Here's a look at five things we learned from the final week of the 2012 regular season of high school football...
1. The Flowery Branch coaching tree is looking strong
The phrase "coaching tree" is usually confined to the college or professional ranks, but it also works for the high school level, and in Flowery Branch's case, it's working very well indeed. The Falcons' original head coach, Lee Shaw, has continued his stellar work upon his return to alma mater Rabun County, leading the Wildcats to their first state playoff berth since 1998, finishing fourth in Region 8-AA. Meanwhile, former Flowery Branch offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Benji Harrison has worked similar magic with Jackson County, clinching the No. 4 seed from Region 8-AAA -- the Panthers' first ever state berth (their previous postseason appearances were in region playoffs). And, of course, there is Chris Griffin, the Falcons former defensive coordinator, who took over the Branch after Shaw left for Rabun County after last season. This past weekend, Griffin led the Falcons to their first ever solo region crown thanks to a gutty, 35-34 defeat of Gainesville in the 8-AAAAA championship game. That's a pretty impressive resume for a bunch of coaches who all formerly worked together.
2. Any team hoping to claim the Class AAA title still must answer to Buford
No Buford did not clinch its fifth straight state title last season, falling in the championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. And, yes, the Wolves have moved up one classification level for the next two seasons. But after Buford's performance in Friday's showdown with North Hall, it's obvious that the Wolves are right back in the running for another state crown. Buford held a previously-dominant North Hall in check for three of four quarters on Friday, looking very much like the program that rolled through Class AA for much of the past decade. There are plenty of new faces in the Wolves line-up this year, but, after watching what it takes to dominate at the state level for the past few seasons, it's clear that this Buford team is very comfortable under pressure and in the spotlight. The Wolves coaches and players will, of course, take things one game at a time in the playoffs, but we have the luxury of being able to look ahead. And there could be a tantalizing match-up with rival Carver-Columbus looming in the quarterfinal round.
3. History has been in abundance this regular season -- historically so
Like every season, the 2012 campaign has created plenty of unique and intriguing storylines. This year, in particular, however, has brought us more historic moments than in any recent season. Chestatee has its most wins in school history and will host its first-ever state playoff game. We also saw Johnson's first winning mark since 2004. We witnessed Flowery Branch seal its first solo region crown. And there is the first-ever state playoff berth for Jackson County, and the first state playoff appearance in 14 years for Rabun County. Stephens County running back Chaz Thornton also went over 6,000 yards for his career, surpassing the legendary Herschel Walker. Dawson County is back in state for the first time since 2004. North Hall has its first region title since 2007 and Jefferson its first since 2009. Lakeview Academy earned its first ever winning campaign. Winder-Barrow also busted a 31-game losing streak. Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson is also on track to surpass last season's unbelievable touchdown mark of 57 -- he currently has 48. And that's just scratching the surface. It was an unbelievable regular season, and we enjoyed every minute of it.
4. How good are area regions? We'll start finding out this week
Debating the strength and depth of regions is something that happens every season, and the only way to truly figure things out is through playoff performance. We're a little biased, but we think northeast Georgia's representatives stand of chance of doing pretty well this postseason. There are a number of teams from this area with loads of playoff experience, and many more with great quarterback play -- an absolute must in the playoffs, where mistakes are magnified. In fact, a look at the teams still playing this week reveals a sort of who's who of area signal callers.
5. We wish we had a cloning machine handy for this Friday
There are more home playoff games at home next week than we've seen for a long time. Buford, Chestatee, Flowery Branch, Gainesville, Jefferson, North Gwinnett and North Hall will all be defending their own turf -- and those area programs that must head out on the road will also be looking to make big names for themselves. We expect plenty of teams to make it through to the second round, but we're also expecting plenty of excitement in week one of the playoffs. While Jacobs Media will do its best to get everything covered, we wish we had a cloning machine to get every game seen in person. It should be a great night of football -- once again -- and we're more than looking forward to it.
AREA FOOTBALL RESULTS, Nov. 9
Apalachee 42, Winder-Barrow 20
Buford 45, North Hall 16
Chestatee 48, Madison County 7
Dawson County 42, West Hall 13
East Hall 34, Fannin County 0
Flowery Branch 35, Gainesville 34
Johnson 40, Heritage Ringgold 21
Mill Creek 17, Collins Hill 14
Morgan County 44, Jackson County 28
North Gwinnett 24, Peachtree Ridge 20
Oconee County 41, East Jackson 7
Pinecrest Academy 31, Commerce 21
Rabun County 49, Oglethorpe County 27
Riverside Military 35, Greene County 3
South Forsyth 35, North Forsyth 14
Stephens County 42, Lumpkin County 3
Towns County 28, Hebron Christian Academy 13
White County 41, Banks County 7
CONFIRMED FIRST ROUND STATE PLAYOFF GAMES FOR AREA TEAMS
North Gwinnett (No. 2 seed, Region 7-AAAAAA) vs. Johns Creek (No. 3, R6)
Mill Creek (No. 3, R7) at Alpharetta (R6, No. 2)
Flowery Branch (No. 1, R8) vs. North Paulding (No. 4, R5)
Gainesville (No. 2, R8) vs. Rome (No. 3, R5)
Chestatee (No. 2, R8) vs. LaGrange (No. 3, R5)
Stephens County (No. 3, R8) at Carrollton (No. 2, R5)
North Hall (No. 1, R7) vs. Woodward Academy (No. 4, R6)
Buford (No. 2, R7) vs. Cedar Grove (No. 3, R6)
White County (No. 3, R7) at Blessed Trinity (No. 2, R6)
Dawson County (No. 4, R7) at St. Pius X (No. 1, R6)
Jackson County (No. 4, R8) at Cartersville (No. 1, R5)
Jefferson (No. 1, R8) vs. Kendrick (No. 4, R5)
Rabun County (No. 4, R8) at Heard County (No. 1, R5)