Week 8 saw a double-overtime thriller, a Saturday afternoon shootout and wins that made the 2020 playoff picture a little clearer.
Here are five things we learned from the weekend:
1. Ellingham's return gets Falcons back to ground-and-pound ways
Flowery Branch head coach Ben Hall has shown an ability to adapt his offensive scheme to whatever his team is best equipped to do. Last year, with a young David Renard still learning the ropes at quarterback and a pair of outstanding running backs, the Falcons played a smash-mouth style of football, running the ball as their first, second and sometimes third options. This year, Flowery Branch spent several games without star back Jaizen Ellingham and they adapted by letting Renard loose to the tune of some of the best passing performances in the state of Georgia. On Friday night in a key Region 8-4A game with North Oconee, however, Ellingham finally looked back to his old self, and the result was a Falcons offense that looked much more like Hall's bread and butter. Ellingham ran for 222 yards and four touchdowns, with an extra 68 yards on the ground coming from the emerging Miles Ivey to pace a running game that wore down the Titans defense to the tune of 42 points and a double-overtime win. Renard still showed an ability to make big plays through the air, including a pair of second half touchdown passes, and if he can do that as a complement to a dominant ground game, Flowery Branch's offense may have the balance for a deep playoff run.
2. Region 7-3A appears set for three-team round robin
When the new region alignments were announced at the start of the calender year, Region 7-3A looked to be one of the most intriguing in the area. Two months into the season, that still appears to be the case. The final month of the regular season will see three teams who are unbeaten in region play all facing each other in a defacto round-robin tournament to decide the region championship. It's a diverse group of contenders as well. Dawson County (3-3, 2-0) enters with one of the most high-powered offenses in North Georgia, averaging 36 points per game against a tough non-region slate with quarterback Zach Holtzclaw putting up some of the best passing numbers in Georgia. Cherokee Bluff comes into the last month unbeaten (6-0, 2-0) and playing some of the best defense anywhere in the state so far. The Bears allow just 4.5 points per game and have a bruising running game led by Jayquan Smith and Charles Tolbert to feed that unit. North Hall comes in with perhaps the most momentum of any of the three, winning four in a row after a 0-3 start. The Trojans signature wing-T attack has found its stride with Clark Howell and Kevin Rochester leading the way. The teams should provide some tantalizing late-season matchups and we can't wait to see them.
3. Lakeview is in prime position for first playoff berth
Lee Shaw's first season at Lakeview Academy is shaping up to be a special one. The Lions are now 3-3 (1-1 Region 6-A Private), a record that seems unassuming until you realize the program hasn't won more than three games in a season since 2012 and has never made the state playoffs in their history. Those are two milestones that this Lakeview team will have a month to gain. Their most recent win, last Friday against King's Ridge, was the most important one of the year to date as it gave them a region win and likely put them just one more win away from the postseason. The Lions defense continues to impress, allowing just over 14 points per game and it was that defense that proved the be the edge against King's Ridge. The Lions largely shut down the Tigers down and came away with the game-winning play on a strip-sack on the final drive. Lakeview will have two more region games against Mt. Pisgah Christian and St. Francis to try to get that playoff-clinching win and this looks like a team capable of finally breaking through.
4. White County back on track with Stancil under center
The first month of the season couldn't have gone any better for White County. The first two region games couldn't have gone much worse. After a 4-0 start that was their best since 1975, the Warriors dropped their first two region contests, both of them heartbreakers, against Dawson County and North Hall. Along the way, to add injury to insult, star quarterback J. Ben Haynes went down and still has not returned. In his place, Riley Stancil has been finding his place in the White County offense, and on Friday night he helped guide them to their first region win in a 35-0 shutout of West Hall. The offense with Stancil at the helm has been a more run-oriented attack and it's working well. The Warriors piled up more than 350 yards rushing Friday night, with Stancil accounting for 83 of those. There is still plenty of time for White County (5-2, 1-2) to climb back up the Region 7-3A playoff standings and they now appear ready to do so whether Haynes is able to return or not.
5. Daniel's returns provides needed spark for Union County
Speaking of offensive star power that's been sidelined, Union County senior running back Jonah Daniel has been one such case. The Panthers themselves have not seen much football in the last month due to a couple of COVID-19 cancellations, but they were able to open Region 8-2A play Friday night at Banks County. The struggling Leopards gave them the best shot they had, cutting the Union County lead to just 12-7 late in the fourth quarter. Daniel provided the spark needed to give the Panthers the win, scoring on a 24-yard catch-and-run on a 4th down play in the final minutes to seal the 19-7 win. It was an important one because Region 8-2A is playing with just four teams this year (Riverside Military is a region member, but canceled Fall sports), meaning that while every team is guaranteed a playoff berth, just one win or loss can mean a world of difference in playoff seeding and first-round draws. With Daniel back in the backfield and a 1-0 start to region play, Union County (3-2) once again looks to be a team that will be looking to make noise in November.