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Wednesday September 2nd, 2015 10:53AM

Playoffs previews, round 1: Area teams take first step toward Dome

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
The second season starts tonight, and it should start with a bang for several area football programs, as the high school playoffs get underway.

Fourteen area teams reached the postseason this year, including plenty of teams making history to do so -- Jackson County making it to state for the first time, Chestatee hosting a state game for the first time, Rabun County going back for the first time in 14 years.

The postseason stalwarts are also here, as Buford, Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Jefferson, North Hall, Stephens County, North Gwinnett and Commerce all get a chance to go for the biggest prize of all at the Georgia Dome (though the Tigers will have to wait a week to make the long trek to Seminole County, as the Class A public school playoffs will not begin until next week), as do White County, Dawson County and Mill Creek.

There are some very intriguing match-ups on tap for the first round, and plenty of area storylines -- for more on this week's games, simply scroll down. You can also watch our video feature on the historic achievements of some area programs by simply clicking here.

Also, be sure to check back with Access North Georgia.com and the Jacobs Media family of broadcast stations throughout the night for score and game updates.

STATE PLAYOFF GAMES FOR AREA TEAMS, Nov. 16

Class AAAAAA
JOHNS CREEK at NORTH GWINNETT
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium, Suwanee
-- JOHNS CREEK (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 6-AAAAAA): Lost to Alpharetta 35-32 last week.
-- NORTH GWINNETT (9-1, No. 2 seed Region 7-AAAAAA): Defeated Peachtree Ridge 24-20 last week. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 5 in Class AAAAAA.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Grayson vs. Wheeler match-up in the second round.
-- SERIES: It is the the two teams' first meeting.
-- NOTABLE: Both teams come in with high-scoring offenses. North Gwinnett is averaging 36.4 points per game (ppg), while Johns Creek is scoring at a 30.7 ppg clip. The Bulldogs have won seven straight while Gladiators are just 3-2 since opening the season 5-0. ... Defense is the key for Johns Creek. The Gladiators have allowed just 14.7 ppg in their eight wins but have given 36 ppg in their two losses. North Gwinnett is allowing 17.8 ppg. ... Johns Creek has shown it can win on the road with an 8-2 mark over the last two seasons. ... North Gwinnett is 10-2 at home over the same span but is just 4-3 at home in the playoffs over the past three seasons. ... It is just the second ever playoff appearance for Johns Creek, which lost its only playoff game to Flowery Branch last year in the first round. ... The Bulldogs' high-powered offense is led by quarterback Michael Haynes (1,760 yards passing, 65 percent completion rate, 21 TDs, 5 INTs). North Gwinnett also runs the ball very effectively, piling up 1,591 yards -- relying mainly on four different ball carriers.

MILL CREEK at ALPHARETTA
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Alpharetta Stadium
-- MILL CREEK (7-3, No. 3 seed Region 7-AAAAAA): Defeated Collins Hill 17-14 last week.
-- ALPHARETTA (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 6-AAAAAA): Defeated Johns Creek 35-32 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Lassiter vs. Brookwood match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: Mill Creek leads 3-1, including wins in each of the last two seasons.
-- NOTABLE: Mill Creek is 4-1 since a 3-2 start to the season, with its only loss in that span coming against No. 5 North Gwinnett. The Hawks are 4-1 on the road this season, including wins over Collins Hill and Peachtree Ridge. ... Alpharetta is one of the hottest teams in Class AAAAAA coming into the playoffs. The Raiders have won six straight since a 1-3 start -- primarily with their offense, averaging 34.6 ppg during that span. ... Mill Creek is allowing just 17.8 ppg on defense. ... The Raiders are still looking for their first-ever playoff win. ... The Hawks are paced by school record-setting running back Jacorey Lewis. Quarterback Daniel David and athlete Davozea Felton are also big parts of the offense. ... Defensively, Mill Creek features lineman Kelsey Griffin (a South Carolina commit).


Class AAAAA
NORTH PAULDING at FLOWERY BRANCH
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Falcon Field
-- NORTH PAULDING (7-3, No. 4 seed Region 5-AAAAA): Defeated Villa Rica 37-7 last week.
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (8-2, No. 1 seed Region 8-AAAAA): Defeated Gainesville 35-34 last week. The Falcons are ranked No. 9 in Class AAAAA:
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Creekview vs. Tucker match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: First-ever meeting between the two schools.
-- NOTABLE: The Falcons, who are on an eight-game win streak to end the regular season, are coming off an emotional win over Gainesville for the region title. North Paulding's only losses were to the three teams ahead of them in the region standings. The Wolfpack won five straight at one point but went just 2-2 in their last four games. ... The key matchup could be between the North Paulding offense and the Falcons' defense. The Wolfpack have scored in bunches, averaging 37 ppg while the Falcons defense is yielding 23.3 ppg. ... The Flowery Branch offense is averaging 32.6 ppg and the North Paulding defense has been touched up for 26.7 ppg and has allowed 56 or more twice this season. ... Falcons QB Jackson McDonald is coming off perhaps his best game of the season with over 100 yards rushing and over 250 yards passing and four combined TDs. ... North Paulding bases out of a spread on offense, and Falcons coaches say they are a very similar style of attack to what they faced against Gainesville last week. The Wolfpack are led by quarterback Chase Noonan. Defensively, North Paulding features junior safety Jace White. ... This will be the Wolfpack's first trip to the playoffs. The school only started playing football in 2008. ... Current University of Georgia receiver Chris Conley played for North Paulding.

ROME at GAINESVILLE
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: City Park, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 1240 AM
-- ROME (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 5-AAAAA): Defeated Woodland (Cartersville) 44-34 last week.
-- GAINESVILLE (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 8-AAAAA): Lost to Flowery Branch 35-34 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Kell vs. Southwest DeKalb match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: It is the the two teams' first meeting.
-- NOTABLE: For an in-depth look at the game, click here.


Class AAAA
LaGRANGE at CHESTATEE
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: War Eagle Stadium, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- LaGRANGE (5-5, No. 3 seed Region 5-AAAA): Lost to Carrollton 41-14 last week.
-- CHESTATEE (8-2, No. 2 seed R8): Defeated Madison County 48-7 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Ridgeland vs. Washington match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: It is the the two teams' first meeting.
-- NOTABLE: Chestatee is playing host to its first ever state playoff game. The War Eagles are also in the midst of the program's best-ever season, posting their most wins (8) and wins in a row (7). Chestatee will now look to notch its first ever playoff victory. ... LaGrange, one of the top programs in GHSA history, is looking to regain some postseason traction, having not won a state playoff game since 2008, when the Grangers reached the Class AAA semifinals before losing to Flowery Branch. ... The Grangers feature a dangerous passing game on offense, led by quarterback Zach Giddens and standout receiver Dee Smith. The Grangers are scoring 31.1 points per game and have only been held to less than 21 points in two contests -- against Region 5-AAAA leaders Sandy Creek and Carrollton. ... Chestatee must take care of the football to be successful. The War Eagles gave up nine total fumbles in their two losses this season. ... Chestatee's offense should put up points, entering the game averaging 38.4 points and 415 yards per game. The War Eagles have done most of their damage on the ground, rushing for just over 355 yards per contest. ... Chestatee's defense enters allowing 25 points and just over 250 yards per game. ... LaGrange is trying to avoid a third consecutive losing season -- a far cry from when the Grangers dominated 2000-08, posting double digit wins in eight of nine seasons. ... The LaGrange defense features 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end Joe Sanders, who recently committed to the University of Tennessee.

STEPHENS COUNTY at CARROLLTON

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Grisham Stadium
-- STEPHENS COUNTY (8-2, No. 3 seed Region 8-AAAA): Defeated Lumpkin County 42-3 last week.
-- CARROLLTON (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 5-AAAA): Defeated LaGrange 41-14 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Marist vs. Gilmer match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: Carrollton leads 2-1; last meeting in 2010, a 63-20 Carrollton win in the playoffs.
-- NOTABLE: The Trojans have been putting up huge numbers on offense. They have scored 35 or more points eight of their last nine games while the defense has been stingy, allowing just 10 ppg over their last seven games. Take out 30 in a loss to Sandy Creek and they have yielded just 6 ppg over that span. ... Stephens County has gotten, hot winning its last four games. The Indians have scored 41 ppg in that span while giving up just 28 total points during the stretch. ... Something will have to give as the Indians are 4-1 on the road this season while Carrollton is 5-1 at home in 2012. ... Carrollton features a number of explosive backs, including Jarvis Terrell, Trey Chivers, Malik Sheppard and Wil Garrett. ... Carrollton will mark its 23rd straight state playoff trip with tonight's game. Over that span the Trojans have lost in the first round just three times (including a 1992, 7-6 defeat at Stephens County). ... Stephens County will rely on a potent offense in the game that has been led by three standouts for much of the season in running back Chaz Thornton (1,494 yards rushing, 21 TDs), quarterback Dionte Mayfield (1,334 yards passing, 14 TDs) and receiver T'omas Colbert (1,137 yards receiving, 12 TDs). The Indians offensive line has also come on strong this season, aided by the play of fullback DK Dooley. ... The Trojans have been in the rankings most of the season, though they currently sit just outside the AP top 10. Carrollton's three losses this season came against No. 1 Sandy Creek (Region 5-AAAA champs), Class AA No. 1 and defending state champ Calhoun, and Oxford, Ala., to start the season.


Class AAA
WOODWARD ACADEMY at NORTH HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- WOODWARD ACADEMY (7-3, No. 4 seed Region 6-AAA): Bye last week after losing to Cedar Grove 47-14 on Nov. 2.
-- NORTH HALL (8-2, No. 1 seed Region 7-AAA): Lost to Buford 45-16 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Morgan County vs. Gordon Central winner match-up in the second round.
-- SERIES: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- NOTABLE: North Hall enters the state playoffs looking to bounce back and make a statement after last week's tough loss to Buford. The Trojans know they face a solid Woodward team that was good enough to knock off Region 6-AAA champ St. Pius. ... The visiting War Eagles come into the contest with the reputation as a strong defensive outfit, allowing jut 12.5 ppg. Woodward can put up points in bunches, but the War Eagles are averaging 28 ppg and only 15 ppg against the five playoff teams on their regular season schedule. That said, Woodward knows it has been tested, facing those five programs and posting a 2-3 record against. Yet North Hall has also faced five teams taking part in the postseason (Chestatee, Jefferson, Dawson County, White County and Buford), posting a 3-2 record against. ... Woodward features junior Terry Googer, who has played a number of positions for the War Eagles, including quarterback. ... The War Eagles enter the contest having had a week off to prepare for the contest. ... North Hall enters the contest scoring 42.6 ppg and is also ninth in scoring defense at 14.9 ppg. ... The Trojans showed an ability to run the ball even against Buford last week, rebounding from an 18-yard first half showing to rush for 214 yards against the Wolves. ... The Trojans have been dominant in the first playoff round under coach Bob Christmas, winning five straight first round contests (2004, 2006-09). North Hall has also been almost unbeatable in the postseason in the Brickyard, going 9-2 under Christmas at home.

CEDAR GROVE at BUFORD
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- CEDAR GROVE (6-4, No. 3 seed Region 6-AAA): Lost to Blessed Trinity 28-22 last week.
-- BUFORD (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated North Hall 45-16 last week. The Wolves are ranked No. 3 in Class AAA.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of North Oconee vs. Ringgold match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- NOTABLE: Buford appears to be rounding into form at just the right time, and while the Wolves started several new players this season, most of them received ample playing time last year as back-ups, and no coaching staff knows more about coaching in the postseason than Buford's. The Wolves' biggest test on Friday will be finding a way to contain Cedar Grove quarterback Johnathon McCrary. The Vanderbilt commit is 305 yards shy of the state record for passing yards in a career, and he has been a huge part of the Saints' resurgence, leading Cedar Grove to three straight state playoff appearances. Gainesville fans will remember McCrary after he led the Saints to a win over the Red Elephants in the 2010 Class AAA second round. ... Cedar Grove is averaging 32.4 ppg on offense but will take on a Buford defense that is allowing a miserly 6.1 ppg. The Wolves offense, meanwhile, enters the contest scoring 42.4 ppg and will battle a Saints defense yielding 17.9 ppg. ... Cedar Grove missed out on winning the ultra-competitive Region 6-AAA by a measly 16 points, falling to region champ St. Pius 38-28 and No. 2 seed Blessed Trinity 28-22. The Saints hammered fourth-seeded Woodward Academy 47-14. ... Buford, which will be entering the state playoffs for the 14th straight season, has not lost a first-round game in that span and has only dropped three playoff games at home since 1999 -- 2004-06, all to Charlton County, two in the quarterfinal round and one championship game.

WHITE COUNTY at BLESSED TRINITY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: Blessed Trinity Stadium, Roswell
-- WHITE COUNTY (7-3, No. 3 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeated Banks County 41-7 last week.
-- BLESSED TRINITY (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 6-AAA): Defeated Cedar Grove 28-22 last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Jackson County vs. Cartersville match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: Blessed Trinity leads 1-0, beat White County 21-19 in fourth game of 2012 season in Cleveland.
-- NOTABLE: A rematch of their regular season meeting that saw the Titans have stave off a two-point conversion late in the game to get the win. That was part of a six-game winning streak for Blessed Trinity. The Titans have been solid on defense, not allowing more than 24 points in any game this season. ... White County has been rolling of late, winning three straight and averaging 43 ppg in that span. The Warriors are led by quarterback Will Brock and a host of running backs. Brock has also formed a deadly understanding with receiver Andrew Bergin, connecting for three TD passes against Blessed Trinity in the first game. As goes the offense, so go the Warriors. They are 0-3 when scoring 19 points or less and 7-0 when scoring more than 19 points. ... Brock suffered a hand injury the last time these two faced off, and Warriors running back/linebacker Dalton Whitfield also left to a jaw injury, so expect a physical battle again. ... This will be White County's first postseason trip under coach Bill Ballard, who experienced plenty of playoff success at his first two coaching positions in Tucker and Peachtree Ridge. The appearance will mark the Warriors' fourth in the state playoffs (White County also had several region playoff appearances). In those previous seasons (2001, '07 and 2010), the Warriors won just once, defeating LaGrange in the first round in 2010.

DAWSON COUNTY at ST. PIUS X
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: George B. Maloof Stadium, Atlanta
-- RADIO: 1350 AM, wrwh.com
-- DAWSON COUNTY (6-4, No. 4 seed Region 7-AAA): Defeat West Hall 42-13 last week.
-- ST. PIUS X (8-2, No. 1 seed Region 6-AAA): Defeated Decatur 48-0 last week. The Golden Lions are ranked No. 7 in Class AAA.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Winner of Adairsville vs. Hart County match-up in the second round
-- SERIES: This is the two teams' first meeting.
-- NOTABLE: Dawson County knows it faces a tough task against the No. 7 team in Class AAA, but the Tigers are also confident that they can make some noise against the Golden Lions. Dawson's wide-open offense is 11th in scoring at 35.3 ppg and has not been shut out this season -- its low coming in a 35-3 loss to Buford. The Tigers are led by senior quarterback Tyler Dominy, who has connected with a dangerous stable of receivers, including 6-foot-5 senior Bruce Clark. Bruising fullback Zach Martin will also keep defenses honest and can do some damage in the ground game. ... Dawson will be tested by a St. Pius defense that is allowing just 10.9 points per game and features a number of standouts, including FBS recruits in the backfield in Nick Glass (Georgia commit) and Nick Ruffin. ... Offensively, the Golden Lions will look to pound the ball with their triple option attack, led by senior fullback Ryan Braswell and junior running back Brandon Mitchell. St. Pius enters the contest scoring 31.5 ppg. ... Defensively, Dawson County
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