After Regions 6-7A and 8-5A got their region schedules underway last week for northeast Georgia area teams, Regions 7-3A, 8-4A, and 8-6A will join them this week as their quest for playoff berths begins.
Several area teams have gotten off to hot starts while others are still trying to find their way. So, with that in mind, how important IS the first region game, no matter what direction a program is headed? Does it give teams a chance to reboot a season? Does a slow start in region play invalidate good work done early?
Almost as important. Does the first region game set the tone for teams and regions as a whole, good and/or bad?
We caught up with several area coaches to get their thoughts on that.
Buford is off to a 2-1 start but has not looked the part of a dominant team to this point. The Wolves are hoping that will change after Friday when they open 8-6A play against Central Gwinnett at home
Buford coach Bryant Appling stated things rather bluntly.
"Your first region game is always important,” he said. “It sets the tone for the next 5 to 7 weeks.”
Region 8-4A opens with a bang as No. 2 Jefferson travels to No. 8 Flowery Branch in a titanic battle that many felt would decide the region champion by season’s end.
Branch coach Ben Hall wasn’t as eager to jump on that bandwagon just yet.
"I'm not going to crown the winner of this game region champs, but it does put you in the driver's seat and that's a position that we would love to be in,” Hall said. “We're going to have to play our best game by far and continue to grow."
Jefferson's Gene Cathcart echoed Hall.
"It is early in the season for such a big region game but we are excited to be playing against such a quality opponent,” Cathcart said. “But we knew going into the season...[that likely] both our programs would be involved in being a part of the competition pursuing the region championship.”
But also in 8-4A, East Hall, which is off to a surprising 3-1 start under second-year coach Michael Perry, opens at home against Cedar Shoals, a perennial playoff team that is struggling (0-3) so far in 2020.
“We still have to keep improving each day, especially at some of the skill positions, but as long as we keep making progress then I will be happy,” Perry said. "Cedar is extremely athletic and big on the lines of scrimmage. We are going to have to play much better in the special team's department this week.”
But Region 7-3A opens with three huge contests that all could help shape the playoff picture right from the outset.
No. 7 and unbeaten White County travels to Dawson County; undefeated Cherokee Bluff plays host to Gilmer, and a surging West Hall heads to North Hall to take on a Trojans squad that snapped its three-game losing streak last week.
“On the front end, it does feel like there is a lot of parity in our region. But that will all play out in the end,” said Bluff coach Tommy Jones. “Every region game has huge implications., particularly in 2020 with all of the uncertainty that exists. It’s always advantageous to get off to a strong start.”
"It's a momentum game for both teams,” White County's Tim Cokely said. “It's not do or die, but I think we're two of the better teams in our region so we'll certainly have a way to measure our teams after Friday. But it's really important because it's a region game."
West Hall's Krofton Montgomery, whose Spartans have righted the ship with two straight wins after a 12-game losing streak, said streaks mean little once you get to this point.
"North Hall may be 1-3, but they’ve played some highly talented and well-coached teams,” Montgomery said. “It’s a huge game for the region and to get the second half of your season started off on the right foot.”
North Hall's David Bishop agreed.
“All region games are very important and factor into the playoff equation,” Bishop said. “But to get a win, we have to execute our game plan, limit turnovers and play disciplined football in all phases. We are still far from where I would like to be, but if we continue to make strides, we will be in much better shape each week.”