Here's five things we learned from Week 7 of the high school football season:
1. Despite loss, Dawson County proves it's a challenger in Class 3A
Dawson County went into Norcross Friday with a chance to make a statement, not only to Greater Atlanta Christian, but to all of Class 3A that it could challenge the more talented teams in the state. Even though they fell 23-20, consider the statement made. The Tigers' (6-1, 2-1 Region 7-3A) vaunted rushing attack was held below their season average of 385, but still piled up 242 on the ground behind seniors SeVaughn Clark and Ahmad Kamara. While they surrendered 282 yards through the air to GAC quarterback Josh Rose, they also picked off two of his passes. The loss no doubt left a bad taste in Dawson County's mouths, but they will have an off week next week to get that taste out and focus on the remainder of the Region 7-3A schedule. If they can respond well to defeat, it looks like they have the tools necessary to make a very deep playoff run.
2. Flowery Branch, Blessed Trinity to start series of showdowns in 7-4A
So far, the top of Region 7-4A has played out like many predicted in the preseason. The two teams who faced off in last year's state championship game, Blessed Trinity (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-4A) and Marist (6-1, 3-0 Region 7-4A) are fighting for the top spot in the region and newcomer Flowery Branch (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-4A) is looking like the lone team that can challenge the two for the region title. This Friday, we'll get our first of three clashes between those three as Blessed Trinity travels to the Branch in a game that much of the state will have its eyes on. As impressive as the Falcons' non-region performances were, their first two region games have shown a team that appears to be finding a scary offensive rhythm. In a 42-0 win over White County two weeks ago and a 69-13 blitzing of Chestatee Friday, quarterback Elijah Gainey and his talented corps of receivers have looked more like Flowery Branch's air raid offenses of old than the run-first attacks that Ben Hall's team has become known for over the last season and a half. The Falcons might need every bit of that air raid, as well as the running game and some help from a defense that has only surrendered 9.8 points per game so far this season if they want to pull an upset that would flip the region and possibly all of Class 4A on its head.
3. Habersham Central took a big step towards a postseason berth
Going into Friday night, Habersham Central had lost two games in a row and was facing a Gainesville team the Raiders had lost to in back-to-back years. To add to the discomfort, the game held extreme importance in the race for the playoffs, as both teams came in after 0-1 starts in Region 8-6A play. The Raiders shrugged off that pressure with an offensive explosion, beating the Red Elephants 49-32 in a shootout that put them squarely back into postseason hunt. Senior quarterback Trey Luttrell had a great game against the team he played for a season ago, going 13 of 22 for 186 yards and four touchdowns, but running back Tracey Lowry gashed Gainesville on the ground as well, reeling off 184 yards and three touchdowns on just 16 carries. The win likely puts Habersham Central (4-3, 1-1 Region 8-6A) one win away from making it back to the state playoffs for the first time since 2011. Talking to AccessWDUN last week, Raiders head coach Benji Harrison said that the game was crucial for the program to "take the next step." Now, Harrison finds his team one more step away from making the 2018 season a memorable one in Mt. Airy.
4. Through injuries, Jefferson shows its depth, mettle
Two weeks ago, in the fourth quarter at Franklin County, Jefferson head coach Gene Cathcart found himself in a position no coach would envy. The Dragons not only trailed the Lions 10-3, but had lost numerous key players to injuries, not the least of which being quarterback Colby Clark and running back/linebacker Kade McNally. Jefferson came back to win that game 17-10, but the questions loomed about how they would carry on through the rest of 2018 with youth and inexperience filling roles once held by veterans and team leaders. Those questions likely still hung in the air when the Dragons found themselves tied with Hart County 7-7 at halftime Friday night, but some answers arrived in the second half. Jefferson (6-1, 3-0 Region 8-3A) reeled off 28 unanswered points for a 35-7 win that helped them keep pace with first-place Monroe Area (7-0, 3-0 Region 8-3A), but also proved that they have plenty of depth, talent and toughness to fight through misfortune. Donsha Gaither, Paxton Cockery and Jacob Thompson all ran for touchdowns, while freshman quarterback Carter Stephenson threw a touchdown pass as well. Can these Dragons turn their tenacity into triumph in October and November? We'll soon find out.
5. Region 8-A North to finish with a flurry
Much has been made about Region 8-A's South division, and rightfully so, as it features three teams (Athens Academy, Prince Avenue Christian and George Walton Academy) ranked in the top twelve of the current Class A-Private power ratings. However, the region's North division is shaping up for a wild finish to the regular season. Commerce appears to be the leader in the pack, coming in to the season's final month with an unbeaten 6-0 record (1-0 8-A North), and while Hebron Christian had a rocky start to the season, losing two of its first three games, the Lions have now won three straight, including two in division play. Meanwhile, a wildcard has emerged in the race for the region championship game, as Riverside Military Academy has suddenly found its stride, winning back to back games with a 48-14 rout of Towns County and a 34-0 shutout of Providence Christian Friday night. The Eagles (3-3, 1-0 8-A North) have now found themselves right in the thick of the Class A-Private playoff race. Those three teams will face each other over the next three weeks. Commerce travels to Dacula to take on Hebron Christian this Friday, Riverside will host Hebron Christian next week and then the Eagles and Tigers will collide in Commerce on October 26. It now looks like the North division could send as many teams to the playoffs as the vaunted South, but for now, an exciting October slate lies in store.
FRIDAY'S AREA PREP FOOTBALL SCORES
Buford 55, Cedar Shoals 6
Commerce 42, Lakeview Academy 0
Fannin County 59, East Hall 36
Flowery Branch 69, Chestatee 13
Greater Atlanta Christian 23, Dawson County 20
Habersham Central 49, Gainesville 32
Hebron Christian 47, Towns County 0
Jefferson 35, Hart County 7
Lumpkin County 42, Cherokee Bluff 19
Marist 51, West Hall 14
Monroe Area 63, Jackson County 0
Riverside Military 34, Providence Christian 0
Walnut Grove 35, Johnson 14
OCTOBER 12 AREA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Banks County at Union County*
Blessed Trinity at Flowery Branch*
Buford at Loganville*
Cedar Shoals at Johnson*
Cherokee Bluff at East Hall*
Commerce at Hebron Christian*
Elbert County at Rabun County*
Fannin County at North Hall*
Franklin County at East Jackson*
Greater Atlanta Christian at Lumpkin County*
Jefferson at Morgan County*
Riverside Military at Lakeview Academy*
White County at West Hall*
* - Indicates region contest