Here's a look at five things we learned from Week 9 of the high school football season...
1. Three programs stepped up to make history
It isn't often that one area team can make history. We were triply blessed on Friday, as Winder-Barrow, Jackson County and Lakeview Academy all came up with huge wins for their programs. First off, the Bulldoggs threw a gigantic monkey off their collective backs with a 31-21 defeat of Cedar Shoals. The victory busted a 31-game losing streak that stretched back into the 2009 season, when Winder dropped its last four games of the campaign. Meanwhile, Jackson County reached even further back into its past on Friday, knocking off Oconee County 48-32 to claim its fifth victory of the campaign. The win over the Warriors provided the Panthers with their highest win total in any single season since 1992 -- when the late Don Golden led Jackson County to an 8-2-1 record and the state playoffs (the program's last postseason appearance). First-year head man Benji Harrison has the Panthers back in state contention, and the former Flowery Branch assistant has already impressed just eight games into the campaign. And, finally (but no less important), another area team accomplished a first, as Lakeview Academy dominated North Cobb Christian 63-28 to claim the Lions' first ever winning season. Coach Matthew Gruhn has seen the program through its infancy, reaching respectability with back-to-back .500 campaigns in 2010 and '11. Now Lakeview has a realistic chance at reaching six wins in a campaign, when the Lions play host to Towns County this Friday night. Congratulations to all three on a big Week 9.
2. The Jaycees are going to have an extra tough time picking their Player of the Week this go around
OK, so we're taking a little bit of pity on ourselves, and the Jaycees, but it's a good problem to have. There have been some great performances by a number of standouts this season, but nothing quite like this:
-- White County quarterback Will Brock totaled 436 yards and seven touchdowns, five passing in 47-42 win over Dawson County.
-- Stephens County running back Chaz Thornton rushed for 205 yards and two scores on 32 carries in a 27-18 defeat of Lanier.
-- East Hall running back Austen Mahaffey had 230 yards rushing and three touchdowns and 48 yards receiving in 56-20 defeat of Banks County.
-- Rabun County's Charlie Woerner hauled in 140 yards receiving, including an 86-yard touchdown catch, and 87 yards rushing with two touchdowns in 38-10 defeat of Union County
-- Jackson County running back Dustin Scott rushed 24 times for 317 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-32 win over Oconee County.
If there's been a more impressive collection of performances on one night, we haven't seen it this season.
3. Flowery Branch's defense is at its most formidable at just the right time
The Falcons will hope that a week off doesn't derail the momentum they have built through the last two weeks -- especially in Friday's impressive stunting of the Clarke Central in a 24-13 win in Athens. Flowery Branch's defense clamped down on the Gladiators' normally-explosive offense, giving up just 151 yards. The Falcons were especially stout early, twice holding the hosts out of the end zone inside the Falcons 5-yard line. The two possessions yielded just six points and allowed the Branch to storm back in the second half, pulling away for the victory. The Falcons' attacking defense is forcing turnovers, stopping the run and is a big reason why the Branch has won seven straight games and is set up for a Region 8-AAAAA title showdown with Gainesville on Nov. 9. We're already salivating over the showdown -- one in which the Falcons' defense may face its toughest challenge yet, taking on Gainesville's potent spread attack. But you can bet Flowery Branch is relishing the challenge ahead -- especially with a week off to prepare.
4. Region 8-AA and 7-AAA playoff races start to clear up
While there are plenty of questions still remain, we at least have a vague outline of what the postseason picture looks like in the two regions. The two frontrunners -- Jefferson and North Hall, respectively -- can clinch region crowns this week, while Washington-Wilkes looks a shoo-in for second in 8-AA. Buford might need to win out to secure second in 7-AAA, including the regular season finale against the Trojans. But Buford (which would already have been a lock bar forfeiting two games) is certainly headed back to state. White County likely feels the same after winning a huge game last week against Dawson County to take over third place (they lost a head-to-head with Buford, which is why the Warriors are third). White County (5-3, 3-2 Region 7-AAA) must win out to ensure that is the case, but the Warriors will be favored against West Hall this week and Banks County on Nov. 9. Dawson County (4-4, 2-3) faces the most uncertainty, but the Tigers will be favored in their final two games against Fannin County and West Hall. Win out, and Dawson will finish no worse than fourth. Meanwhile, the race for third and fourth in 8-AA is a little more complicated, though this week's Rabun County at Greene County contest could do much to cement positions. The Tigers (5-3, 3-2 Region 8-AA) could take a big step toward the No. 3 seed with a win. Rabun has already posted its most wins since 2006 and is aiming for its first playoff berth since 1998. Union County, meanwhile is in a tougher spot, needing to win out against Social Circle and Jefferson to give itself the best shot at state. Greene and Oglethorpe County also still have legitimate shots at the postseason -- though the Patriots from Lexington will have to win out against Washington-Wilkes and Rabun to stay in the race. In other words, don't take your eyes off 8-AA.
5. Chestatee set for season-defining showdown
The War Eagles tied their program mark for victories in a season last week and have already won more games in a row than in any previous year. If they can get No. 8 this week, it will be the biggest in the short history of the school. Chestatee (7-1, 5-0 Region 8-AAAA) will take on sixth-ranked Monroe Area (8-0, 5-0) in what is ostensibly the 8-AAAA championship game -- and we're expecting some fireworks. The War Eagles have won their three biggest region games by a combined 12 points -- two of those victories coming in overtime. And while Monroe has blown out most opponents this campaign, the Purple Hurricanes edged out Stephens County in a similar scoreline as the War Eagles. Chestatee also played Monroe, currently featuring a number of the same standouts as last season, close in 2011. The War Eagles fell behind early in Gainesville, only to put together a second half charge that nearly caught Monroe in a 41-35 win for the Purple Hurricanes. As big as this game is, it is not the finale for either team, and a loss wouldn't necessarily rule out a region title for Chestatee, as Monroe will finish the season against an Eastside team that only has one region loss on its record (in overtime against the War Eagles).
AREA FOOTBALL RESULTS, Oct. 26
Apalachee 20, Salem 0
Buford 51, Fannin County 0
Centennial 27, North Forsyth 9
Chestatee 49, Lumpkin County 17
Commerce 42, Hebron Christian 11
Duluth 56, Habersham Central 14
East Hall 56, Banks County 20
Flowery Branch 24, Clarke Central 13
Glascock County 22, Riverside Military Academy 13
Jackson County 48, Oconee County 32
Jefferson 47, Social Circle 10
Lakeview Academy 63, North Cobb Christian 28
Pickens 49, Johnson 21
North Gwinnett 38, Collins Hill 24
North Hall 48, West Hall 10
North Oconee 57, East Jackson 0
Rabun County 38, Union County 10
Stephens County 27, Lanier 18
Towns County 35, St. Francis 33
White County 47, Dawson County 42
Winder-Barrow 31, Cedar Shoals 21
AREA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE, Nov. 2
Monroe Area at Chestatee
Banks County at North Hall
Loganville at Gainesville
Buford at East Hall
West Hall at White County
Dawson County at Fannin County
Lumpkin County at Lanier
Eastside at Stephens County
Jefferson at Riverside Military
Rabun County at Greene County
Social Circle at Union County
Towns County at Lakeview Academy
East Jackson at Franklin County
Elbert County at Jackson County
Winder-Barrow at Clarke Central
Heritage, Conyers at Apalachee
Mountain View at North Gwinnett
Habersham Central at Mill Creek
Johns Creek at North Forsyth