Tuesday September 19th, 2017 9:38AM

FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS, WEEK 1: Quest for, defense of, titles begins for area teams

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
  Contact Editor
GAINESVILLE -- It's time to really separate the pretenders from contenders as the first round of the high school football playoffs get under way Friday night around the state.

And there are plenty of intriguing matchups around northeast Georgia, including two in Class AAAAA in Hall County that could be pitfalls for the home teams.

Gainesville, the No. 1 seed from Region 8-AAAAA and defending Class AAAAA state champion, will begin its title defense and play host to M.L. King, which is anything but a typical No. 4 seed. Speed will be all over the field for both squads and the Red Elephants will need more than just No. 4 (Deshaun Watson) to get past the first round.

Flowery Branch, the No. 2 seed from 8-AAAAA, will play host to Stephenson, which was ranked in Class AAAAA for most of the season. The Falcons are looking to get past the first round for the first time since 2011 after being upset in the first round last year by North Paulding.

In Class AAAA, Chestatee will play host to a tough Grady squad that is no stranger to the playoffs. The War Eagles are still looking for their first-ever playoff win.

Defending Class AA state champion Jefferson is the No. 2 seed from 8-AA this year and will open the playoffs at home against Westminster. The Dragons may get a boost with the return of quarterback Evan Shirreffs, who missed the last half of the season with a broken thumb.

Defending Class AAA champion Buford will play host to Sonoraville in the first round. The Wolves have advanced past the first round for 14 consecutive seasons. The last time they failed to reach the second round was in 1997. They did not make the playoffs in 1998.

For a look at all of the night's contests involving area teams, simply scroll down. And be sure to check back with Access North Georgia and our Friday Game Night page throughout the night for score updates and game stories and video highlights. You can also check for scores and highlights on our Twitter feed @FridayGameNight



-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Eagles Nest, Alpharetta
-- NORTH GWINNETT (9-1, No. 3, 7-AAAAAA): Defeated Peachtree Ridge 44-22 last week.
-- MILTON (8-2, No. 2, 5-AAAAAA): Defeated Woodstock 35-28 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .Despite being ranked No. 1 most of the season, North Gwinnett was relegated to a third seed after finishing in a three-way tie for the region title and then losing a series of coin flips. . .The Bulldogs surely are the most dangerous No. 3 seed in the state. They are averaging 42 ppg behind a spread attack. Milton is giving up just 17 ppg on defense. . .The Eagles are looking for their first-ever playoff win. North Gwinnett has advanced to the second or better every year since 2006.
-- WINNER PLAYS: North Forsyth vs. Archer winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Archer Stadium, Lawrenceville
-- NORTH FORSYTH (7-3, No. 4, 6-AAAAAA): Defeated South Forsyth 17-12 last week.
-- ARCHER (10-0, No. 1, 8-AAAAAA): Defeated Grayson 34-21 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .The Raiders are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. Archer is making just its second ever playoff appearance. It is the first-ever home playoff game for the Tigers. . .North Forsyth is looking for its first playoff win since beating Washington-Atlanta in the first round in 2005 in Class AAAA. The Tigers are looking for their first-ever playoff win. . .The Raiders have been streaky in 2013. They won their first four games, followed with three straight losses, then closed out the season with three wins, including last week's showdown for the final playoff spot. . .Archer has been a model of consistency the entire year scoring 21 or more points in every game while allowing more than 21 just once, against South Gwinnett. . .The Raiders are averaging just 22 ppg but have held five opponents to 14 points or less on defense with two shutouts.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Milton vs. North Gwinnett winner in the second round


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 1240 AM
-- M.L. KING (7-3, No. 4, 6-AAAAA): defeated Miller Grove 40-22 last week.
-- GAINESVILLE (9-1, No. 1, 8-AAAAA): Defeated Flowery Branch 55-45 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .The Red Elephants will have their hands full against a Lions team that has scored 40 or more points five times. The Elephants defense was torched last week by Flowery Branch and the 45 points was the most ever given up by Gainesville in a victory. They allowed 42 points to beat Kell last year in the playoffs in a victory. . .GHS is averaging 52 ppg while the Lions are yielding just 20 ppg. . .Deshaun Watson showed his dual-threat capability last week rushing for over 200 yards for the first time this season. . .For the Lions, CB Wesley Green leads a group of at least six seniors that figure to sign with FBS programs. Green is picking between UGA and S. Carolina. Junior DE Arden Key has committed to S. Carolina. Defensive back Chaka Diarrassouba (Western Kentucky) and Alanmichael Harkness (Appalachian State) also are committed. WR Romello Shumake and OL/DL Keyshawn Parrish have mid-major offers. QB Roland Rivers has FCS offers. Junior OL Kwan Stallworth has an offer from Missouri.
-- WINNER PLAYS: South Paulding vs. Sequoyah winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Falcons Field, Flowery Branch
-- RADIO: 550 AM
-- STEPHENSON (8-2, No. 3, 6-AAAAA): Defeated North Atlanta 64-6 last week.
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (7-3, No. 2, 8-AAAAA): Lost 55-45 to Gainesville last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .A huge challenge for the Falcons this week. The Jaguars were ranked for most of the season -- as high as sixth two weeks ago -- and both losses were by a combined seven points. . .The Falcons offense has been clicking for most of the season with eight straight games of 33 or more points. Stephenson, however, has allowed more than 13 points just once, a 31-28 loss to No. 2 Tucker. They have yielded just 64 total points in the other nine games (7.1 ppg). . .The Flowery Branch defense had allowed just 55 points in six previous games before giving up 55 to Gainesville last week.
-- WINNER PLAYS: North Paulding vs. Riverwood winner in the second round


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: War Eagles Stadium, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- GRADY (8-2, No. 3, 6-AAAA): Defeated Lithonia 25-22 last week.
-- CHESTATEE (8-2, No. 2, 8-AAAA): Defeated Madison County 42-0 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .It is the second straight year the War Eagles have hosted a first round playoff game. However, they are still looking for their first-ever postseason win (0-3). . .Both teams are similar on paper. Chestatee is allowing just 13 ppg to the Knights' 15 ppg on defense. Both teams are averaging 28 ppg on offense. . .The War Eagles will rely on its ground game behind Zac Cheshire. Special teams could play a big role. Chestatee has blocked three kicks on the season and is averaging nearly two takeaways per game. . .The Knights have advanced to the second round or better six of the past eight seasons.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Sandy Creek vs. Cedartown winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Hughes-Spalding Stadium, Atlanta
-- STEPHENS COUNTY (5-5, No. 4, 8-AAAA): Lost 31-28 to Lumpkin County last week.
-- MARIST (8-2, No. 1, 6-AAAA): Defeated carver-Atlanta 34-14 last week.
-- NOTABLE: Marist won 49-0 in 1999 in first round of playoffs. Marist leads the series 3-1. Stephens County's only win came in 1988, 21-15. . .The two teams come into the matchup heading in opposite directions. The War Eagles have won seven straight while the Indians have dropped two of their last three. . .Marist has been as tough as they come on defense allowing just 39 total points (5.5 ppg) during their win streak. The Indians have averaged 22 ppg on the season but also have scored 14 points or less four times with two shutouts. However, the Indians have averaged 26 ppg over their last four games. . .Stephens County has won just one playoff game since 2007.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Gilmer vs. Troup winner in the second round


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
-- SONORAVILLE (4-6, No. 4 Region 5-AAA): Defeated Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe 60-35 last week to get into the playoffs. Phoenix
-- BUFORD (10-0, No. 1 Region 7-AAA): Defeated North Hall 42-14 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .It is the first-ever playoff game for the Phoenix, who have only been in existence since 2006. . .Buford, the defending Class AAA state champion, is making its 15th straight playoff appearance and has not lost a first round game since 1997. The Wolves did not qualify for the playoffs in 1998. . .On paper it looks like a tremendous mismatch with the Wolves averaging 51 ppg and the Phoenix allowing over 31 ppg on defense. . .Buford has won 17 straight home playoff games. The Wolves last loss at home in the playoffs was the 2006 Class AA championship game against Charlton County.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Woodward Academy vs. North Oconee winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: White County Stadium, Cleveland
-- ADAIRSVILLE (7-3, No. 3 Region 5-AAA): Defeated Coahulla Creek 42-16 last week.
-- WHITE COUNTY (8-2, No. 2 Region 7-AAA): Defeated Banks County 38-13 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .The Warriors are looking for their first playoff win since beating LaGrange in the first round in 2010. Also, a win would give them nine in a season for just the fifth time in school history (2010, 1980, 1975, 1972). . .The Tigers are looking for their first playoff win since 2011, when they advanced to the second round in Class AA. . .It has the makings of a defensive battle. The Tigers are allowing just 18 ppg while the Warriors are yielding just 12 ppg on the season. White County has allowed more than 14 points just twice this season, to Region 6-AAA champ Blessed Trinity and to 7-AAA champ and No. 1-ranked Buford.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Blessed Trinity vs. Jackson County winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Don Patterson Stadium, Ringgold
-- NORTH HALL (8-2, No. 3, 7-AAA): Lost 42-14 to Buford last week.
-- RINGGOLD (8-2, N o. 2, 5-AAA): Lost 33-16 to Cartersville last week.
-- NOTABLE: North Hall won 39-21 in 2009 in first round of the playoffs in the only meeting between the two schools. . .Both teams are coming off lopsided losses to the top two teams in the state. . .North Hall has dropped two of its last four after a 6-0 start while the Tigers had a six-game win streak snapped last week. . .Both teams can score. North Hall has scored 50 or more five times this season while Ringgold has scored 40 or more five times. . .Both teams have been stingy on defense most of the year. The Trojans are allowing just 19 ppg while the Tigers have given up just 16 ppg. . .Andrew Smith could be the difference maker for North Hall. The Trojans are 4-1 on the road this season.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Elbert County vs. Cedar Grove winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Weinman Stadium, Cartersville
-- RADIO: Cartersville
-- WEST HALL (6-4, No. 4, 7-AAA): Defeated Dawson County 10-7 last week.
-- CARTERSVILLE (10-0, No. 1, 5-AAA): Defeated Ringgold 33-16 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .The Spartans are making their first playoff appearance since 2002. Their last playoff win came in 2000 when they beat Northwest Whitfield in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs for their only road playoff win. . .Cartersville is making its eighth appearance in the last 11 seasons. The Purple Hurricanes advanced to the semifinals last year before losing to eventual state champ Buford. The Hurricanes are 9-2 at home in the playoffs since 2001. . .West Hall has been solid on defense all season. Take out the 63 to Buford and the Spartans have allowed just 13 ppg. They will need a great effort against the Hurricanes, who come in averaging 48 ppg. They have scored 33 or more in every game and 47 or more five times. . .West Hall is averaging 25 ppg while Cartersville has allowed just 86 total points on the season with two shutouts.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Hart County vs. St. Pius winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Blessed Trinity Stadium, Roswell
-- JACKSON COUNTY (4-6, No. 4, 8-AAA): Defeated Morgan County 38-35 last week.
-- BLESSED TRINITY (7-3, No. 1, 6-AAA): Defeated cedar Grove 21-14 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two schools. . .The Panthers won three of their last five to get into the playoffs for a second consecutive season and have done it with their offense. They are 3-1 when scoring 38 or more points, the only loss coming to Athens Christian -- 42-39 -- early in the season. They have averaged 31 ppg. . .Jackson County will need to find some defense to knock off the Titans. Blessed Trinity is averaging a modest 25 ppg but the Panthers have yielded 42 or more points five times in 2013. . .The Panthers are still looking for their first playoff win in program history.
-- WINNER PLAYS: White County vs. Adairsville winner in the second round


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- WESTMINSTER (5-5, No. 3, 6-AA): Defeated Hapeville Charter 47-20 last week.
-- JEFFERSON (8-2, No. 2, 8-AA): Defeated Union County 49-3 last week.
-- NOTABLE: Jefferson won 35-7 last year in second round of playoffs in only meeting between the two schools. . .Jefferson has got things back on track winning five straight to end the season. The Dragons will begin defense of their state title against a Wildcat team they know from last year's win. . .The Wildcats limped into the playoffs going 3-3 over their last six games. They are 2-4 on the road in 2013 and in their five losses they have scored just 31 total points. . .Jefferson is still explosive on offense averaging over 43 ppg and the defense has been stingy allowing just 9.1 ppg during its win streak with two shutouts. . .Coaches said junior QB Evan Shirreffs, out for the second half of the season with a broken thumb, will dress but is "not 100 percent yet." They did say he will ready, however, if needed. . .The Wildcats have advanced to the second round six consecutive seasons.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Heard County vs. Pepperell winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Spartan Sports Complex, Norcross
-- RABUN COUNTY (8-2, No. 3, 8-AA): Defeated Oglethorpe County 57-0 last week.
-- GACS (9-1, No. 2, 6-AA): Lost 17-14 to Lovett last week.
-- NOTABLE: GAC won 28-7 in 2005. The Spartans lead the series 8-0. . .The Wildcats have beaten GAC but they may have the offense to pull the upset this time around. Rabun is averaging 43 ppg on the season behind Charlie Woerner and have scored 20 or more points in every game except Washington-Wilkes. If Woerner can find some running lanes Rabun has a chance to put some points on the board. . .GAC, however, is allowing just 11 ppg on defense, including 17 or less in five straight games. . .Rabun County is looking for its first playoff win since advancing to the Class A quarterfinals in 1998.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Calhoun vs. Manchester winner in the second round

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Lovett Stadium, Atlanta
-- UNION COUNTY (6-4, No. 4, 8-AA): Lost 49-3 to Jefferson last week.
-- LOVETT (9-1, No. 1, 6-AA): Defeated GAC 17-14 last week.
-- NOTABLE: First meeting since 1971. GAC won 39-0 in 1971 and leads the series 3-0. . .Union County is making its first playoff appearance since 2001 and is still looking for the program's first playoff win. The Lions will be tough to tame. . .Lovett has won four straight coming into the playoffs behind a stingy defense. The Lions have allowed just 27 points with two shutouts in that span. . .The Panthers are averaging 31 ppg on the season but have lost two of their last three games. Defense has been the key for the Panthers. In their six wins they have allowed just 12.6 ppg. In their four losses they are yielding over 43 ppg.
-- WINNER PLAYS: Dade County vs. Kendrick winner in the second round
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