Here's a look at five things we learned from week 3 of the high school football season...
1. Good to luck defenses looking to stop North Hall and Jefferson
It wasn't so much that North Hall and Jefferson's defenses aren't good, it was more a case of the Trojans' and Dragons' offenses being that good that resulted in a 41-34 shootout between the two foes on Friday at Jefferson's Memorial Stadium. The most fun part about it was that they were two totally different styles of attack, and yet each offense is geared so perfectly to the strength of each team. North Hall's power wishbone will create holes in just about any defensive front, and the Trojans have the quickness to exploit those openings behind quarterback Andrew Smith and running backs Zac Little, Brannon Dyer and Destin Bennett (among others). Meanwhile, Jefferson's spread/I-formation attack can go for power with the dynamo Tristen Jackson (have fun tackling that guy) or drop back and shred defensive secondaries via the arm of Evan Shirreffs and a group of dangerous receivers. ... We're not going to say that no defense is safe against these two offenses, but there are few in northeast Georgia that would be able to slow one, let alone both. And Region 7-AAA and Region 8-AA will have their hands full against the wishbone and spread, respectively. And both teams will have a shot at both league's because of those attacks.
2. Flowery Branch has a running back -- or two
The Falcons thought they had a budding star in freshman running back Jeremiah Goss. But on Friday, and out of necessity, they found another rising star. Jemon Randolph was called into action early when Goss went down with an injury and -- with his team needing a win in the worst way -- Randolph responded emphatically, rushing for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-25 defeat of Cedar Shoals. A senior, Randolph is listed as defensive back on Flowery Branch's opening day roster, but it's clear that his final varsity campaign at the Branch belongs in the offensive backfield. His performance on Friday helped the Falcons buck an 0-2 start, and set the bar pretty high for what's to come. The Falcons' offense -- while quarterback driven -- has relied on a standout running back in almost all of its most successful seasons to help balance things and keep defenses on their heels. Randolph took a big step toward being the next standout back on Friday, and Flowery Branch will be looking for more from the senior in the weeks to come.
3. Hayden Sphire is the real deal
With all the big-time recruits and athletes dotting the line-up of North Gwinnett's roster, you may not have heard/read too much about the Bulldogs' quarterback in the preseason. That's all changing now. We don't get south of Buford too often, so you'll have to forgive us if we're a little slow on the uptake. But Sphire impressed the heck out of us in last week's win over Norcross and showed us that he is ready to lead North Gwinnett into rarified air. As a coach's son, it is easy to guess that Sphire would have an intimate knowledge of his father's spread offense. But the senior is far more than a "game-manager," as he showed (again) in Friday's 36-17 defeat of Norcross. Sphire took some time to find his rhythm against a fired up Blue Devils squad, but once he found his range -- and receiver Nate Brown -- he proved dominant, completing 20 of 30 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns (all to Brown).
4. Big plays becoming a bigger part of northeast Georgia football
We said at the start of this season that northeast Georgia may now have its deepest and most explosive talent base for football ever, and Friday night's stats only helped enforce that notion -- especially for offenses. We already knew about Deshaun Watson's greatness, and he only helped enforce that, as the Gainesville QB went over 10,000 career passing yards in a demolition of Winder-Barrow. But plenty of other players put up huge nights. Just look at this list of excellence -- and notice the yards per play average...
-- A.J. Vandiver, White County quarterback -- 10 rushes, 124 yards (12.4 yards per rush)
-- Dalton Whitfield, White County running back -- 10 rushes, 114 yards, 3 TDs (11.4 yards per rush)
-- Andrew Smith, North Hall quarterback -- 15 rushes, 120 yards, 2 TDs; 1 pass, 1 completion, 33 yards, TD (9.5 yards per play)
-- Michael Byrd, Gainesville running back -- 195 total yards, 3 total TDs
-- Jemon Randoloph, Flowery Branch running back -- 26 carries, 201 yards, 2 TDs (7.7 yards per rush)
-- Nate Brown, North Gwinnett -- 11 catches, 196 yards, 4 TDs (17.8 yards per catch)
-- Kwon Williams, West Hall running back -- 7 carries, 202 yards, 3 TDs (28.8 yards per rush)
-- Tyquan Statham, West Hall running back -- 3 carries, 114 yards, TD (38 yards per rush)
-- Charlie Woerner, Rabun County receiver/running back -- 5 carries, 159 yards, 4 TDs (31.8 yards per rush)
-- Jamir Walton, Commerce running back -- 166 yards rushing, 3 TDs
And that's just a handful of some of the bigger performers. Dawson County's Max Muldoon also booted a game-winning 29-yard field goal as time expired to beat Forsyth Central. Meanwhile, Statham's 38 yards per carry is unreal, and we may be seeing the kind of season we're unlikely to see again soon as it pertains to northeast Georgia football as a whole.
5. Rabun County is making that second year step
Anyone who has followed football long enough knows that most programs/units take their biggest step in year two under a new coach or system. Rabun County looks to be making that progression nicely so far under Lee Shaw. The Wildcats' offense, in particular, is showing big strides in the spread option attack that Shaw used to such devastating effect at Flowery Branch. Just look at the numbers. Through two games, Rabun has already score 110 points, versus 65 at this point a year ago. The Wildcats have a senior quarterback in Wes Holcombe that is enjoying the options available to him in spread, along with one of the state's most explosive players in Charlie Woerner. Keep an eye on Rabun County this week. The Wildcats will face Commerce, who dealt them an 18-17 loss in 2012. Win that, and Rabun should be favored in every game until a huge showdown at Jefferson on Oct. 11.
FRIDAY'S HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RESULTS
Athens Christian 28, Jackson County 26
Buford 63, Hancock Central 0
Collins Hill 55, Habersham Central 3
Commerce 28, Banks County 16
Dawson County 23, Forsyth Central 20
East Hall 67, East Jackson 37
Flowery Branch 39, Cedar Shoals 25
Gainesville 68, Winder-Barrow 0
Hart County 26, Stephens County 7
Mill Creek 42, Mountain View 3
North Forsyth 34, Cherokee 27
North Gwinnett 36, Norcross 17
North Hall 41, Jefferson 34
North Murray 34, Johnson 7
Rabun County 55, Towns County 13
Union County 34, Andrews, N.C. 6
West Hall 49, Lumpkin County 21
White County 48, Fannin County 13
SEPT. 20 AREA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Banks County at West Hall
Blessed Trinity at White County
Chestatee at Eastside
Commerce at Rabun County
East Hall at Johnson
Fannin County at Murphy, N.C.
Flowery Branch at Loganville
Gainesville at Apalachee
Jackson County at East Jackson
Lanier at Madison County
Meadowcreek at North Gwinnett
Mill Creek at Peachtree Ridge
Monroe Area at Lumpkin County
Mountain View at Habersham Central
North Forsyth at Chattahoochee
Pinecrest Academy at Lakeview Academy
Salem at Winder-Barrow
Stephens County at Walnut Grove
Towns County at Rabun Gap
Washington-Wilkes at Riverside Military