Here's a look at five things we learned from week five of the high school football season...
1. Commerce is very much in the thick of the playoff race
After a tough start to the season that included a 40-0 loss to arch-rival Jefferson and wins over two teams with a combined 1-9 record, it would have been easy for the Tigers to doubt themselves, especially with No. 8 George Walton coming to Commerce last week. If there was any doubt in the air on Friday, it wasn't coming from the Tigers' sideline, however. Commerce put together its best offensive performance of the season so far, putting up a season-high in yardage -- including 302 yards rushing -- and points in a 31-21 win. Tiger backs Chance McClure and Jamir Walton ran over, through and past the visiting defense for 145 and 118 yards, respectively, and outshone the Kentucky-bound George Walton standout Stanley Williams, who put together an outstanding performance of his own with three touchdown runs. Now 3-2, 1-0 in Region 8-A, Commerce is right back in the thick of the playoff hunt. The Tigers have that mathematical equation to deal with in the public-private Class A postseason, but wins like Friday's will go a long way indeed in making sure Commerce can continue a playoff streak that began with the 1997 season. It was also a signature for new head coach Michael Brown, a Commerce native, who was the team's defensive coordinator before taking over in 2013.
2. Zac Cheshire may be the best player that few are talking about
We won't say no one is talking about him, because certainly War Eagle fans know how crucial the fleet-footed senior has been to their 3-1 start, but outside of Chestatee there may not be much tongue-wagging about Cheshire. That certainly needs to change, and a few more performances like Friday's and it surely will. Cheshire carried the ball 28 times for 185 yards and two TDs in the War Eagles' 17-0 win over Stephens County, and it was just the latest in a string of impressive outings. For the season Cheshire has 487 yards rushing and six scores. But even more than the numbers, it's Cheshire's ability to find big plays that has helped key Chestatee's run-based offense. The running back, who can slip behind the War Eagles' mammoth offensive line, came up with two touchdowns against Eastside and both of Chestatee's scores in a 15-14 win over West Hall. North Hall was the only team to keep the senior out of the end zone, and the Trojans are the only squad to get the better of Chestatee so far this season. Certainly Cheshire is not about to become the lone ball carrier for a deep War Eagles backfield, but his explosiveness is making things a lot easier for a team that lost almost all of its rushing production from a season ago.
3. Jefferson's future -- and consequently Region 8-AA's -- is now
The defending 8-AA champions will learn just how strong their bid for a region repeat is over the next two weeks, facing two teams with legitimate title hopes of their own in Washington-Wilkes and Rabun County. The seventh-ranked Dragons will travel to Washington to face the fifth-ranked Tigers on Friday before playing host to the Wildcats on Oct. 11. The three programs represent the only teams in 8-AA to not have a region loss yet, and their fate should determine the direction of the region crown. Riverside Military will also have its say after bouncing back to defeat Oglethorpe County 28-20 last week. The Eagles travel to face Rabun County on Friday. They are all intriguing match-ups that will have the attention of the entire region and much of northeast Georgia.
4. Lumpkin County is growing up
Indians coach Brad Waggoner had seen plenty of signs of improvement over his team's 0-4 start, but thanks to facing four teams with a combined record of 16-4, it didn't always show on the scoreboard. On Friday, however, all of northeast Georgia could witness those improvements courtesy a 31-19 defeat of Walnut Grove. Most impressively, Waggoner's Lumpkin squad dug itself out of a 13-0 hole, pulling ahead 14-13 at the half and never trailing again. The Indians offense dominated during the night, putting up over 500 yards -- led by senior Jonathan Gilreath, who totaled 197 yards and three TDs. Yet Gilreath is one of only a handful of veterans on a young Indians squad, and youth generally requires experience before it can thrive. Lumpkin is gaining that experience now, and it is beginning to pay off.
5. It's a three-team race for Region 8-AAAAA
Upsets can and will happen in high school football, but it would take a number of those to derail Flowery Branch, Gainesville and Clarke Central. The three teams have already started to put a stranglehold on 8-AAAAA -- the Falcons and Red Elephants are already each 3-0; Clarke is 2-0 -- with Flowery Branch and Gainesville proving especially dominant so far in region play. The Red Elephants have outscored three league foes 165-13, while the Falcons have done so 125-46 and are improving that line with each game. Clarke Central will ensure that it's not just a two-team race to the regular season finale. But it would take some monster setbacks to keep the three teams from not grabbing the top three spots in 8-AAAAA six weeks from now.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: East Hall's record-setting offensive pace was halted by a stout White County defense this past week, going scoreless. But the Vikings showed that their smaller defense can bang with anyone and played a very impressive game.
-- A few area players had games this past week that simply must be lauded again. The reason that these guys are not "five things" material is simple: we already knew they were good (in other words, it was not a learning moment, rather a confirmation one). But Friday's performances were good enough that they bear repeating:
White County fullback Dalton Whitfield put up 12 carries for 122 yards rushing and the game's lone touchdown -- lone score of any kind in a 6-0 defeat of East Hall. Whitfield showed he could be both tractor and sports car in the game, getting tough yards and breaking long runs.
Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson is already a state champion and the state record holder for career passing yards. But he may just be the most accurate passer in the state too, at least on the strength of his performance Friday: 27 of 29 for 314 yards and six TDs in a 48-7 win over
Flowery Branch quarterback Jackson McDonald is clearly finding his groove and impressed in Friday's 38-7 win over Salem with four TDs (two rushing, two passing), 213 yards and 63 yards rushing. A dual threat, Flowery Branch is almost impossible to slow when McDonald is playing well.
All North Hall quarterback Andrew Smith does is make plays, as evidenced by his 97 yards rushing and four TDs (all the scores coming in the first half) in a 51-6 win over Dawson County, while teammate and running back Zac Little provided consistent explosion with 199 yards on 15 carries.
FRIDAY'S AREA FOOTBALL RESULTS, SEPT. 27
Athens Academy 35, Lakeview Academy 7
Buford 63, Banks County 0
Chestatee 17, Stephens County 0
Clarke Central 43, Apalachee 19
Commerce 31, George Walton 21
Flowery Branch 38, Salem 7
Gainesville 48, Heritage, Conyers 7
Jefferson 55, Greene County 10
Lambert 14, North Forsyth 13
Lumpkin County 31, Walnut Grove 19
Norcross 27, Mill Creek 13
North Hall 51, Dawson County 6
North Oconee 62, Jackson County 27
Peachtree Ridge 49, Habersham Central 0
Rabun County 64, Social Circle 0
Riverside Military 28, Oglethorpe County 20
Washington-Wilkes 41, Union County 10
West Hall 49, Fannin County 7
White County 6, East Hall 0
AREA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE, OCT. 4
Apalachee at Flowery Branch
Banks County at Dawson County
Buford at West Hall
Cedar Shoals at Gainesville
Chestatee at Johnson
Commerce at Athens Christian
Copper Basin, Tenn. at Towns County
East Hall at North Hall
East Jackson at Hart County
Franklin County at Jackson County
Jefferson at Washington-Wilkes
Lakeview Academy at Wesleyan
Meadowcreek at Mill Creek
Norcross at Habersham Central
North Gwinnett at Duluth
Oglethorpe County at Union County
Riverside Military at Rabun County
Winder-Barrow at Heritage, Conyers