season and have the majority of their playmakers returning, while Chestatee lost 21 seniors from last year’s team that went 4-6.

Gainesville is widely considered to be a state title contender, and with the wealth of talent on the roster, it is hard to argue that the Red Elephants won’t have a successful season. Sims leads the charge for Gainesville on offense, and at his disposal are playmakers like Jones, Teryan Rucker, Tyson Smith and Daunte Carr. Chestatee had issues slowing down Gainesville a year ago, losing the season opener 35-0 at home.

Gainesville’s defense is just as stout as its offense with a linebacking corps consisting of three defenders (Johnson, Thomas Sprague and Alberto Sanabria) who accounted for more than 450 tackles combined in 2008. Those three will have their work cut out for them in the opener as they try to contain Souther, the area’s leading returning rusher.

With more than 1,500 yards as a junior, Souther proved that he is one of the top running backs in the region and although his offensive line and quarterback graduated, he should be able to account for just as much, if not more, this year.

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants are on a mission to prove that all the expectations are warranted and they will open the 2009 season with a statement.

Fellowship Christian at Lakeview

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Jock Horner Field, Gainesville

Coaches: Fellowship Christian, Terry Luck; Lakeview, Matthew Gruhn

Key players: Fellowship Christian, RB Tyler Hart (Fr.), QB Will Butler (Sr.), LB Hunter Boone (Jr.). Lakeview, RB/LB Tom Drury (5-10, 190, Sr.), FB/LB Lex Little (6-1, 190, Sr.), QB/LB Jordan Chastain (6-0, 185, Sr.).

Outlook: Both Fellowship Christian and Lakeview have depth issues and both have size issues.

The numbers too are relatively similar: The Paladins managed a 4-6 record in 2008 while scoring 18 points per game and giving up 34. The Lions scored less per game (9.75 points) and gave up less (32 points per game) but still only managed one win in an eight-game season.

The one thing that makes the two programs different is also what gives the advantage in tonight’s game to Fellowship Christian: they’ve been a program longer.

On offense, the Lions will rely on the running ability of Tom Drury but the mistakes that come when a first-year starter (Jordan Chastain) takes over for a three-year starter (Haughton Carswell) will need to be limited.

Defensively, Lex Little will be the proverbial bell cow for a Lakeview unit bent on relying on execution rather than athletic ability.
Working in Lakeview’s favor is that they have a crop of seniors who have been under the tutelage of Matthew Gruhn for four years and understand that in order to be successful, they have to work together.

Prediction: FELLOWSHIP CHRISTIAN. Sometimes getting a win simply comes down to being more seasoned.

North Hall at Johnson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Billy Ellis Memorial, Oakwood

Coaches: North Hall, Bob Christmas; Johnson, Paul Friel

Key players: North Hall, QB/DB Nathan Jones (5-11, 180 Sr.), RB/LB Peyton Wilhoite (6-0, 220 Sr.), OL Daniel Blitch (6-6, 320 Sr.). Johnson, LB Gilberto Espinoza (5-11, 225 Sr.), QB Anthony Prophet (5-11, 200 Sr.), RB Mantevius Rucker (6-2, 215 Jr.).

Outlook: With 35 years of experience in the coaching ranks to draw from, Christmas says that the 2009 Trojans are as good of a team as he’s had to work with. That’s mighty high praise considering just two years ago the Trojans made the state semifinals in Class AAA.

“This is an outstanding bunch,” Christmas said. “I feel that this is the most complete, balanced team that I’ve had to work with.”
Maybe part of that optimism stems from last Saturday night’s 42-0 scrimmage victory against Greater Atlanta Christian at The Brickyard. Using 10 different running backs, the Trojans finished the game with 526 yards of offense, compared to the 28 yards gained on offense by GAC.

Meanwhile, the Knights are also excited about the new season with a roster deep in talent, and numbers (60 players) too. With a deeper roster, most Knights are only having to play one-way for the first time under fourth-year coach Friel. Prophet (877 passing yards last season) and Rucker (786 rushing yards, 8 TDs) lead the Johnson offense.

Johnson is led at linebacker by Espinoza and sophomore Joey Brooks. Up front, E.J. Wright (300 pounds), Caleb Jackson (5-11, 230), Tyrone Hendrix, and Taylor Whitmire lead the way.

The game will swing on the battle between North Hall’s running game against the stout defensive front for the Knights.

“Our kids are very excited to open the season against a team of the caliber of North Hall,” Friel said. “On defense, I think we got away with some mistakes (in scrimmage) against Banks County that we won’t be able to get away with against North Hall, so we’ve been trying to tighten that up this week.”

Prediction: NORTH HALL. The Trojans look to have enough depth, especially in the running game, to stack up against Johnson’s front seven on defense.

West Hall at East Jackson


When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Eagle Stadium, Commerce

Coaches: West Hall, Mike Newton; East Jackson, Frank Caputo

Key players: West Hall, QB Shunquez Stephens (6-4, 240 Jr.), RB Marquise Young (5-9, 180 Sr.), WR/LB Ishmail Nuckles (6-0, 180 Sr.). East Jackson, QB Evan Williamson (5-11, 175 Sr.), TE/DL Scott Hill (6-2, 195 Sr.), OL/DL Parker Wilson (5-11, 200 Jr.).

Outlook: One point separated these two teams in the season opener of 2008, and with East Jackson in just its third year of existence, and West Hall ushering a new era filled with younger players, this year’s game might be as close.

“I wish we had another week, but we’re getting there,” Newton said. “This will be the first football game for a lot of these kids.”

For the Spartans, the season relies on the right arm of Stephens, who threw for more than 2,500 yards last year but saw all his top receivers graduate. His accuracy and arm strength is top-notch, and the Spartans will find out whether or not the new players on this year’s roster will be able to fill the large voids left by graduation. The key newcomer is Young, a powerful running back who transferred to West Hall from Brookwood High, in Snellville. Young’s versatility will alleviate some pressure from Stephens.

The Eagles averaged just 14 points per game last year. Williamson returns for his final year at the helm of East Jackson’s Wing-T offense that put up 27 points on the Spartans a year ago, which would have been enough had not Stephens connected with Gibson for a touchdown with 24 seconds left in the game.

Prediction: WEST HALL. The Spartans lost a lot of their playmakers, but Stephens is a caliber of quarterback that will be hard for a young program like East Jackson to slow down.

Riverside Military at Elbert County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Granite Bowl, Elberton

Coaches: Riverside, Scot Sloan; Elbert County, Brent Miller

Key players: Riverside, TE Brandon McKinney (6-5, 255 Sr.), LB Aaron Gambrah (6-1, 200 Sr.), QB Alex O’Donnell (6-4, 218 Sr.). Elbert County, OL/DL Ethan Fortson (6-3, 250 Sr.), OL/DL Seth Martin (5-9, 230 Sr.), OL/DL Taylor Smith (6-0, 220 Sr.).

Outlook: Last season’s matchup between these two programs had quite the finish at Maginnis Field. Riverside was hoping to run out the clock with a 21-14 lead and only minutes left to play. However, a fumble at midfield gave the Blue Devils the ball back with time to score.

Elbert County scored a touchdown with only seconds left to play, but missed the two-point conversion in an attempt to win the game in regulation. Riverside Military used that win to start a season that included a run to the Class AA state playoffs as the No. 3 seed from Region 8-AA in the Eagles’ first season back in GHSA.

This season, the Eagles are led by seniors O’Donnell, running back Cole Tudor and McKinney on offense. Gambrah led Riverside Military with 111 tackles last season and is back to lead the team at linebacker. Sloan would like nothing more than to open the season with a win before jumping right into the Region 8-AA schedule for the rest of the season.

Prediction: RIVERSIDE MILITARY. The Eagles won a close one last season at Maginnis Field. Expect another tight one at the Granite Bowl tonight.

Dawson County at Lumpkin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Dahlonega

Coaches: Dawson County, Jeff Lee; Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones

Key players: Dawson County, OL/DL Zach Johnson (6-3, 270, Jr.), QB/CB Ethan Brown (5-11, 175, Jr.), RB Eian Perry (5-7, 190, Jr.). Lumpkin County, RB/LB Jake McClure (5-11, 195, Sr.), RB/LB Lance Chuvala (6-0, 200 Sr.), RB/DB Ian McIntosh (5-9, 160, So.).

Outlook: After last year’s three-point Dawson County win in overtime, it’s clear that this matchup is now a rivalry renewed.

This time around, however, Dawson County will have to win on Lumpkin County’s home turf.

Both teams come into tonight’s matchup with new starters at quarterback. For the Indians, it’s Taylor Guthrie, and for the Tigers, junior Ethan Brown.

The Tigers may have a slight upper hand, however, because for the past two years Brown has gotten as many snaps as his predecessor. The reason it’s only a slight advantage is because Dawson County is implementing an all-new offense: the triple option.

Lumpkin County returns three four-year starters on its defense.

Jake McClure, Lance Chuvala and Chad Fulton will be counted on to be run stoppers and to create offense as standouts on both sides of the ball.

Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. The Indians need a good start to the season and McClure, Chuvala, Fulton and company won’t let the faithful down.

White County at Franklin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Ed Bryant Stadium, Carnesville

Radio: 105.1-FM

Coaches: White County, Gregg Segraves; Franklin County, Tommy Welch

Key players: White County, RB Ashely Lowery (6-2, 190 Jr.), DL Tyler Hamilton (6-1, 285 Sr.), QB/DB Tyler Dotson (5-10, 175 Sr.). Franklin County, WR/DB DaQuan Merritt (5-9, Sr.), QB/DB Dashan Merritt (5-9, Sr.), RB/LB Matthew Jackson (6-0, Sr.).

Outlook: White County’s quest for a third straight winning season begins this year on the road.

Last season the Warriors sputtered out of the gate in a 13-3 loss to Franklin County, and many of those same Lions return.

This year, Franklin County is incorporating more Georgia Tech-style flex option into its offense, putting pressure on the Warriors to play smart, assignment-savvy football.

White County got a boost of confidence from its recent scrimmage game against Hart County, which is widely predicted as the preseason favorite from Region 8-AAA. Though the final score was 20-17 in favor of Hart County, Segraves said the Warriors’ varsity players outscored the Bulldogs 17-14, and he was pleased with the team’s effort.

“But there’s still plenty of things to improve on,” he added.

Dotson and Lowery head the White County offense, but Segraves expects to play freshman Cole Segraves at quarterback, too.

Prediction: WHITE COUNTY. Even though it was a scrimmage, the Warriors showed they could play with 8-AAA’s best last week and they should be able to capitalize on the mistakes that usually occur when a team switches to an option-based offense.

Commerce at Jefferson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Jefferson Memorial Stadium

Coaches: Commerce, Steve Savage; Jefferson, T. McFerrin

Key players: Commerce, LB Josh Streetman (6-2, 205 Sr.), RB/DB Jon Cash (5-9, 160 Sr.), RB/DB Deon Brock (5-9, 165 Sr.). Jefferson, QB Darius Minor (5-11, 170 Sr.), RB/DB Lucas Redd (6-1, 200 Sr.), LB/OL Kyle Mosley (6-2, 240 Sr.).

Outlook: Jefferson has a chance tonight to string together a three-game winning streak in this series for the first time since 1969.

During that span (1967-1971), the Dragons strung together a school-best five consecutive wins in this rivalry series.

Traditionally, this series has leaned heavily in favor of Commerce. The Tigers hold a 41-17-5 overall advantage and the team’s have kept the matchup and annual event, despite playing in different classifications (Commerce in Class A and Jefferson in Class AA).

Also, the records indicate that the series has leaned more toward high scoring games. Jefferson has only won four times in this series when scoring less than two touchdowns, while Commerce has only one win under these conditions.

Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons get the ball rolling tonight after such a successful season in 2008.

Washington-Wilkes at Banks County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Leopard Stadium, Homer

Coaches: Washington-Wilkes, Lee Hutto; Banks County, Blair Armstrong

Key players: Washington-Wilkes, RB Eric Scott (5-10, 180 Sr.), TE/DE Akeimos Coleman (6-3, 250 Sr.), LB Tyrance Ashmore (6-0, 230 Sr.). Banks County, TE/LB Matthew Patton (6-1, 220 Jr.), QB Kane Duncan (6-3, 170 Sr.), RB Dylan Lackey (5-10, 170, Jr.).

Outlook: If familiarity breeds contempt, these teams might flat-out dislike each other.

The former Region 8-AA mates have played three times in the last two years, with Washington-Wilkes winning each meeting, including victories in a 2007 region playoff and 2008’s season opener.

Since then, the Tigers have added a new coach, Lee Hutto.

The Leopards’ challenge will be slowing down Scott, who’s entering his third season as a starter and rushed for more than 1,200 yards last year. Armstrong also singled out quarterback Teverrius Jones (6-3, 200) as a threat for Washington-Wilkes.

Offensively, this will be the first game in the post-Justin Beasley era for Banks County. Beasley led the Leopards in rushing for three straight years, including more than 2,100 yards last fall.

Armstrong said he expects the new-look Leopards to be different, but still speedy at the skill positions.

Lackey, who Armstrong said has “legit speed,” takes over for Beasley, while “hard-nosed” Clay Frinks fills the void left by Demetric Dempson, a 600-yard rusher in 2008.

Prediction: WASHINGTON-WILKES. The Leopards may have what it takes to get back to the playoffs, but the Tigers, with 11 straight trips to the postseason, are the more proven bunch at this point.

Jackson County at Our Lady of Mercy

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Bobcat Stadium, Fairburn

Coaches: Jackson County, Billy Kirk; Our Lady of Mercy, Chad Flatt

Key players: Jackson County, WR/S Charlie Waycaster (6-0, 170 Sr.), QB Alex Crawford (5-7, 140 Jr.), LB Kelly Moats (6-0, 180 Jr.). Our Lady of Mercy, QB Cameron Singletary (Jr.), RB Lance McGuffie (So.), C/DT Nolan Bynum (Jr.).

Outlook: Jackson County’s 10-game losing streak came to a halt at the beginning of last year, thanks to a 16-10 victory over Our Lady of Mercy. While that win was the only one for the Panthers last year, going into this week it doesn’t provide much confidence to Kirk, who knows that last year means nothing now.

The Panthers should be familiar with the Bobcats, as Our Lady of Mercy runs the same spread offense as Jackson County. Singletary and McGuffie lead the Bobcats’ attack, while Crawford, Waycaster and Rob Williams are at the forefront of a Panthers offense that put up 49 points in their scrimmage against Athens Christian.

“That put a big smile on my face,” Kirk said of the offensive performance. “But the difference is, can we do that (today)?”

Kirk is relying on his 19 seniors to make that happen.

Prediction: JACKSON COUNTY. The Panthers won this contest last year and there’s little reason to believe they aren’t capable of duplicating that feat tonight. The trip to Fairburn is a long one, but the return home should be joyful for Jackson County.

Cedar Shoals at Habersham Central

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Raider Stadium, Mount Airy

Radio: 99.3-FM

Coaches: Cedar Shoals, Xarvia Smith; Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham

Key players: Cedar Shoals, DE Chamarcus Pittard (6-0, 240 Jr.), RB James Gordon (6-0, 210 Sr.), OL Jermaine Foster (6-3, 285 Sr.). Habersham Central, QB Austin Brown (6-1, 180 Jr.), OL Kalan Jones (6-3, 280 Sr.), LB Keylan Myers (5-9, 170, Sr.).

Outlook: In Region 8-AAAA there’s no room for error. In an 11-team region that’s not subdivided, every game counts in the fight for the playoffs.

That makes tonight’s game between Cedar Shoals and Habersham Central all the more intriguing.

Last season the Jaguars emerged with a 23-13 win in Week 1 that eventually kept Habersham Central from making its fourth straight trip to the postseason. The teams appear to be similarly matched again in 2009.

The Raiders are led by Brown, and will get a boost from the return of running back Dee Ellison, who returned to practice this week after missing summer workouts due to a fractured vertebrae. Cunningham, who will be in his first game as the Raiders’ head coach, said Ellison is ready to play, but may only start on offense as the team works him back into his usual two-way role.

The Jaguars’ strength lies in their abundance of speed and their strength up front.

Prediction: CEDAR SHOALS. At this point in the season the defense is often ahead of the offense, and the Jaguars are especially strong defensively.

Towns County at Rabun County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger

Coaches: Towns County, Kyle Langford; Rabun County, Danny Durham

Key players: Towns County, WR/S Matt Hogsed (6-1, 180 Sr.), RB Matt Beni (5-10, 175 Sr.), FB/DT Taylor Denton (5-11, 215 Jr.). Rabun County, RB/DB Paul Blackstock (5-10, 160), RB/DB Daniel Campbell (5-10, 165), FB/LB J.B. McClain (5-11, 175).

Outlook: One year ago, this was the game that snapped Towns County’s 36-game losing streak and began the most successful season in team history.

This time around the Indians will have to travel into hostile territory against a revenge-minded opponent to repeat the feat. Langford said he’s expecting a slugfest.

Towns County is breaking in a new quarterback (senior John Swilley), but that’s not Langford’s biggest concern.

A pair of injuries on the defensive side of the ball have thinned the Indians’ depth chart, which was little shorthanded to begin with.
“We’ve only got 26 kids, so there’s not a lot of depth,” Langford said. “But all 26 will get after you. There may be a experience and talent differential, but there’s no difference in their effort.”

Prediction: TOWNS COUNTY. The Indians are out to prove last year wasn’t a fluke.

Union County at Hayesville (N.C.)

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Hayesville, N.C.

Coaches: Union County, Brian Allison; Hayesville (N.C.), Gary Miller

Key players: Union County, WR/LB Blake Gowder (6-2, 215 Sr.), QB Kolt Owenby (6-2, 180 Sr.), LB Michael Sossie (6-0, 190 Sr.). Hayesville (N.C.), RB/LB Bradley Nuckolls (6-0, 236 Sr.), WR/LB Brandon Brooks (6-3, 188 Sr.), OL/DL Evan Furby (6-1, 240 Sr.).

Outlook: For a football coach, there’s little as tough to prepare for as the unknown.

That’s the predicament Allison finds himself in as his Panthers get ready to open the 2009 season at Hayesville (N.C.).

“I haven’t seen any film on them, so I really don’t know what to expect,” Allison said. “We’re just going in there with our base offense and defense and really trying to keep things simple and adjustable.”

Through word of mouth, Allison knows that the Yellow Jackets operate out of a double-slot option offense and a 4-3 set on defense. Under Miller, who’s in his first year at Hayesville, the team is shifting from the shotgun spread base it employed last season.

The Panthers enjoy their offensive success mostly through the air. Gowder and Owenby account for much of the yardage, but Miller said Union County has speed at multiple spots that the Yellow Jackets will have trouble defending.

Prediction: UNION COUNTY. The Panthers have too much offensive firepower.

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