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Clausen: Hall County teams prepare for state playoffs
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This has been a really great season for the Hall County high school football player. After 12 exciting weeks we have five winning teams, and a sixth team that had a .500 record. Collectively they have won 45 games and lost 25 games.

Their offenses have scored 2,315 points while their defenses have allowed 1,483 points. That’s a winning percentage of 64 percent! And what makes this even more impressive is when they play each other, one team goes down as a win and the other as a loss. This reminds me of the Big 10, the Pac-12 and the SEC — their toughest contests are when they play each other.

We see one of the country’s top-rated quarterbacks and then hidden behind the numbers in the 50s, 60s and 70s are some of the finest blockers and tacklers in high school football. A lot of national recruiters, like I was at one time at The Ohio State University, are asking the same question I used to ask: “How do I get to Hall County?”

1. Gainesville (9-1, 8-0 Region 8 AAAAA,) PR 3.13; Average Points Scored 52; Average Points Allowed 16.6 — Gainesville High School, like a lot of outstanding football teams at both the college and high school level, have a long tradition of excellence. In the stands each week, there are a lot of Red Elephant alums who helped establish the relentless pursuit of excellence that is expected at your Alabamas, Ohio States and Southern Cals.

Winning has become an expectation, and they have lived it with this team this year. I don’t know if I can ever recall one athlete who had 446 total yards of offense and six touchdowns like Deshaun Watson had last Friday night, including 201 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. He’s the kind of player that keeps defensive coaches up at night. Cover his receivers and he beats you scrambling. Put an extra rusher or two in the rush and he puts the pass right on target to Jay Gaudlock or Chastin Newman for touchdowns.

The Red Elephant defense had to hold off a fourth quarter rally by the Flowery Branch Falcons to ensure the victory. After last year’s loss to Flowery Branch, you can bet this was an important win for the Red Elephant’s senior leadership. The Red Elephants host M.L. King High School from Lithonia Friday night. They finished fourth in Region 6-AAAAA with an overall record of 7-3 (6-3 in the region).

2. North Hall (8-2, 5-2 Region 7-AAA,) PR 2.24; Average Points Scored 42.5; Average Points Allowed 19 — It’s hard to measure what a loss to Buford means since it’s one of the best football programs in the country.

The Wolves have consistently produced a high number of Division-I college football players. There are a lot of good football programs in Northeast Georgia, but none as talented as the Buford Wolves. The North Hall Trojans are tough, talented and well-coached.

And the Buford game is the one game where they were outmanned, 42-14. North Hall, though, faced tough times and never gave up. They were able to score in the third and fourth quarter. Zac Little had a 53-yard TO run and Andrew Smith added a 2-yard touchdown run. Being seeded third in Region 7-AAA, the Trojans will travel to Ringgold, who is seeded second Region 5-AAA with an 8-2 overall record and a 6-1 region record.

3. Chestatee (8-2, 6-1 Region 8 AAAA) PR 2.06; Average Points Scored 28; Average Points Allowed 13.6 — Using “points allowed” in our power ratings, Chestatee has played the best defense at the end of 10 games with an average of 13.6 points allowed a game.

To compare this, Gainesville has given up 16.6 and North Hall 19 points per game. The War Eagles’ defense has pitched three shutouts this season, including this past Friday night’s win against Madison County, 42-0. William Fayson, the War Eagles’ defensive leader, has 114 tackles and two interceptions this year, plus he blocked two punts and returned another punt for a touchdown.

Zac Cheshire broke the 1,000-yard rushing mark in this game. I’m sure that these two fine seniors are an inspiration in the locker room. Friday night the War Eagles will host 8-2 Grady (Seeded third in Region 6-AAAA) from Atlanta. This is the second year in a row Chestatee has hosted a first-round playoff game. Go get ‘em, War Eagles!

4. Flowery Branch (7-3, 7-1 Region 8 AAAAA) PR 1.78; Average Points Scored 35.3; Average Points Allowed 19.8 — This past Friday night, two of the top football teams in the county met to determine the Region 8-AAAAA champion. As a Hall County football fan, you don’t have to leave the county to see two state champion-level teams play. Flowery Branch is a 20-minute drive to Gainesville.

You’d have to travel far and wide to see two better AAAAA football teams. Jackson McDonald passed for 254 yards — 23 for 31 attempts and two touchdowns.

McDonald ran for 48 more yards and three more touchdowns — he had quite a night! Behind some terrific offensive blocking, Jeremiah Goss ran for 192 yards on 10 carries and Cameron Davis caught nine passes for 113 yards. This was definitely an offensive game with the score 55-45 won by Gainesville. That’s 100 points, folks! (That’s three weeks of football!)
Tomorrow night Stephenson comes into town for the first week of playoffs. From now on, all opponents are good because it’s win or go home. Stephenson, from Stone Mountain, is seeded third in Region 6-AAAAA.

The Jaguars are 8-2 overall and 7-2 in the region, while Flowery Branch is seeded second in Region 8-AAAAA.

5. West Hall (6-4, 4-3 Region 7-AAA) PR 1.39; Average Points Scored 25.3; Average Points Allowed 18.2 — West Hall’s 10-7 victory over Dawson County clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 11 seasons. This was a slug-it-out four-quarter game where the first team that blinked lost and the other team went to the playoffs. It seems appropriate that senior Hunter Atkinson’s 17-yard run iced the victory.

If you’re a senior football player, from here on out you’re fighting for one more game because the next game you lose, for most players, it will be the last game you will ever play. They will carry through life memories of their great teammates. Friday night, the Spartans head to Cartersville, who is seeded No. 1 in 5-AAA with a 10-0 overall record and 7-0 region record.

6. East Hall (5-5, 2-5 Region 7-AAA) PR 1.18; Average Points Scored 32.8; Average Points Allowed 27.8 — The East Hall Vikings’ seniors closed out their high school football careers with a 55-20 victory over Fannin County. They were led by their splendid quarterback, Devin Watson, who averaged almost 17 yards a carry in nine carries and had an additional 181 yards passing and three touchdowns.

By the way, Devin is only a junior. It’s great for the East Hall football program that they have his leadership of another season. Ore Brawner ran for two touchdowns and caught three passes for 30 yards.

7. Johnson (2-8) PR 0.47; Average Points Scored 15.6; Average Points Allowed 33.3 — Johnson lost in the last couple of minutes, 35-34, to Lafayette in a heartbreaker game. It’s been a tough year for the Knights not being in a region. The 2014 season will see Johnson play football in a region, so that should help them focus nicely on this next season. Region play allows the individual players to focus on the goal of qualifying to play in the state playoffs.

This is something Johnson High School has not had for the last few years. The Johnson player plays hard, he is fundamentally sound and next year they will have a focused football team.

Chuck Clausen is a Hall County resident who coached high school, college and professional football for 28 years. His Power Ratings column appears each Thursday during high school football season.

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