It’s do-or-die time for Gainesville and North Hall.
Yes, both could lose this week and still find their way into the playoffs, but that’s not what this is about. This is about the area’s two most dominant teams over the last 10 years trying to stay on top of a new world order.
Despite the emergence of Flowery Branch, probably Hall County’s best team this year, no teams have ruled the Greater Hall County area in the last decade like the Red Elephants and Trojans. Between them, they won all eight region championships when 7-AAA was the league that dominated Lanierland.
But as you’ve probably heard, realignment has changed things, brought new teams in and shipped some out.
And as of now, there’s no established alpha team in 8-AAA yet.
Tonight’s games, especially No. 8 Gainesville’s trip to No. 9 Monroe Area, will go along way to deciding who might become the new leader.
Even though the Red Elephants have more new starters than ones who saw regular action in last year’s run to the state title game, and even though the Purple Hurricanes (6-0, 2-0 Region 8B-AAA) are the only team in the region still unbeaten, Gainesville feels like the team with the most to lose tonight.
Not only has Monroe Area never beaten Gainesville in 22 tries, the Purple Hurricanes also entered this season on 20-game losing streak. Beating a reigning state finalist would be the kind of win the Purple Hurricanes could hang their season on.
They’re going to such extremes as to call for a “Black Out,” tonight, because for them, this is the game of the season.
For Gainesville, it’s just the next game.
That might turn out to be a good thing for Red Elephants; even the members of the team who didn’t play much last year still had the experience of preparing for games that were bigger than this one – the region championship against Flowery Branch, the rematch in the semifinals and the state championship in the Georgia Dome.
But if this year’s team wants to extend Gainesville’s region championship streak to three in a row, this is its biggest game of the year too.
North Hall’s region title hopes took a hit last week when the Trojans lost to White County. There’s still a chance they could end up in the region title game on Nov. 5, but they’ll need some help.
But before they can worry about that, the Trojans need to handle the things they can control.
That starts with tonight’s game against Lumpkin County, because if they don’t beat the Indians, the Trojans may need help just getting into the playoffs.
Because while North Hall and Lumpkin County meet at The Brickyard, Stephens County will be playing at White County with first place in the 8-AAA North on the line. The winner will have the inside track on first place with only two subregion games remaining, and the loser will be in second.
For the Trojans just to keep pace, much less remain in subregion championship contention, a win tonight is critical.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.