The final night of the high school football regular season always comes with major implications.
This year is no exception.
North Hall (6-3, 4-1 Region 7-3A) is the hottest program in Hall County, having won its last three games in region play by a 141-6 margin and are a lock for the playoffs.
Riding a three-game region winning streak, Gainesville (5-4, 3-1 Region 8-6A) faces fouth-ranked Lanier with the chance to earn its first home playoff game since 2015, which happens to be the last year the Longhorns (8-1, 3-1) won a region championship.
At Flowery Branch (7-2, 3-2 Region 7-4A), consecutive losses to No. 5 Blessed Trinity (8-1, 5-0) and fourth-ranked Marist (9-1, 5-1) put a home playoff game out of the question. Still, the Falcons know they’re headed to the postseason regardless of the outcome against Denmark (6-2, 3-2).
Johnson (4-5, 1-3 Region 8-5A) gets in the postseason with a win against Loganville (2-7, 2-2) on Friday.
Lakeview Academy and Riverside Military have a region crossover game on Friday before playoff brackets for Class A private schools are set.
Here’s a deeper dive into the three big games this week.
NORTH HALL VS. DAWSON COUNTY: Back-to-back seasons the Tigers have won the head-to-head matchup against the Trojans and carried the No. 2 seed into state. North Hall has opened the playoffs on the road with the No. 3 seed the past two seasons.
The Trojans are healthy and playing for their first home playoff game since the 2012 state semifinal season. North Hall is coming off its best night running all season (414 yards vs. East Hall).
In all four Region 7-3A victories and 5 of 6 wins this season the Trojans have surpassed 300 yards on the ground.
JT Fair is only 7 yards short of 1,000 yards on the ground for North Hall.
This is a matchup that has leaned in Dawson County’s favor in recent years, winning against North Hall three straight seasons.
The breakout standout for the Tigers this season has been sophomore quarterback Luke Holtzclaw, who has thrown for 1,546 yards and 15 touchdowns.
In 2016, Dawson County won 45-27 against North Hall to finish region runner-up. The Trojans took the fourth seed to state three years ago.
GAINESVILLE VS. LANIER: The Red Elephants are in contention for their first home playoff game in four years but are already assured a trip to the postseason for the 20th straight season.
Facing fourth-ranked Lanier is one of Gainesville’s toughest tests all season. The Red Elephants opened the season with a win against No. 8 Mary Persons, but have since lost all three games to ranked opponents.
The Red Elephants opened region play with a 42-7 loss to top-ranked Dacula on Oct. 4.
The Longhorns lost their chance at a Region 8-6A championship by losing head to head to the Falcons, their only game against a ranked opponent. Lanier has won all five previous meetings against Gainesville. The first two times the schools played (2014 and 2015), the Longhorns were ranked. Gainesville has not been ranked previously when it played Lanier.
Gainesville is paced by a more balanced offensive unit than in past seasons.
Lanier is also balanced on offense, led by senior running back Taj Barnes with 1,173 yards and 14 scores, which is 20 more yards than its quarterback Andrew Blackford has through the air.
FLOWERY BRANCH AT DENMARK: It’s a bit misleading that the Falcons, possibly the best team in Hall County, are not in the running for a home playoff game. Flowery Branch’s only two losses were to top-5 ranked opponents in Region 7-4A. Still, tonight’s game has big implications. The winner gets the No. 3 spot to state and avoids top-ranked Cartersville (9-0) in the first round of the playoffs.
With senior quarterback Elijah Gainey out for the entire season with a knee injury, the Falcons’ defense has really stood out. In 5 of 7 wins, Flowery Branch has allowed just single-digit points with four shutouts.
The two-loss Danes are one of the biggest surprise teams in Class 4A, losing by a single point to Blessed Trinity on Oct. 11.
Denmark has been infused in 2019 with the addition of junior quarterback Aaron McLaughlin (1,576 yards, 14 TDs), who played his first two years at Buford.
The top two spots, once again, are solidified by Blessed Trinity and Marist. Three straight seasons Blessed Trinity and Marist have finished with the top two spots in their respective region.