Here's a look at five things we learned from Week 3 of the high school football season...
1. Apalachee has a running game -- and guts
The Wildcats knew they were in for some growing pains this season, but after an 0-2 start to the campaign Apalachee showed it is indeed starting to mature on Friday night -- especially in its ground attack. Josh Stephenson and Josh Agbenou each rushed for 100 yards, while Stephenson showed he knows the way to the end zone in scoring all four Apalachee touchdowns, plus the game-clinching 2-point conversion, as the Wildcats fought back to defeat Discovery in overtime. It was an impressive response for Apalachee, which trailed 14-7 at halftime and 21-13 in the fourth quarter. AJ Forbing also came up with a 2-point conversion that tied it at the end of regulation and forced the extra frame. For a team that has endured its share of hardships over the past few seasons -- the Wildcats began their recovery last season in winning two games after claiming just one victory the previous three seasons combined -- it was an ecouraging sign that it has plenty of will power in reserve and that it is focused on continuing the fightback process begun last season. Coach Steven Sims knows that he must rebuild the program with both excitement and dedication, and games like Friday's show his staff is on the right track.
2. Rabun County is still the gold standard in the mountains -- but White County is gaining quickly
Rabun County football has done much over the past half decade to prove that today's "mountain football" is not your father's mountain ball. The old stereotype was that the northern-most reaches of the state could not compete athletically with most other regions. Well, the Wildcats -- along with other programs, like Union County -- have been slaying that dragon for some years now, playing not only winning football but doing so with the kind of speed and athletic flair formerly considered out of their reach. And last week White County showed that the Warriors are ready to join that arms race. New coach Tim Cokely brought the spread offense and attack defense to Cleveland, and a 3-0 start certainly had our attention. But it was their play in Friday's defeat against Rabun that perhaps best showed that the Warriors must be taken as a serious threat at all levels. Facing a Wildcats program that has become a gold standard (five straight state playoff appearances, three straight region titles and two straight state quarterfinal appearances), White County traded haymakers for the first 41 minutes before a 21-point barrage over a three-minute span sealed a 49-26 win for Rabun. The Wildcats' experience in big games, along with a star-studded roster, ended up being a difference-maker, but the Warriors certainly looked like they belonged -- White County even had the ball with just under 11 minutes left and a chance for the go-ahead score. The modern version of the spread offense is proliferating throughout mountain schools, and teams like Dawson County have also made huge strides in recent seasons, while others, like Habersham Central, seem on the cusp of doing so. White County is the latest to take another big step forward, so teams from the rest of the state beware -- a trip to the mountains means a lot more than just beautiful scenery these days.
3. North Gwinnett is ready for region slog
New head coach Bill Stewart appears to be making a big impact with the Bulldogs. And after opening the season with a tough loss and then watching starting quarterback Cade Fortin (a Texas A&M commit) go down through injury, North Gwinnett has done nothing but impress, reeling off three straight victories. Friday's win over old rival Norcross was perhaps the most impressive yet, as the Bulldogs dominated the Blue Devils thanks to five forced turnovers on defense. The offense, meanwhile, started strong, jumping out to a 14-0 lead behind Tyler Goodsen, who had 230 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the night. And this came against a Norcross team that took then-No. 3 Colquitt County (now 4-0) to the wire in a 20-17 loss in its season opener. So not only have the Bulldogs faced down adversity, they have reached their bye week with budding momentum and a resume that should give them plenty of confidence for the start of the Region 6-AAAAAAA slate.
4. There is plenty of fight in the Trojans
While North Hall's season may have gotten off to a slow start on the scoreboard, the Trojans showed on Friday that there is plenty to build upon and that they will continue to get better after taking Pickens to the wire in a 42-35 loss in Jasper. After scoring just 12 points through their first two contests, the Trojans' offense sparked to life on Friday, rolling up 318 yards rushing -- and did so in a fashion that shows their wing-T will likely be handful the rest of the way. North Hall got rushing touchdowns from three different players -- Jack Brown (three), Peyton Mavity and David Seavey (one apiece). The trio also rushed for significant yardage, including 122 yards on just 10 carries for Mavity. Coming out of a bye week after an 0-2 start, it would have been very easy for North Hall to start feeling sorry for itself. Instead, the Trojans charged out of the break and so nearly knocked off a Dragons team that already has a win over Class AAAAAA Chattahoochee (2-1) on its resume. The Trojans still have plenty of games left in front of them, and you can be sure they're approaching those games with plenty of determination. They showed as much on Friday. And if young team can keep improving there is still everything to play for.
5. There is a slugfest brewing in Jefferson
This week represents one of those Friday nights we've been waiting for all season. There are a slew of outstanding contests on tap -- including a showdown between perennial state powers Buford and South Pointe (S.C.) -- but the one that fills northeast Georgia with perhaps the most intrigue is set for Memorial Stadium, as former Jefferson coach Ben Hall takes his new Flowery Branch on the road to face his old Dragons. Both teams are off to impressive starts, new Jefferson head coach Gene Cathcart continuing his successful role as offensive coordinator while guiding the fourth-ranked Dragons to a 2-1 record -- the only loss a gut-wrenching but promising last-second defeat at Class AAAA No. 2 Thomson. But we kind of expected that from a talented roster and coaching staff -- not to say it's been easy by any stretch, but the level of play Jefferson has grown accustomed to makes the Dragons one of the established programs across the state. It's the other side of the coin that makes Friday's game a tasty proposition. Flowery Branch has quickly taken to Hall's physical styles of offense and defense, rolling to a 3-0 start in dominant fashion. This is a program coming off a three-year playoff drought and a 3-7 2016 campaign, so their response so far is one of the storylines of a young season. They will undoubtedly face their biggest test of the season at Jefferson, and we are intrigued indeed to see how both sides respond.
AREA HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCORES, SEPT. 8
Apalachee 29, Discovery 28 OT
Archer 16, Mill Creek 13
Chestatee 31, Fannin County 7
Commerce 55, Lakeview Academy 21
East Hall 60, Johnson 7
East Jackson 33, Oglethorpe County 0
Flowery Branch 31, Stephens County 6
Franklin County 46, Habersham Central 45 OT
George Walton Academy 16, Riverside Military Academy 13
Madison County 28, Lumpkin County 7
North Gwinnett 35, Norcross 14
Northside, Warner Robins 22, Lanier 7
Pickens 42, North Hall 35
Prince Avenue Christian 28, Towns County 6
Rabun County 49, White County 26
Union County 42, Andrews (N.C.) 14
West Hall 31, Jackson County 21
WEEK 4 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE FRIDAY, SEPT. 15
Andrews (N.C.) at Fannin County
Apalachee at Walnut Grove
Banks County at Union County
East Hall at Jackson County
Flowery Branch at Jefferson
Glynn Academy at East Jackson*
Lanier at Lambert
Lumpkin County at Chestatee
North Forsyth at Pickens
South Pointe, S.C. at Buford
Towns County at Riverside Military Academy
West Hall at Dawson County
White County at North Hall
Winder-Barrow at Loganville
WEEK 4 HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE SATURDAY, SEPT. 16
Stephens County at Habersham Central (moved from Friday)
*- Game moved from Brunswick to Commerce due to Hurricane Irma