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High school football: Three Hall County teams prepare to face three ranked opponents in the first round of state playoffs
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North Hall's Jacob Dickey looks for blocking while carrying the ball for the Trojans Friday, Nov. 8, 2019, during the first half of their game with Dawson County at The Brickyard. - photo by Scott Rogers

It’s that time of year again. 

As the weather cools and fall transitions into winter, the high school football playoffs begin this Friday, with several local schools hoping to push as deep as possible into their respective postseason brackets.

The only first-round game to be played in Hall County will be North Hall’s matchup against Lovett Friday at the Brickyard. Gainesville will travel to Allatoona to take on the Buccaneers, while Flowery Branch will go on the road to face Cartersville. 

Each matchup offers different challenges and opportunities for the programs still eyeing state titles, but the first step is winning in Week 1. Here’s a quick look at each of the three playoff contests involving Hall County teams.

North Hall vs. Lovett

The Trojans narrowly defeated Dawson County last Friday to earn home field advantage for the first round of the Class 3A tournament, but the win did them no favors in terms of ease of playoff opponent. 

Lovett finished 7-3 in the regular season, but two of those losses came against Marist, the No. 5 team in Class 4A, and Cedar Grove, ranked No. 2 in 3A. The Lions beat the only common opponent shared between the schools — a Greater Atlanta Christian team that took down North Hall 45-21 in early October.  

Lovett is led by multi-dimensional senior quarterback Blaine McAllister, who compiled nearly 2,000 total yards in the regular season and accounted for 25 touchdowns. 

Momentum will be North Hall’s biggest ally in the game, as the Trojans are a perfect 4-0 over the last month and have scored at least 38 points in each of those wins. Health will also be key for a North Hall team that has battled injuries to key starters throughout 2018. Star running back JT Fair exited last week’s game in the second half, and the Trojans will hope to get him back ahead of the school’s biggest game of the season. 

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Flowery Branch running back Jaizen Ellingham tries to get around a host of Marist defenders Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, as he carries the ball during the first half of the Falcons game with the War Eagles at Falcon Field - photo by Scott Rogers

Flowery Branch at Cartersville

The Falcons were one of the hottest teams in 4A right out of the gate this season, winning five straight to start the year including a couple of dominating shutouts. But Flowery Branch struggled down the stretch as the schedule toughened, dropping three of the last four games against Marist, Denmark and defending state champion Blessed Trinity. 

Those losses proved costly for a Falcons squad now forced to square off against the No. 1 team in all of 4A in Cartersville on the road. 

The Hurricanes won 14 straight last season before losing to Blessed Trinity in the title game, and once again carry a perfect 10-0 record into playoffs — eight of those wins coming by multiple scores. 

Cartersville quarterback Tee Webb ranks 12th in the state with 2,198 passing yards, and tossed 22 touchdowns with only 3 interceptions during the regular season. The Hurricanes also managed a productive running game, splitting the work between a multitude of backs (no rusher carried the ball more than 54 times) who combined to score 21 rushing touchdowns. 

In order to combat an explosive offense that has scored more than 40 points in each of its last four contests, Flowery Branch will lean on the run-heavy, time of possession based offense that has brought it success throughout the year. Cartersville provides as big a challenge for the Falcons as they’ve faced all year. 

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Gainesville High quarterback Gionni Williams carries the ball for the Red Elephants for a big gain Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, during the first half of their game at The Branch. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gainesville at Allatoona

Gainesville has hit its stride of late, winning three straight region games in October and early November, and nearly taking down No. 7 Lanier at City Park Stadium last Friday. It will be a road trip for the Red Elephants, who would have instead hosted Sprayberry had they managed to complete the upset over Lanier. 

Allatoona comes into this game ranked at No. 8 in the state, and the Buccaneers have been as consistent as anyone throughout the year. The team’s only two losses on the season came against Harrison and Cartersville — both of which finished the year undefeated and both of which are ranked in the top two of their respective classifications. 

Allatoona’s offense is paced by a trio of seniors — quarterback Dante Marshall, running back Alex Wilson and wide receiver Asante Das — who have combined for 25 of the Buccaneers’ 35 offensive touchdowns on the year. 

Gainesville coach Heath Webb has put a heavy emphasis on both sides of the line of scrimmage since arriving at the program at the beginning of last season, and it’s been a strength for the Red Elephants. Offensive lineman Jordan Williams and defensive lineman Makius Scott have both drawn multiple Division I offers. Gainesville will need to dominate that area of the game if it wants to have a chance of advancing to the second round

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