The Blitz: Your source for high school football
This week’s predictions
Falcons over Redskins: Just the cure for a team smarting after two straight losses.
Georgia over Tennessee Tech: In a close one. Just kidding. Sort of.
Georgia Tech over Wake Forest: Assuming the defense doesn’t wait until halftime to get off the bus like it did against Vandy.
Gainesville over Flowery Branch: If the Red Elephants have any weaknesses, we haven’t seen them yet.
Jefferson over East Jackson: The Dragons take the 8-AA title on the strength of their defense and ground game.
Creekview over Chestatee: The Grizzlies’ running game is a bear.
North Hall over Lumpkin County: The Trojans are scoring 43 points per game during their six-game winning streak.
Riverside over Dawson County: Another trip to the playoffs awaits the Eagles with a win tonight.
East Hall over Pickens: With momentum finally at their back, the Vikings close 2009 on a winning streak.
White County over Gilmer: The Warriors close the season with four straight wins and a 7-3 record.
West Forsyth over West Hall: Wolverines’ running back Ben Emert is on a tear since being stopped by Gainesville.
Union County over Banks County: Even with a win, the Panthers’ season could end tonight.
Buford over Greater Atlanta Christian: The Wolves tune up for the playoffs against one of 6-AA’s weakest defenses.
Commerce over Prince Avenue: With 83 points in the last two weeks, the offense is clicking in Commerce.
Stephens County over Jackson County: The Panthers’ last shot at a region win in 2009 comes up short.
Athens Christian over Lakeview: The offense should get back on track, but it may not be enough for a Lions win.
Towns County over Glascock County: If the Indians can rediscover their offense, they should be able to finish the year on a winning note.
Last week: 17-2
Season: 134-30 (.817)
The Red Elephant faithful is one agitated fanbase this week. You can hear the indignation in the members’ voices when they call to talk about what they read in the paper or what they heard around town.
Surely there’s no way that Gainesville, unbeaten and No. 1 in the state, could slide all the way to No. 3 in the region with one slip-up against a two-loss Flowery Branch team.
Surely there’s no way North Hall, which the Red Elephants stomped 55-12, could walk away with the 7-AAA championship.
Surely there’s a mistake, they say.
But there’s no mistake.
Were I a Red Elephant, I’d be indignant, too.
Despite the fact that Gainesville, in a traditional region alignment, would have already clinched its second straight region title, the Red Elephants still have to win tonight to avoid getting sent on the road in the first round of the playoffs.
This, despite the fact that Gainesville has done more than what’s been asked so far, not only winning its first nine games, but doing so in dominating fashion.
Detractors, not that there are many, could point to the fact that Gainesville has only played two playoff teams so far (North Hall and Franklin County). But the Red Elephants can answer by pointing to the scoreboard — they beat the Trojans and Lions by a combined score of 96-12.
The Red Elephants are No. 2 among all GHSA football teams in scoring offense with 47.1 points per game, and No. 2 in Class AAA in scoring defense with 5.8 points allowed per game. That’s reason enough to be confident.
But there’s also a hint of concern in this week’s righteous Big Red uprising, and that’s understandable too. Because the only team in the state that scores more prolifically than Gainesville is Flowery Branch, which gets the slight edge at 47.4 points per game.
Defensively, there’s no comparison. The Falcons have been gashed on numerous occasions by powerful, Wing-T running games.
The Red Elephants aren’t that kind of team, but they rush for nearly 200 yards per game, and with running back Teryan Rucker and quarterback Blake Sims, they have a pair of runners that can take it the distance from any spot on the field.
They’ve also got a passing game that’s matched in the region only by Flowery Branch.
Of course, Gainesville hasn’t had to defend a passing game like the Falcons’ yet either, and that makes Flowery Branch dangerous, not only to the Red Elephants, but any team the Falcons will face in the playoffs.
Speaking of which, a loss tonight might not be the worst thing that could happen to Gainesville — not that you could expect any Red Elephants to see it that way.
Gainesville is playing for a state championship this season. That’s been the expectation since last season ended, and there’s been nothing to temper those hopes yet.
But the 7-AAA champion will have, arguably, the toughest route to the state championship of any No. 1 seed in the Class AAA playoffs, with No. 2 Peach County and No. 3 Carver-Columbus potentially standing in the way.
The No. 3 seed from 7-AAA, meanwhile, will be placed in the only quarter of the bracket that’s likely to not house any of the state’s top-five teams.
Of course, without the subregion system, none of this would matter quite like it will matter tonight. Gainesville would have already put in the order for another region championship banner and turned its eyes toward the postseason.
But this is the system we’re stuck with for the time being, and because of it, tonight’s game is more than the state’s two best offenses on display.
It’s more than a chance to see two of the best quarterbacks in the state sharing the same field, more than a chance to see how these two teams stack up against a playoff-caliber opponent, more than a battle for bragging rights. Even if there shouldn’t be, there’s a region championship on the line.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org