Rivalries, head-turning blowouts and one special play in Buford made for another exciting Friday of high school football in Week 6.
Here are five things we learned this week:
1. Young quarterbacks at Buford, Branch can make big plays in big moments
Buford and Flowery Branch have something in common, besides their undefeated records so far this year. Both teams were replacing veteran starters at quarterback with relatively unproven sophomores, Jarvis Evans at Buford and David Renard at Flowery Branch. In each team's regular season non-region finale, the two youngsters made key plays to keep their teams unbeaten. With the Falcons leading Gainesville 21-14 early in the fourth quarter, Renard, who had yet to complete a pass in the game, faced a third down with more than 20 yards to go. Renard then calmly threw a perfect pass to Connor Larson for a 37-yard gain that swung the momentum of the game and helped lead Flowery Branch to a 35-21 win over the rival Red Elephants. There was no bigger play in the state of Georgia Friday night, however, than the one made by Evans to wrap up Buford's stunning win over Archer. The Wolves surrendered a fourth quarter lead to the Tigers and the two teams traded touchdowns on their first overtime possessions. Trailing 28-27, Buford head coach Bryant Appling decided to go for two and the win, leaving the game in the hands of Evans, who responded by firing the shot heard round the state. Evans lobbed a pass to the back of the end zone, where Treyton Rank did his part with an outstanding catch to give the Wolves a 29-28 win. Evans and Renard may be unproven or still unpolished, but both showed poise and ability to make the big play when their teams need it most.
2. Jefferson may just be unstoppable
If you somehow still weren't impressed with Jefferson after their 41-7 win at Gainesville two weeks ago, we present you with "Exhibit B" of the Dragons' dominance: a 70-6 dismantling of cross county foe East Jackson Friday night. The game was billed as the first test for the new-look Eagles under first-year coach Cameron Pettus, who had started the season with an impressive 3-0 record before falling to Madison County in Week 5. Jefferson quickly changed the headline, sprinting out to a 35-0 lead barely over halfway through the first quarter. The Dragons scored on offense, defense and special teams and led 70-0 after three quarters. While East Jackson is still no doubt a work in progress, beating a team with a winning record on the road by that wide of a margin should open the eyes of anyone who still doubted this Jefferson team. The biggest test will likely come in two weeks, when Jefferson travels to undefeated Hart County, but you would be hard pressed to find a team in Class 3A who has looked more impressive in the last two weeks than these Dragons. With a slew of offensive weapons like Malachi Starks, Colby Clark and Kade McNally, one might begin to ask if the only thing that can stop them this team is themselves.
3. Union County offense is powerful, but defense needs sharpening
If the Union County-Putnam County matchup from last Friday were a job listing, it would have included the phrase "defense need not apply". The Panthers topped the War Eagles 74-57 with the two teams combining for 131 points in the highest scoring game in the state in nearly three full years. The win illustrated two things about Union County's football team: their offense is a well-oiled machine and their defense has some work ahead if they intend to once again compete for the Region 8-2A championship. The Panthers now average more than 53 points per game led by quarterback Pierson Allison and running back Jonah Daniel. The unit has scored no less than 33 points in every game this year and have helped pace Union County to its second straight 5-0 start. The Panthers' defense has played well in spurts, but surrendering 57 points to a Putnam County team Friday night that had averaged just 21 points per game entering the contest is an effort that the team certainly can't afford to duplicate as it prepares for one of its biggest tests against Elbert County this week. A Panthers win would likely cement them as the top challenger to five-time defending region champion and arch-rival Rabun County.
4. Commerce once again looks primed for an 8-A run
In Week 3, Commerce suffered its first non-region loss since a 2015 loss to rival Jefferson in a 40-20 defeat at Hart County. Now that loss seems like a mere bump in the road as the Tigers gear up for divisional play starting this week. Friday night, Commerce ran past a much-improved Madison County team in Danielsville 42-14, wrapping up their non-division slate with a 4-1 record including two wins over Class 4A opponents. The Tigers are 2-0 since that loss in Hartwell, and with Hart County now 5-0 and looking like one of the top teams in Class 3A, the Week 3 loss is looking less like a blemish and more like a cost of doing business as Commerce, like many other Class A teams, uses games with higher-classification teams to help pad their power rating numbers before entering region play. While Riverside Military and Hebron Christian both provided tests for the Tigers a year ago and look to be the top contenders in Region 8-A's north division, Commerce is clearly still the team to beat, averaging 41 points per game behind a powerful option attack led by seniors Nate Ray and Sam Roach. If Commerce returns to the Region 8-A championship game, they will do so looking to snap a 16-year region championship drought, the longest in the team's history since winning their first region crown in 1961.
5. North Hall offense appears back on track, ready for showdown with GAC
The North Hall Trojans started the season a bit rockier than in 2018. The Trojans entered Week 5 with a 2-1 record, but the real concern was an offense averaging just 19 points per game, coming off of a record-setting scoring pace the season before. While J.T. Fair has been a steady hand, continuing to deliver big plays no matter the opponent, North Hall seemed to struggle finding its rhythm. It's starting to look like that rhythm is back, or at least much closer than it was three weeks ago. The Trojans put up 31 points in a shootout loss to rival White County in Week 5 before steamrolling to a 42-14 win over Cherokee Bluff in their Region 7-3A opener Friday night. Numbers in the 30's and 40's are more of what head coach David Bishop's team has been accustomed to the last couple of years, and they will need that offense to be in top form as they head to Norcross this week to take on region heavyweight Greater Atlanta Christian. The Spartans were the only team to truly stifle North Hall's wing-t attack last season, shutting out a Trojans team that averaged 45 points per game against the rest of its competition.