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This Week: Football playoffs begin for area schools
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Nearly seven months ago high school football teams from across the state began their journey toward a state championship. This week several of those teams realize that completing that quest is just five wins away.

The 2009 high school football playoffs begin Friday with top-ranked Gainesville, Flowery Branch and North Hall vying for the Class AAA title; Buford, Jefferson and Riverside Military Academy battling for the Class AA crown; and Commerce setting its sight on the Class A championship.

Gainesville (10-0) probably has the best chance at competing for a state championship, as the Red Elephants boast the state’s best offense and a defense that is surrendering a miserly six points per game. The Red Elephants are so good that following their 49-17 win over Flowery Branch on Friday, Falcons coach Lee Shaw said that “Gainesville is loaded, and has a great chance at making a run in the playoffs.”

Shaw should know what it takes to make a deep playoff run, as he coached his Flowery Branch team to four wins on the road throughout the 2008 playoffs to finish as the 2008 state runner up. The Falcons will have to do that again this year.

Flowery Branch (7-3) opens the 2009 playoffs as the No. 4 seed out of Region 7-AAA and will travel to Ridgeland (9-1) on Friday to take on a Panthers team that it beat 21-14 last year in the second round of the playoffs.

While the Falcons head out on the road once again, a darkhorse title contender, North Hall, opens the playoffs against Ringgold (8-2) at The Brickyard.

The Trojans (8-2) enter the playoffs riding a seven-game win streak and have scored 38 or more points in all seven of those contests.

Two teams from Class AA also enter the playoffs riding win streaks, with Jefferson (10-0) winning 10 straight and Buford (9-1) winning seven straight. The Dragons open the playoffs at home against Heard County, while the Wolves play host to Pepperell. If both teams advance, they’ll meet up in Round 2 in Jefferson.

Riverside Military (5-5) visits Calloway to start the playoffs. The Cavaliers are the top team from Region 5-AA and have won their last seven games.

Commerce (6-4) plays host to Landmark Christian on Friday.

Head to the hoop
While the football teams are nearing the end of the season, area basketball teams begin their seasons this week with a few scrimmages on the docket.

For the most teams, they’ll have to wait for football season to end in order to get a full view of their talent level this year, but for those schools that are no longer playing football, they’ll get a head start this week.

The high school season is still a week or two away, but the professional teams like the Atlanta Hawks are in full swing. The Hawks visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday to take on the Knicks and then complete their schedule this week with a game at Boston on Friday and a home game Saturday against Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets.

College, pro football
Fresh off their win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday, the Atlanta Falcons travel to Carolina to battle the Panthers, a team that has struggled mightily this season.

A win against the Panthers will improve Atlanta’s record to 6-3 and put the Falcons in a great position to keep their record above .500 for the rest of the season.

The Georgia Bulldogs also hope to build off a blowout win when they play host to Auburn on Saturday night. Georgia Tech, which eeked out a win Saturday against Wake Forest, travels to Durham, N.C. to take on the Duke Blue Devils.

The Yellow Jackets, who moved up to No. 7 in the latest AP Poll released Sunday, are one win away from clinching a spot in the ACC title game.

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