Game of the Week: White County at North Hall
You know how you always seem to hear about movies with twist endings before you see them, so that you know to expect something, but you don’t know what?
You end up spending the first 2/3 of the flick trying to figure out what’s coming, but in the end you had no idea — which is what makes the ending noteworthy in the first place.
That’s what high school football is like this season. A couple of months ago, none of us really knew what we were getting into: the regions and rivalries we were accustomed to had been shifted, last year’s best players graduated, others were changing teams.
But we’d heard the payoff was going to be worth it, as the new region alignments promised Act III action like we’d never seen.
We’re only now midway through the season, but we’re deep enough in it to know that the final scenes that will play out on Nov. 5 are guaranteed to be full of drama.
So far, that’s just about the only thing we know.
We still haven’t figured out just how good Gainesville can be. We still don’t know if anybody will ever beat North Hall in a subregion game.
Who’s the best team in 8-AAA?
Who’s coming out of 8-AA North?
Can anybody tackle A.J. Johnson?
Don’t know. Don’t know. And only with help.
Instead of enumerating all that’s yet to be determined, let’s count the things we do know.
And at the top of the list…
1. The beat goes on in Flowery Branch. The Falcons dispelled the notion that they were a predator fattening on the weakened calves of northeast Georgia with impressive playoff runs each of the last two years. But they’ve taken their legitimacy to a new level this season since moving up to the state’s second-largest classification.
In five games as a member of Class AAAA, the Falcons are scoring 40 points per game and giving up 10. They lead the area in both categories, as well as passing yards per game. They have the area’s top-rated quarterback, the No. 3 rusher, the top two receivers, two of the top three in tackles, the most accurate placekicker, and the best punter.
All that after losing more than half of last year’s starters and playing in a region that put three teams in last year’s quarterfinals (Flowery Branch has already beaten two of them, by the way).
Lee Shaw built this program from scratch beginning eight years ago; it’s hard to imagine he could’ve done a better job.
2. East Hall has playoff potential. When the regions were redrawn, the disparity between 8-AA’s two subregions stood out. With five 2009 playoff teams in the South, and none in the North, the door was left open for the Vikings, who were coming off three straight one-win seasons.
With defensive standouts in Georgia Tech-bound Chaz Cheeks and future Georgia Bulldog Sterling Bailey, East Hall returned two of the best players in the region. But what might propel the Vikings into postseason contention is the emergence of the offense.
Led by Jamond Witt, East Hall leads the area with more than 300 rushing yards per game and has scored 70 points in the last two weeks combined. The last time the Vikings scored that many in two games was 2005, which was also the last time they made the playoffs.
3. A.J. Johnson is the best player in the area. There are few others you could make arguments for, but no single player can sway the outcome of a game like Gainesville’s senior linebacker.
The 235-pounder is averaging an astounding 17 tackles per game and when he’s needed, he can be one of the area’s best runners, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry from the Red Elephants’ version of the Wildcat offense.
4. Realignment has been a good thing. Yes, some of the bus rides are longer and we’ve lost some rivalries, but the payoff is coming.
Nov. 5 could be the most exciting night of football northeast Georgia has ever seen, with three region championships likely to be on the line, and at least six games contested with direct playoff implications.
Like a classic of the silver screen, the best is being saved for last.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesbholloway.