Week 5 was another great slate of high school football action in Northeast Georgia. Some teams began region play, there were a number of thrilling finishes and some teams continued their hot starts to the year.
Here are five things we learned last Friday:
1. Gainesville has survived the first of what could be several 6-7A dogfights
Gainesville was hoping to start off Region 6-7A play with a bang. Consider that done, although likely not exactly in the way the Red Elephants had drawn it up. Gainesville (3-1, 1-0) survived a thriller in Cumming to beat Forsyth Central (2-1, 0-1) Friday night 33-28, marking a win in their first region game as a member of the state's highest classification. Gainesville built a 14-point second half lead, only to see the Bulldogs erase it and appear to take the lead after blocking a kick and returning it for what looked like the game-winning touchdown. Instead, a penalty gave Giovanni Martinez one more shot at the winning field goal, which he made easily. Other games in 6-7A saw wild results as well, with previously winless Denmark stunning unbeaten North Forsyth and South Forsyth blowing out previously unbeaten Lambert. It looks like the region is truly anyone's to win, meaning Gainesville should likely be prepared for more wild finishes if they want to compete for the region crown or the playoffs. One would think, however, that a game as wild as Friday night's would be unlikely.
2. East Hall's offense can 'raid' by air or ground
When Michael Perry arrived at East Hall in 2019, much of the talk surrounded him implementing an "air raid" offense. While quarterback Clete Cooper and his arsenal of weapons are certainly living up to that distinction, Friday night showed that the Vikings offense is more than a one-trick pony. Cooper, Matthew Lott and Mon Tabor combined for more than 250 rushing yards as East Hall outlasted East Jackson (1-2) in a 49-34 shootout in Nicholson. The fact that the Vikings could score 49 points with Cooper throwing just 12 passes during the game shows that East Hall's offense can find a number of ways to beat a defense, and so far they've beaten defenses just about any way they've wanted to in 2020. The team is averaging 35 points per game and it has them off to a 3-1 start, their best since 2017 (a season that saw East Hall reach the second round of the playoffs). If opponents have to worry about a potent ground game as well as Perry's patented air raid attack, that will make East Hall a team no one will want to deal with come region play.
3. Through turnovers, quarantines, North Hall finds its offense
To say North Hall has had some adversity through the first half of the 2020 season would be a major understatement. After back-to-back seasons of eight or more wins and second round playoff appearances, the Trojans graduated a wealth of talent and experience and were tasked with playing a brutal non-region schedule including the likes of Stephens County and Hart County. Then, with the final non-region game against rival Chestatee looming, North Hall saw a number of players quarantined due to COVID-19 precautions. There were plenty of built-in excuses for the Trojans to drop their fourth straight game to start the year, but they had other plans. North Hall's wing-t offense finally found some of its trademark rhythm as they beat Chestatee 48-28 for their first win of 2020. The recipe appears to be a steady diet of Clark Howell and Kevin Rochester. The two combined for 50 carries for 432 yards and 7 touchdowns against the War Eagles (0-4). That rhythm could not have been found at a better time as North Hall (1-3) now gets ready to begin Region 7-3A play next week at an improved West Hall team.
4. Jefferson shows composure in Hart County scare
No one could argue that Jefferson's non-region schedule hasn't been brutally tough, but Friday night may have been the most important test the Dragons received in the slate. Hart County, despite being 1-2 entering the contest and from a lower classification, threw a number of haymakers at Jefferson, leading to a tied ballgame in the final minutes. It was the first time this year that Jefferson had been put into a late-game do-or-die situation, and the Dragons responded beautifully. The offense calmly went down the field, ending in a game-winning touchdown pass from Malaki Starks to Spencer Neese. It was just Starks' third pass completion of the game as he continues to direct coach Gene Cathcart's triple-option attack. Jefferson (4-0) no doubt learned lessons from the thriller, and those lessons will come in handy immediately as they open region play with perhaps their toughest region matchup next week at Flowery Branch. The Falcons have also shown an ability this year to come up clutch in late-game situations, so if the game comes down to the 4th quarter, fans may be treated to a great finish.
5. Cherokee Bluff is not slowing down
In terms of raw numbers, nobody in Northeast Georgia has looked as dominant as the youngest program in the area. Cherokee Bluff (4-0) continued their hot start to 2020 with a 42-0 blowout of Lakeside-DeKalb Friday night. While the Bears were expected to be improved this year, the sheer magnitude with which they have dominated their non-region schedule has been eye-opening. So far this year, Cherokee Bluff has outscored its four opponents 187-14, pitching three shutouts and averaging an area-best 46 points per game. They appear to have the talent to match up with anyone on their schedule, with Kansas-commit Shad Dabney and junior running back Jayquan Smith creating problems for every defense they've played. Much of the talk in Region 7-3A through the non-region schedule has been the hot start by White County, who has also started undefeated. It may be time to give the Bears some of that shine, and they may just demand that recognition if they can continue to look dominant this week in their region opener against an improved Gilmer team.