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Playoff previews
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Driving directions 

Flowery Branch vs. Ridgeland

Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.: From Flowery Branch, take Hwy. 53 west to Calhoun and take Interstate-75 North to Chattanooga, Tenn. Take Interstate-24 split west and exit at Market Street onto US-27. From US-27, take exit 1A-Martin Luther King Jr. into downtown. Take a right at the fork onto West Martin Luther King Blvd, and then a right onto Carter Street. The stadium is on the left.

Riverside at Callaway

Callaway Stadium in LaGrange: Take Interstate-85 to exit 18. Turn right at exit and go through downtown LaGrange. Turn Left on Forrest Avenue and left on Dallis Street. The stadium is on Dallis Street with parking available on both sides of the street.

Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe at Gainesville

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Bobby Gruhn Field

Radio: 1240-AM

Coaches: Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Todd Windham; Gainesville, Bruce Miller

Records: Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (7-3, No. 4 6-AAA), Gainesville (10-0, No. 1 7-AAA)

Key players: Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, RB/LB LaGreg Burns (5-11, 190 Sr.), QB Cody Commons (5-8, 174 Sr.), RB/LB Taylor Guerrero (5-10, 160 So.). Gainesville, QB Blake Sims (6-1, 180 Sr.), WR Tai-ler Jones (6-0, 185 Sr.), LB A.J. Johnson (6-3, 230 Jr.).

Outlook: The top-ranked Red Elephants enter the playoffs with their eyes set on a state title and Region 6-AAA’s No. 4 seed is just the first step toward making that goal a reality. Led by a potent offense that averages a state-best 47 points per game and a stout defense that surrenders less than a touchdown a game, Gainesville has been classified by many as the team to beat in this year’s playoffs.

The main reason is because Gainesville has so many weapons on both offense and defense. Sims and Jones are the main cogs on offense, with Sims accounting for more than 2,000 total yards and 35 touchdowns, while Jones has 931 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.
On defense, the Red Elephants are led by the linebacking corps of Thomas Sprague, Johnson, Alberto Sanabria and Graham Simmons. Sprague and Johnson have combined for 249 of the 421 tackles by the foursome.

To accomplish that upset, the Warriors will need solid play from Burns, a versatile running back who has big-play capability.

Big plays could ultimately doom Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, which is giving up 21 points per game and lost 34-0 to Region 6-AAA champion Ridgeland, a team that has speed just like Gainesville.

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants roll in their playoff opener.


Ringgold at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

Radio: 102.9-FM

Coaches: Ringgold, Robert Akins; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Records: Ringgold (8-2, No. 3 6-AAA), North Hall (8-2, No. 2 7-AAA)

Key players: Ringgold, RB Martez Eastland Sr., LB Collins Womack Sr., RB Shaun Anderson So. North Hall, QB/DB Nathan Jones (5-11, 185 Sr.), RB/LB Peyton Wilhoite (6-0, 225 Sr.), OL/DL Daniel Blitch (6-5, 320 Sr.)

Outlook: North Hall and Ringgold got into the current playoff situation by playing great in their region. The Trojans ran a clean sweep of Region 7-AAA’s North subregion with a 6-0 record. Ringgold won 6 of 7 games in Region 6-AAA this season.

The key to the season for North Hall was its seven-game winning streak to wrap up the regular season, including wins against playoff qualifiers Creekview (9-1) and Flowery Branch (7-3). During that stretch, the Trojans averaged 42 points per game.

Meanwhile, Ringgold is averaging 24 points per game, with its highest outputs of the season against Heritage-Catoosa (49) and Southeast Whitfield (48). The Tigers’ only losses were to Region 6-AAA champion Ridgeland 10-7, and to Class AAAA’s South Paulding, 7-6.

North Hall runs out of the Wing-T on offense and finished the regular season with 2,709 rushing yards. Wilhoite (647 yards, 8 TDs), Robert Humphrey (496 yards, 7 TDs), and Jordan Chaffin (457 yards, 8 TDs) are the Trojans’ leading rushers. On defense, Jones leads the Trojans with 89 tackles and eight interceptions, and Wilhoite has 87 tackles, five for a loss.

Ringgold runs out of multiple formations on offense. The Tigers are led by 235-pound running back Martez Eastland, who has 2,000 yards of offense this season, and is ranked as the No. 3 fullback prospect in the country by

On defense, the Tigers base out of a 4-3 scheme, and are led by senior linebacker Collins Womack (53 tackles, two sacks). Ringgold allowed only 11 points per game this season.

Prediction: NORTH HALL. The Trojans
survive and advance to the second round.


Flowery Branch vs. Ridgeland

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Finley Stadium, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Radio: 550-AM

Coaches: Ridgeland, Mark Mariakis; Flowery Branch, Lee Shaw

Records: Ridgeland (9-1, No. 1 6-AAA), Flowery Branch (7-3, No. 4 7-AAA)

Key players: Ridgeland, QB Dominique Wilkins (Sr.) LB Devaughn Buchanan (Sr.), DE Mason Harris (Jr.). Flowery Branch, QB Connor Shaw (6-2, 200 Sr.), RB Imani Cross (6-1, 215 So.), WR/DB Rodney Young (6-1, 190 Sr.).

Outlook: For the second year in a row, Flowery Branch and Ridgeland are meeting up in the postseason. Last year, the Falcons won with a touchdown in the final minute of a second-round game at Ridgeland.

This year’s matchup certainly has a compelling storyline: Ridgeland’s stout defense is going head-to-head with Flowery Branch’s potent spread offense.

During the regular season, the Falcons weren’t held below 30 points until last week’s 49-17 loss to Gainesville at Falcons Field. Led by senior quarterback Connor Shaw (2,338 passing yards, 25 touchdowns), Flowery Branch scored more than 50 points in a game three times this season.

Meanwhile, Ridgeland, the Region 6-AAA champion, had five shutouts and allowed 10 points or less in eight games this season. The Panthers’ only loss was to Class AA’s No. 1-ranked Calhoun, 35-7 in Week 2.

Flowery Branch’s offense doesn’t stop with Shaw. Young (655 receiving yards, 9 TDs) and Darius Kimbrough (503 yards) lead the Falcons receivers. Cross (1,021 yards, 15 TDs) is Flowery Branch’s leading rusher.

Ridgeland will try to counter Flowery Branch’s offensive tempo with its 4-4 defense. Buchanan (102 tackles) and Harris (13 tackles for a loss) are the leaders for the Panthers on defense. Wilkins is Ridgeland’s starting QB and has 837 passing yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons showed last year they can win on the road in the playoffs, four times in fact.


Heard County at Jefferson

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson

Coaches: Heard County, Tim Barron;
Jefferson, T. McFerrin

Records: Heard County (6-4, No. 4 5-AA);
Jefferson (10-0, No. 1 8-AA)

Key players: Heard County, QB Santez Emory (6-1, 170 Sr.), RB Jeremiah Hill (5-9, 185 Sr.), WR Jacquay Williams (Sr.). Jefferson, RB/LB Lucas Redd (6-1, 200 Sr.), QB Darius Minor (5-11, 170 Sr.), OL/LB Kyle Mosely (6-2, 240 Jr.).

Outlook: Jefferson had labored for 30 years without a region championship. Turns out, all the Dragons needed was a moved up in classification.

Jefferson just completed its second straight unbeaten regular season since moving up to Class AA last year. Now, the Dragons take their multi-faceted offense that scores nearly 40 points per game and stingy defense that yields fewer than 14 points per game to the playoffs.

Heard County ended up with the No. 4 seed out of Region 5-AA, but McFerrin says the Dragons have plenty to be concerned about. Emory helms the team’s double-slot option, and is threat running and passing.

Defensively, the Braves are based in a 4-4 alignment and yield about 21 points per game.

Prediction: JEFFERSON. The Dragons have too many way to attack a defense.


Pepperell at Buford

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford

Coaches: Pepperell, Jeff Shiflett; Buford, Jess Simpson

Records: Pepperell (9-1, No. 3 7-AA), Buford (9-1, No. 2 6-AA)

Key players: Pepperell, QB Johnathan Watters (6-4, 190 Sr.), RB Janier Ferguson (5-9, 185 Fr.), RB Marcus Jackson (5-10, 175 Sr.). Buford, OL/DL Kolton Houston (6-5, 280 Sr.), DE/FB A.J. Cunningham (6-0, 198, Sr.), FB Jessel Curry (6-2, 217, Sr.).

Outlook: Much has been made of this year’s Buford team being different from its dominant teams of the past, and the Wolves’ first-round matchup is further proof that winning a third-straight state title won’t come as easy as it used to.

The third-ranked Wolves, who enter the playoffs as a No. 2 seed from Region 6-AA are matched up up against a Pepperrell team that is ranked No. 10 in the state and boasts two running backs in Ferguson and Jackson that rushed for more than 1,000 yards during the regular season.

The Dragons also have the best record of any of Buford’s first-round opponents since 2001. Only Rockmart (8-2 in 2006), Chattoga (7-3 in 2004) and Johnson County (8-2 in 2001) had winning records when playing, and ultimately losing, to Buford in the first round.

But like any coach or player in the state will tell you, come playoff time, Buford is still Buford.

The winning attitude is still there, and even the team’s new motto "New year, new team, same dream," is evidence that winning a state title is still the main objective.

And with their defense, the Wolves have a great chance at bringing home another trophy.

Buford is allowing just 5.6 points per game and 125.2 total yards of offense, which could spell trouble for Ferguson, Jackson and a Dragons’ offense that scored 31 points per game during the regular season.

Prediction: BUFORD. The Wolves aren’t a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2000, but that doesn’t mean they don’t play like one.


Riverside at Callaway

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Callaway Stadium, Hogansville

Coaches: Riverside, Scot Sloan; Callaway, Michael Wiggins

Records: Riverside (5-5, No. 4 8-AA); Callaway (8-2, No. 1 5-AA)

Key players: Riverside, QB/LB Lucas Bersin (6-0, 205 Sr.), LB Aaron Gambrah (6-1, 200 Sr.), TE Brandon McKinney (6-5, 255 Sr.). Callaway, QB Quan Bray, DL Golden Sutton, WR/DB Quantavius Leslie.

Outlook: After two straight losses to begin the season (against Class AAA’s Troup County and Region 8-AA region champion Lovett), the Cavaliers went on an eight-game winning streak to finish the season — extending an existing region wins record to 15 straight.

In that eight-game span, Callaway scored 48 points per game and gave up only eight on its way to its second-straight Region 5-AA championship.

The Eagles, who average just over 15 points per game, are led offensively by quarterback Lucas Bersin who ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns in their season-finale win against Dawson County and Cole Tudor who has averaged 3.7 yards per carry this season.

Riverside’s defense, which allows 21 points per game, is led by Aaron Gambrah (95 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss in the season), who had 14 tackles in Riverside’s 27-0 win against Dawson County.

Prediction: CALLAWAY. The Cavaliers are just too tough on both sides of the ball to beaten at home in the first round.


Landmark Christian at Commerce

When: 8 p.m. tonight

Where: Tigers Stadium, Commerce

Coaches: Landmark Christian, Kenny Dallas; Commerce, Steve Savage

Records: Landmark Christian (6-4, No. 3 5-A); Commerce (6-4, No. 2 8-A)

Key players: Landmark Christian, DL Nate Carry (Sr.), DL Josh Gebhart (Sr.), Carson Barnett (6-1, 170 Jr.). Commerce, RB Deon Brock (5-9, 170 Sr.), LB Josh Streetman (6-2, 200 Sr.), RB/DB Jon Cash (5-9, 160 Sr.).

Outlook: Commerce has seen the best Class A has to offer.

The Tigers opened the season with a challenging nonregion schedule that included No. 3 Lincoln County, then squared off with No. 1 Wesleyan in league play. Commerce was competitive, but lost both games. Still, the Tigers came out with a confidence that they could play with the state’s elite.

Now it’s time to put that confidence to the test.

Led by Barnett and an offensive line that Savage said was one of the best and biggest the Tigers have faced, the War Eagles score 31 points per game.

Prediction: COMMERCE. The Tigers could be the best 6-4 team in Class A.

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