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Holloway: North/South bragging rights on the line
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The Blitz: Your source for high school football

Writer's block: Brent and Jon talk with Gainesville and Flowery Branch coaches about Friday's games.

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You might think the old notion of South Georgia superiority has been dispelled. And for the most part, maybe it has.

Three of the five classifications in the state were won by North Georgia teams last season, and Region 7-AAA alone has sent teams to the Georgia Dome in each of the last two years (North Hall in the 2007 semifinals and Flowery Branch in the 2008 finals) and could have a third in 2009.

But in certain pockets below the “Macon-Dixon line”, that unofficial point of Georgia demarcation between the small town South and the city-fied North, the skeptics persists.

They don’t think teams up here can line up and go toe-to-toe for four quarters of their smashmouth brand of football. Listen close and you’ll probably hear those whispers tonight.

Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw has been hearing them for years.

“You’re always gonna get that. I’ve been hearing that since I was playing high school football,” said Shaw, who played at Rabun County in the state’s topmost northeastern reaches. “That kind of helps the drive of these kids, I think. They want to prove that this is good football up here.”

Flowery Branch proved a lot last season, going on the road and not just winning, but often overpowering juggernauts like Baldwin and LaGrange.

But as the naysayers are quick to point out, those aren’t true South Georgia teams — no matter how many North Georgians think the southern part of the state starts at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. And the fact that Flowery Branch gave the state champs from Cairo of their toughest test of the season (a lot tougher than Carver-Columbus) doesn’t seem to matter.

Well, as fate would have it, the Falcons are deep in the playoffs again. They’ve reached this point by following last year’s script — entering the postseason as a lower-tiered seed and taking to the road and running over region champs.

Now they’re about to face their toughest test of the playoffs, traveling down to Columbus to take on the loaded Carver Tigers, perhaps the only team in the state that can match the college-caliber talent of top-ranked Gainesville. By the way, Gainesville was the last team to beat Flowery Branch, 49-17 in the regular season finale.

Another Falcons win might be their biggest upset of the last two seasons, but if they’ve taught us anything it’s this:

1. Don’t bet against them in the playoffs

2. A spread offense doesn’t mean a finesse offense

Like they did last season on the broad shoulders of Daniel Drummond, the Falcons have shifted a substantial load of the offense onto the back of sophomore bruiser Imani Cross. With one of the state’s savviest and most efficient quarterbacs in Connor Shaw and a ball-control ground game to boot, nothing Flowery Branch achieves would be shocking at this point.

While Flowery Branch has been somewhat free of the burden of expectation as a No. 4 seed, Gainesville has taken on the heft of state’s No. 1 ranking and has yet to break stride.

Tonight, the Red Elephants have a chance to land a blow for their 7-AAA bretheren when Cairo steps on to Bobby Gruhn Field at City Park. Both of the recent Hall County dome teams met their doom against Syrupmakers, the defending state champs.

This won’t be the same team that went 14-0 last year — 19 of those starters graduated. But what the Syrupmakers have come to symbolize — Southern dominance — is fully in tact.

This could also be the stiffest defense Gainesville has faced this year, but in the end, that may not matter, because Gainesville has been teaching it’s own lessons this year. Yes, there are stars on offense and they’re deserving of the hype. But as 12 defeated opponents have already learned, the soul of the 2009 team is something our guests from down South will recognize — a fast, aggressive, physical defense.

But will it be enough to put an end to the North vs. South debate?

Gainesville coach Bruce Miller isn’t so sure.

“It’s one of those things I don’t think we’ll ever get away from, to be honest” he said. “It’s one of those things that will be said forever and ever.”

Maybe so. A win for both or either of the Hall County teams tonight would necessarily undo years of southern superiority, so a shift in the balance of power may not be on the line.

But make no mistake about it, bragging rights are.

Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at
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