We still have five teams with a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, and I have the feeling that Flowery Branch has one of the best Class AAAA teams in the state.
I am reminded of one of the things we used to tell our players when I was coaching: It is not always the best team that wins, it's the team that plays the best. The great lesson kids learn from sports is forcing yourself to play your best even at times when you feel like you are overwhelmed by fatigue.
1. Flowery Branch (5-0) Power Rating 6.39, Average points 52.4, Average allowed 8.2: The undefeated Falcons had last week off and have extra time to prepare for Friday night's game against Habersham Central. Habersham is coming off a 54-10 win over Barrow County.
Statistically, the Falcons have both Hall County's best offense and best defense, while Gainesville is second in both categories. With the Falcons playing Class AAAA competition, we no longer see a Gainesville-Flowery Branch game, a game which would, and did, pack the stadiums.
2. Gainesville (4-1) Power Rating 2.3, Average points 36.8, Average allowed 16.0: Coach Bruce Miller dramatically changed his offense a few years back; he went away from a wing-T offense, which he had tremendous success with, and switched to the spread.
The Gainesville athlete could win with either, but the spread has allowed the Red Elephants to fully use the talents of Deshaun Watson, their splendid sophomore quarterback. Gainesville has always had a number of fine receivers, but it wasn't until going to the spread with a fine quarterback that they put so much stress on the defense.
I want you to think like a defensive coach for a minute: You have four wide receivers. Each is fast with good hands. If you try too hard to cover them, you have left four defensive linemen trying to tackle or at least control one of North Georgia's best open-field athletes, the Red Elephant quarterback.
Last Friday night's 47-0 win over Johnson is an example of one team having more good athletes to the point that the game was not very competitive. The Johnson player is well prepared and he plays hard, but every year the Red Elephants will suit up twice as many players as Johnson. Both the numbers and the Gainesville 70-plus years of tradition are very hard to overcome.
Friday night the Red Elephants host Oconee County (2-3), which lost 37-30 in overtime last week to Monroe Area.
3. East Hall (3-2) Power Rating 1.12, Average points 26.4, Average allowed 23.6: The Vikings jumped all over Rabun County last week, winning 35-14. They also did it the old-fashioned way: running the ball an almost unheard-of 59 times for 412 yards. That is almost 7 yards per carry. I promise you, when somebody runs for over 400 yards, you not only lost, but you know you have lost.
East Hall is Hall County's smallest public school, and I am sure that transfers into fewer players. But the Vikings have always had very tough, aggressive football players and, while they don't win them all, a trip to play the Vikings is one very competitive night of football. Rabun County realized that when the Wildcats climbed onto the bus for the trip back north last week.
Friday night the Vikings head north to play Union County in Blairsville, another important subregion game. Before leaving East Hall, I have to mention one more thing. I keep looking at those 412 yards on the ground and I can't help think of those terrific offensive linemen and the great night they must have had.
4. North Hall (2-3) Power Rating 1.0, Average points 30.4, Average allowed 30.4: In spite of Chestatee's higher power rating, North Hall is clearly a much better team than Chestatee, as the Trojans proved on the field last week in a 48-7 win.
North Hall has played a brutal non-region schedule. That hurts their record and lowers their power rating, but it really prepares players to be mentally tough against subregion foes. It looks to me like North Hall put its schedule together in a way to help its players be at their very best against region foes.
The power rating undervalues North Hall's team. It is a better-than-.500 team and the Trojans have played the toughest first half season schedule of any of the Class AAA teams in Hall County.
White County, Friday's opponent, may be down a notch from what it has been in previous years, but it is a tough opponent every week for whoever it is playing.
5. Chestatee (3-2) Power Rating 1.11, Average points 31.2, Average allowed 28.2: Going into last week's Chestatee-North Hall Game it looked like this year may have been the War Eagles' year. Betsy and I were tied up last Friday, but had hoped to see the last part of that game. I thought North Hall had a slightly stronger team, but figured it would take all four quarters to decide the winner of this year's game.
Wrong again. North Hall was leading 28-0 at halftime and entered the fourth quarter with a 42-7 lead.
The War Eagles host a strong Stephens County team Friday. After dropping the season opener, the Indians are on a four-game winning streak.
6. West Hall (1-4) Power Rating 0.52, Average points 17.4, Average allowed 33.4: The Spartans have a really good sophomore quarterback in Chandler Newton. One thing about sophomore starters, when you play against them in the second half of the season they don't play like sophomores any more. One reason why is that they wouldn't have been starters as sophomores had they not shown their coaches exceptional skill, and each week they have had a great learning experience under fire.
My guess is that last week's nice win over Walnut Grove will make the Spartans a more formidable foe during the last five games of the season. The Spartans play at Johnson on Friday in an important game for both teams and their coaching staffs.
7. Johnson (0-5) Power Rating 0.38, Average points 12.6, Average allowed 32.8: I have noticed for several years that Johnson, which always comes well prepared for every game, has a depth problem. Its bench typically has about 30 players suited for games, while most of its opponents have at least 60.
Last week against Gainesville, Johnson gave up one first-quarter touchdown pass to enter the second quarter down 7-0. Then Gainesville took over and outscored the Knights 34-0 in the second quarter, with one of the scores coming on an interception return.
Johnson had a huge problem with fumbles, putting the ball on the ground 10 times and losing four. Johnson outgained Gainesville on the ground 178 yards to 81, which suggests the Johnson offensive line was competitive with a mighty strong Red Elephant defense. The Johnson secondary also picked off two passes.
One of the most competitive games I think we'll see Friday is the Battle of Oakwood when the Knights host West Hall.
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.