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Wednesday November 22nd, 2017 2:33AM

5 things: What we learned from Week 11 of high school football

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
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Here's a look at five things we learned from Week 11 of high school football...

1. Expect both Buford AND Flowery Branch to be players in Class AAAAA

We learned actually two things in one after Friday night's showdown for the Region 8-AAAAA title that was much closer than the final 42-7 score indicated. The Falcons can be looked upon as a player in the Class AAAAA playoffs. They have a solid running game behind Malik Damons and Malik Drayton, and quaterback Elijah Gainey now has several targets in the passing game with the additions of tight end T.J. Goodwin and wide receiver D.J. Brown to go with the always dangerous Jalin Strown. They trailed 14-7 when they had a game-tying touchdown to Brown called back and a whirling-dervish move by Drayton that should have been another touchdown was deemed down by the refs (if there had been replay he would have been awarded a touchdown). The Falcons defense played admirably against a much bigger Buford line but eventually wore down in the second half. It was still a 14-7 game midway through the third quarter. The Wolves also showed that if their ground game -- behind Christian Turner and Anthony Grant -- gets halted (the Branch defense often committed eight defenders to stop the run) freshman quarterback Aaron McLaughlin should be able to put the offense on his back. McLaughlin had a stellar game, passing for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns on 20-of-28 attempts and his ability to find open receivers eventually helped open up the run game. Expect both to make a run in the playoffs. Can either get to the finals at the new Mercedes Benz stadium? IF they get efforts like Friday, it's not out of the realm of possibilities.


2. Towns County football might just be the story of the season in northeast Georgia

According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.org, the Indians have been playing football for 44 seasons and have a record of 67-347 over that span. So when John Cornett took the head coaching job at Towns County we were surprised by the optimism and lofty standards he set out for Towns -- a team that has just one winning season to its name (7-3 in 2008, playing a non-region schedule). It looks like those attributes may pay off, however, with perhaps the most incredible story of the 2017 campaign. Towns County, which has never made the state playoffs before, is set to break that streak and push its way into the postseason. The latest GHSA Class A Public Power Ratings -- the formula the GSHA uses to determine playoff teams in the public/private split in Class A -- places the Indians 23rd -- the top 24 teams reach the playoffs. Should that hold up (the GHSA still has a round of appeals early this week) it has to be looked upon as an amazing accomplishment. And it's not as if Towns is sneaking in. The Indians are 5-5 while playing in one of the toughest regions in the state and have faced five teams that are most certainly playoff-bound (Athens Academy, Commerce, George Walton Academy, Hebron Christian and Prince Avenue Christian) and another (Athens Christian) is one spot out of the playoffs in the Class A Private ratings. Towns is looking to establish a tradition -- this is most definitely a good place to start.


3. Colby Wood makes his case for history

Coming into the season we already knew the Jefferson senior was a special talent -- one of the best high school football players we've had the opportunity to cover and certainly one of the best running backs -- and on Friday he showed us again just why. With his team facing a must-win game in order to secure a home playoff game in the first round of the playoffs, Wood exploded out of the starting gates, rushing for 231 yards and a score, while also catching a touchdown pass to help Jefferson establish a 28-7 halftime lead that held up in a 28-21 win over Oconee County. It seems just a blink of an eye ago that we were watching Wood establish himself as one of the most explosive players in northeast Georgia in the opening game of his sophomore season, running wild for 264 yards in a win over Rabun County. He became the program's all-time leading rusher as a junior. And on Friday night he went over the 1,000-yard mark in a season for the third time as a Dragon -- and it was almost a footnote. That it was gives testament to his abilities -- and his offensive line and coaches for that matter -- that we have grown so accustomed to Wood's performances that we, frankly, just expect it. Currently, Wood has 6,218 yards rushing with 76 rush TDs and 650 yards receiving with 9 scores (he also has 10 interceptions as a defensive back by the way). His ability and durability are a mix to be awed -- the like of whcih we haven't seen too often and may not for some time to come. 


4. Playoff streaks ended/beginning for area programs

It was heartening to see teams like Flowery Branch, White County, North Forsyth and East Hall get back into the postseason this season -- and to know they have at least one more game remaining is impressive for programs that overcame postseason inexperience to get back to state. The Falcons and Raiders were on a three-year playoff drought; the Warriors had gone two straight on the outside looking in, and the Vikings had to recover from a frustrating 2016 that saw them win just three games after back-to-back playoff appearances the previous years. It takes something special to arrest a fall and start a new trend, but it looks very much as though these four programs have done just that -- three of whom with new or second-year coaches (only Bryan Gray at East Hall is a veteran at his current program). On the other hand there are always great streaks ended this time of the season as well. And 2017 proves no different with both Stephens County and Union County seeing playoff runs come to an end. The Indians are out after seven straight seasons -- in fact it is just their second absence in 22 campaigns. Meanwhile, the Panthers will be at home after four straight postseason appearances. At 6-4 Union County still finished with a winning record, however -- their sixth such campaign in a row. Prior to the current run Union had produced just one winning season in 10.


5. Some intriguing first-round playoff matchups on tap

The first round of the playoffs promises some interesting battles, including two between fellow northeast Georgia programs, as North Forsyth travels to North Gwinnett and White County treks to Jefferson. The Warriors possess one of the most explosive offenses in northeast Georgia and will take on a Dragons defense allowing just 15.3 points per game. Jefferson has homefield advantage and plenty of postseason experience (the Dragons are now in their seventh straight postseason and have progressed past the first round in all but one of those campaigns, including a semifinal run last year). Yet though the Warriors are back in the playoffs after a two-year absence they have proven themselves a very capable squad under first-year coach Tim Cokely and have played four ranked teams this season, and while they won just one of those contests, that experience should prove key. The contest will also feature two of the best running backs in northeast Georgia (and the state, frankly) facing off in Jefferson's Colby Wood and White County's Kaleb Crane. Both are seniors and team leaders and will do their best to help haul their teams into the "Sweet 16." It should be an entertaining showdown.

WEEK 11 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCORES, NOV. 3
Blessed Trinity 44, West Hall 21
Buford 42, Flowery Branch 7
Commerce 24, George Walton Academy 13
Dacula 47, Winder-Barrow 14
East Hall 47, Fannin County 27
Elbert County 43, Banks County 22
Greater Atlanta Christian 49, Dawson County 10
Hart County 70, East Jackson 0
Habersham Central 21, Apalachee 12
Jefferson 28, Oconee County 21
Lanier 27, Gainesville 14
Loganville 41, Johnson 3
Mill Creek 56, Duluth 7
Marist 35, White County 7
Morgan County 31, Jackson County 12
Milton 49, North Forsyth 17
North Gwinnett 41, Discovery 7
Rabun County 52, Monticello 7
Riverside Military Academy 48, Lakeview Academy 28 
Stephens County 50, North Oconee 20
Towns County 42, Providence Christian 21
Union County 31, Lumpkin County 24


FIRST ROUND PLAYOFF MATCH-UPS
Games listed alphabetically by visitor, from largest class to smallest
Area teams in bold

Class AAAAAAA
North Forsyth
(Region 5, No. 4 seed) at North Gwinnett (R6, No. 1)
West Forsyth (R5, No. 3) at Mill Creek (R6, No. 2)

Class AAAAAA
Chattahoochee (R7, No. 3) at Winder-Barrow (R8, No. 2)
Lanier (R8, No. 3) at Centennial (R7, No. 2)
Gainesville (R8, No. 4) at Alpharetta (R7, No. 1)

Class AAAAA
Paulding County (R7, No. 4) at Buford (R8, No. 1)
Kell (R7, No. 3) at Flowery Branch (R8, No. 2)

Class AAAA
West Hall
(R7, No. 4) at St. Pius (R8, No. 1)
White County (R7, No. 3) at Jefferson (R8, No. 2)

Class AAA
Hart County (R8, No. 3) at Dawson County (R7, No. 2)
North Hall (R7, No. 3) at Monroe Area (R8 No. 2)
East Hall (R7, No. 4) at Morgan County (R8, No. 1)
Jackson County (R8, No. 4) at Greater Atlanta Christian (R7, No. 1)

Class AA
Chattooga (R7, No. 4) at Rabun County (R8, No. 1)
Banks County (R8, No. 3) at Pepperell (R7, No. 2)

*Class A match-ups determined after final GHSA Power Ratings tabulated later this week

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