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Holloway: Region 7-AAA proving its worth
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The rest of the state should take notice and the rest of the area should take pride: Northeast Georgia ain’t just Buford and a few basketball schools anymore.

Region 7-AAA football has arrived.

If it wasn’t recognized last year when North Hall stormed its way to the semifinals, or last week when Gainesville and Flowery Branch helped sweep mighty 6-AAA out in the second round of the playoffs, it will be noticed Friday when those two teams go toe-to-toe with a pair of Middle Georgia powerhouses.

And don’t be mistaken, Carver-Columbus and Baldwin are elite teams in 2008. They may not have the historical cache of the Valdosta or Warner Robins teams, but their resumes this season have put them in that kind of company.

That’s why Friday’s games are huge, and not just for the players and fans directly involved.

Because in corners of the state, teams up here aren’t supposed to be able to compete with the kind of athletes they grow below I-20. The recent improvement in the high school football played in these parts is still sloughed off. Naysayers excuse it as a favorable bracket or a down year for the rest of the state when a team from here crashes the party that traditionally has been reserved for schools south of Atlanta.

Can’t really blame them, though. History is on their side.

No Hall County public school has won a football state championship since Gainesville in 1925, according the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. None have advanced to the state finals since Gainesville in 1982, and the county has never had two teams in the same state semifinals.

Empirically speaking, that changes if Gainesville and Flowery Branch win Friday night.

Subjectively though, that changes if the Falcons and Red Elephants make a statement, and I think they will.

Mark it down, the local boys may not win, but they’ll hold their own and should make Hall County proud.
And I don’t think it’s going out on a thin limb to say so.

All it takes is a look at the college-ready talent the area is producing year after year to know that it’s catching up with, and in some cases surpassing, the rest of the state. Gainesville has at least six players (Blake Sims, Tai-ler Jones, Josh Jackson, Shammond Stringer, Phillip Gaines and Brock Boleman) with Division I scholarship offers.

Including Daniel Drummond, who’s already verbally committed, Georgia Tech is going hard after four Falcons (Drummond, Izaan Cross, Connor Shaw and Rodriquez Frazier).

And those lists don’t include sure-to-be-coveted underclassmen like Gainesville’s A.J. Johnson and Flowery Branch’s Imani Cross.

And while it’s the Falcons and Red Elephants that have the opportunity to land the punch for the rest of the region, their bretheren that didn’t make it this far have played their part, toughening up both contenders like a world-class sparring partner.

North Hall, the region’s No. 2 seed, but probably the third-best team, pushed Dunwoody (that’s undefeated and third-ranked Dunwoody) to the edge last week in an 18-13 loss. That’s closer than anybody played the Wildcats all year. And this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Trojans, who lost 5,000-plus yards from their 2007 offense.

It was that game, more than the impressive wins of Gainesville and Flowery Branch, that made me realize that there is no more “Hall County curve.” The teams we watch all year can play with anybody.

Friday night, they get the chance to prove it.
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