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High School Football: Week 1 previews
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Johnson at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

Directions: In Gainesville, drive north on Hwy. 60 to Mount Vernon Road. Turn left on Mount Vernon Road and North Hall High is five miles on the left. Parking is available in front of the school, along Mount Vernon Road and at North Hall Middle.

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

Key players: Johnson, QB Anthony Prophet (5-10, 180 Jr.), RB Mantevius Rucker (6-1, 200 Jr.), LB Gilberto Espinoza (5-11, 220 Jr.). North Hall, QB Blayne Gilmer (5-11, 170 Sr.), LB Thomas Sprague (6-1, 200 Jr.), OL/DL Daniel Blitch (6-6, 330 Jr.).

Outlook: Friel waited until the end of the summer to decide that Anthony Prophet would be the starting quarterback in Week 1 against the Trojans. The Knights coach said the job is Prophet’s to keep if he plays well, but has the flexibility of a capable No. 2 QB in Michael Lorentz also able to run the Knights’ new spread option offense.

The other big story for the Knights heading into this game is the buzz surrounding their sophomore tailback Mantevius Rucker, who had an outstanding summer in practice, according to Friel.
Johnson’s coach says the magnitude of playing the back-to-back Region 7-AAA champion Trojans has helped keep his program focused on starting the season strong, with a game against Class AAAAA’s North Forsyth in Week 2.

“Our kids have been very focused and know they have to be prepared to play North Hall,” Friel said. “They know a win against North Hall would be huge, even though it is a long season.”

Tonight’s game is also a chance for North Hall’s coach to see 13 new starters hit the field when it counts. The Trojans are sure to be a little more pass-happy in their wing-T offense than in seasons past, as shown in the scrimmage game against Roswell on Aug. 15. North Hall’s coach expects big things from senior quarterback Blayne Gilmer, who has already demonstrated he is a very accurate passer. He has a solid group of speedsters to throw the football to in hopes of taking the pressure of a young running game.

“We know Johnson is a good football team and probably has the biggest offensive line in the area and one of the biggest in the state,” Trojans coach Bob Christmas said. “But our kids don’t get intimidated.”

Prediction: NORTH HALL. The Trojans defense is probably better than most people think. It doesn’t appear that North Hall’s running game will suffer too much either from lack of experience.

Elbert County at Riverside Military

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Maginnis Field

Directions: In Gainesville, travel north on Ronnie Green Parkway and turn left on Riverside Drive. The school is one mile ahead on the right.

Coaches: Elbert County, Brent Miller; Riverside Military, Chris Lancaster.

Key players: Elbert County, LB Ben Yarbrough (5-11, 220 Jr.), OT Taylor Smith (6-2, 220 Jr.), Ethan Fortson (6-3, 220 Jr.). Riverside Military, LB Diego Osegueda-Weiner (6-1, 215 Sr.); DL/OL Colton Keig (6-4, 250 Sr.); LB Aaron Gambrah (6-2, 190 Jr.).

Outlook: Crazy spring-like weather and severe weather threats earlier this week threw a wrinkle in most teams preparation for Week 1 games tonight. Not Riverside.

The Eagles took full advantage of an indoor training facility on campus for practice in shorts on Tuesday and Wednesday. The only pause in their preparation was for about 20 minutes while tornado warning sirens blared. Other than that, it was a completely normal week of practice said Eagles coach Chris Lancaster.

Riverside’s second-year coach said that the entire program is excited about playing its first game back in the GHSA since the 2001 season. At this point, the Eagles just want to hit on someone with a different color helmet.

Elbert County enters looking to rebound from uncharacteristically lackluster 1-9 seasons in 2006 and 2007. Junior running back Rod Reid will get the bulk of the Blue Devils' carries. Valdon Cooper, a sophomore, and junior quarterback Tyheem Newman will also try to run behind an experienced offensive line and keep Riverside’s defense unsettled.

Elbert County’s coach is focused on stopping Riverside’s quarterback Julian Suber.

“He’s one of the fastest quarterbacks we’ll see all season,” Miller said.

The Eagles’ first Region 8-AA game is next week against Banks County.

Prediction: RIVERSIDE MILITARY. Welcome back to the GHSA Eagles! The Eagles dominate against  Elbert County in the season opener.

Franklin County at White County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Warrior Stadium

Directions: From Gainesville, drive north on Hwy. 129 to Cleveland. Drive around the square in Cleveland and stay north on Hwy. 129. White County High is located approximately two miles north of downtown Cleveland at 2600 Hwy. 129 North, Cleveland.

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

Key players: White County, DL/OL Tasi Suaava (6-0, 285 Sr.); QB Chantz Segraves (5-10, 180 Sr.); OL/DL C.J. McDonald (6-2, 255 Sr.).

Outlook: White County coach Gregg Segraves feels that playing Franklin County, and its bevy of skill players in Week 1, is a good challenge for his program.

“We feel like it’s a good thing to play one of the top teams in Region 8-AAA to start the season.”

The Warriors coach feels like the preseason scrimmage against Hart County and tonight’s game against the Lions are going to be good tune-ups for the first three Region 7-AAA contests against East Hall, Gainesville and West Hall.

“I think this is a good way to prepare for the speed of East Hall, Gainesville and West Hall,” Segraves added.

White County is breaking in new starters tonight with senior quarterback Chantz Segraves and highly touted sophomore running back Ashely Lowery.

Prediction: WHITE COUNTY. The Warriors are for real this season. With the whole offensive line back this season, expect the Warriors to move the ball well against the Lions.

Our Lady of Mercy at Jackson County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Panther Stadium, Jefferson

Directions: Take US Hwy. 129 south to Jefferson. In Jefferson, make a right on Hwy. 11 (Winder Hwy.). School is on your right, stadium entrance is the next right.

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

Key players: Our Lady of Mercy, QB William Pearl (5-11, 180 Sr.), RB Jarrell Bankhead (6-1, 185 Sr.), RB/LB Amir Mustafa (5-11, 192 Jr.). Jackson County, LB/RB Charles Smothers (5-11, 195 Jr.), RB Rob Williams (5-10, 175 Jr.), QB Marquice Gillespie (5-9, 146 Jr.).

Outlook: For the second consecutive season, the Panthers open the season against a school in a lower classification, but this year Jackson County hopes to have a little more success. In comes Region 5-A’s Our Lady of Mercy and the 5-25 record it has over the last three years.

Last year, Jackson County opened the season with a loss to Banks County in a game that was called at halftime due to weather. Kirk says that game set the tone for the year; a season in which the Panthers lost all 10 games they played. Kirk believes this game will also set the tone for the season, and if Jackson County pulls out a home win to open the season, the Panthers will give Kirk his first victory as a head coach.

On offense, the Panthers will focus on establishing the run with Williams, Smothers and Gillespie, giving their defense time to rest. The defense might need it in order to limit the effectiveness of Pearl and Bankhead, who accounted for almost 1,700 yards of offense last season for the Bobcats.

Prediction: JACKSON COUNTY. Seeing that the Panthers went the entire 2007 season without a win, picking them to win their first game of the year may be going out on a limb, but these aren’t the 2007 Panthers. This group has one more year of experience under Kirk, and if the mistakes are kept to a minimum, the Panthers should win this game.

East Jackson at West Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Spartan Field, Oakwood

Directions: From Interstate 985 South, take exit 16 and turn right onto Ga. Hwy. 53. After about two miles, turn left onto McEver Road. The school will be two miles ahead on the right.

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

Key players: East Jackson, QB Evan Williamson (5-11, 175 Jr.), RB Robbie King (5-11, 195 Sr.), CB Standrick Stephens (5-10, 170 Sr.). West Hall, RB Marquise Stephens (6-2, 210 Sr.), QB Shunquez Stephens (6-4, 248 So.), LB Gage Brown (5-10, 180 Sr.).

Outlook: West Hall is entering its 21st year of football, East Jackson is entering its second. That alone should tell the story of the first game of the year for the Spartans. The Eagles went 5-5 (1-5 against varsity teams) during their inaugural year in 2007 while playing a mixed varsity and junior varsity schedule, and although the team is experienced, it is not experienced at the varsity level.

West Hall on the other hand is experienced. It plays in a tough region, has a dynamic running back in Marquise Stephens, and a solid quarterback in sophomore Shunquez Stephens, which could spell trouble for the team from East Jackson. The Spartans do have concerns on defense, and King is a powerful running back, but ultimately West Hall will prove to be too strong for the Eagles.

Prediction: WEST HALL. Three words: The Stephens brothers. The duo will be too much for East Jackson to handle, and should be able to move the ball against a team that is playing in its first full year of varsity football.

Jefferson at Commerce

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tiger Stadium, Commerce

Directions: Take US 129 South to Pendergrass until you reach Interstate 85. Take a left onto I-85 North and follow it nine miles. Take exit 147 and go right on Maysville Rd. (Hwy. 98) for approximately three miles. Turn right onto Jefferson Street, then left onto Lakeview Drive. The football field will be on the left after the school.

Coaches: Jefferson, Bill Navas; Commerce, Steve Savage

Key players: Jefferson, WR/DB Zac Crosby (5-9, 175, Sr.), OL/DL Kyle Roberds (5-10, 190 Sr.), OL Sasser Conner (6-5, 300 Sr.), LB Kyle Mosley (6-3, 220 So.). Commerce, LB Josh Streetman (6-0, 195 Sr.), FB Chase Bowen (6-1, 215 Sr), RB Jon Cash (5-9, 160 Jr.), RB Javon Womack (5-11, 175 Sr.

Outlook: Although this game no longer makes a difference in either team’s region record, the match-ups between Jefferson and Commerce are never short of spirit.

The Tigers had control of the series with 11 straight wins, before a 42-7 win by the Dragons last year.

“The two schools enjoy competition in not just football, but every sport,” Commerce coach Steve Savage said. “It’s a good rivalry between the two communities.”

The rushing game remains the bread-and-butter of Commerce’s offense. Senior Phillip Edwards makes his debut at quarterback for the Tigers, with running backs Javon Womack and Jon Cash, and fullback Chase Bowen sharing carries in Savage’s three-back, triple-option set.

The Dragons’ skill players are very capable of producing big plays, led by receivers Lucas Redd and Sky Porter, and quarterback Darius Minor. Jefferson’s offensive line is led by 300-pound senior Sasser Connor. Dragons senior running back/receiver/defensive back Zac Crosby will see limited action after breaking two fingers in his hand in a car accident during the summer.

“We’ll use him as long as he’s pain tolerant,” Jefferson coach Bill Navas said. “Hopefully he’ll be full ready by Week 3.”

Jefferson will utilize a 4-4 defense to battle Commerce’s heavy running game while Commerce plays close to the line with an eight-man front.

Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons have the size on their lines, and the speed at the skill positions that will give them the advantage on offense. Commerce will provide pressure with its running game, but Jefferson’s balanced defense will be hard to compete with.

Habersham Central at Cedar Shoals

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Jungle, Athens

Radio: 99.3-FM

Directions: (From Habersham Central High) Follow Tommy Irvin Parkway south until it merges with US Hwy. 441. Follow Highway 441 about 40 miles south to Athens. Merge onto the Athens bypass (Hwy. 10) and follow it east for about two miles. Exit the bypass at Hwy. 78 East (toward Lexington) and travel east for about three miles. Turn right on Gaines School Road and then left on Cedar Shoals Drive. The school is about 1/4-mile on the right.

Coaches: Habersham Central, Gene Cathcart; Cedar Shoals, Xarvia Smith

Key players: Habersham Central, QB Austin Brown (6-0, 185 So.), OT Charlie Dwozan (5-11, 240 Sr.), WR Dee Ellison (5-11, 175 Jr.), RB/DB Kevin Ellison (6-2, 190 Fr.). Cedar Shoals, RB Bubba Freeman (5-9, 180 Sr.), LB Tremaine Goddard (5-11, 210 Sr.), DE Torrence Callaway (6-0, 255 Sr.).

Outlook: The Raiders have a tough opponent in Class AAAA’s No. 6-ranked Cedar Shoals, having only beaten the Jaguars once before at The Jungle.

Four Cedar Shoals players are suspended from the season opener following a fight during their season-ending loss in the Class AAAA playoffs to Mays last season, including Division-I prospect linebacker/fullback De De Lattimore, a senior, and starting running back Bubba Freeman.

With Lattimore’s 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash out of the lineup, Cedar Shoals’ linebacker group is weakened, allowing Habersham Central to do what they do best: throw the football.

The Jaguars use a 3-5 defense, and are “an aggressive, blitzing team,” according to Cathcart, meaning that running the ball may be the only option if quarterback Austin Brown gets pressured often.

“We’ve worked awfully hard this summer,” Cathcart said. “It’s a tough place to play, but we’re going to give it our best shot.”

Prediction: HABERSHAM CENTRAL. Cedar Shoals is missing important players from its lineup, and that will make moving the ball easier for Habersham Central.

Lumpkin County at Dawson County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville

Directions: Follow Ga. 60, it will turn into Ga. 52 which will turn into Ga. 9. Follow Ga. 9, turn left onto Perimeter Road. Dawson County High School is on the left.

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

Key players: Dawson County, P/K David Scully (6-1, 175 Sr.), RB Eian Airy (5-7, 190 So.), OL Zack Johnson (6-3, 255 So.). Lumpkin County, QB Daniel Abercrombie (5-10, 170 Sr.), LB Jake McClure (5-11, 190 Jr.), FB Haden Rider (5-8, 175 Jr.).

Outlook: Lumpkin County lost its offense from 2007, Dawson County lost close to nothing.

While quarterback and third leading rusher in 2007, Daniel Abercrombie, returns to lead this year’s Indians’ offense, he is the lone notable offensive skill player returning.

Gone are the Jackson cousins who accounted for 120 of Lumpkin County’s 206 points scored last year.
It will take Lumpkin County a few games to find its footing, and go-to players offensively, and Dawson County will take advantage of that.

The Tigers return six starters on what Jeff Lee describes as a speedy defense.

They also return two experienced quarterbacks and have the advantage of depth on offense.

“With the type of offense we run that (depth) is going to be huge to be able to keep kids fresh mentally and physically,” Lee said.

Lumpkin County’s defense will be what keeps the Indians in the game. The defense returns seven starters, and with linebackers like Jake McClure and Lance Chuvala, the unit could keep the game close.

Dawson County will also rely on kicker David Scully, who can consistently place teams inside the 20-yard line to start drives.

Prediction: DAWSON COUNTY. While Lumpkin has an experienced defensive unit, scoring could be an issue because of a lack of experience that the Tigers don’t have.

Banks County at Washington-Wilkes

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Washington

Directions (from Banks County High): Take a right on to Historic Homer Highway and then take a right onto McDonald Circle and follow it to US Highway 441. Follow Highway 441 south to Athens. In Athens, turn left going east on the Athens bypass (Hwy. 10) Loop and exit at Hwy. 78. Follow Hwy. 78 East and follow for 43 miles into Washington. In Washington, take a right onto Mercer St., then left on Gordon St. The school will be on the left.

Coaches: Banks County, Blair Armstrong; Washington-Wilkes, Russell Morgan

Key players: Banks County, RB Justin Beasley (5-9, 175 Sr.); QB Chris Porter (5-10, 175 Sr.); WR Brandon Law (5-9, 150 Sr.); TE Jeff Smith (6-1, 210 Sr.); C Justin Bowen (6-2, 215 Sr.); DT Tyler Hulsey (6-3, 275 Sr.); DE Lyn Hester (6-3, 250 Sr.); OG Zach Dale (6-0, 220 Sr.); RB
Demetric Dempson (5-11, 195 Sr.).

Outlook: Banks County dropped its third game to Washington-Wilkes since 2006 with a loss in the Region 8-AA play-in game last season. Seventh-ranked Washington-Wilkes has moved down to Class A, but the memories left on the field from the last meeting was enough to spark a new rivalry.

“We’re both very physical teams, but we get along very well,” Leopards coach Blair Armstrong said. “It’s become a friendly rivalry.”

Banks County will rely on Times Elite 11 selection Justin Beasley and Demetric Dempson to keep its wing-T offense in balance. The two Leopards seniors are expected to share carries.

Prediction: WASHINGTON-WILKES. The Tigers have more speed in their skill positions and more size on their lines. Although they struggle when it comes to defending passes, Banks County’s wing-T formation doesn’t throw the ball enough for it to make a difference. The Leopards won’t be pushovers, though, as Beasley and Dempson make for one of the most effective running back tandems in northeast Georgia.

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