A pair of region championships and playoff berths were clinched and some eye-opening results highlighted the final week of the high school football regular season.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Buford is peaking at the right time.
September was a long time ago. Just ask Buford. The Wolves have now won eight in a row after losing their season-opener and have looked better with each passing week. Their final tune-up before the Class 6A playoffs was a region championship bout with former long-time rival Dacula. Buford (8-1, 6-0) used the stage to put the state on notice by running the Falcons out of the stadium, jumping out to a 21-0 lead before the first quarter had even ended on their way to a 35-0 win. The defense was as dominant as advertised, holding one of the top offenses in 6A to just 191 total yards, but it was the fast start by the Wolves' offense that likely caught everyone, including Dacula, off guard. It was a balanced effort for Buford with more than 200 yards both on the ground and through the air. Last year, Buford had to recollect itself headed into the playoffs after an upset loss at Clarke Central. While they were able to overcome that loss to eventually win the state title, this year they will have the wind at their back as they make their first appearance in the 6A bracket. And they'll have home field advantage for the first two rounds now as well.
2. Gainesville defense leads them into their first 7A playoff berth
North Forsyth needed to beat Gainesville by at least 13 points while scoring at least 22 points in order to supplant the Red Elephants for the final Region 6-7A playoff seed. The Gainesville defense didn't even let them start counting. The unit shut out the Raiders (who hadn't been shut out since 2014), holding them to less than 200 total yards to clinch the program's 21st consecutive state playoff appearance and their first as a member of the state's largest classification. It was the culmination of a month of strong play from the defense. Since allowing 35 points in a win over Lambert, Gainesville (6-4, 4-2) has allowed just 12 points per game, doing so against the toughest stretch of their region schedule. The Red Elephants will no doubt need that defense to be at the top of its game as it hits the road to take on perennial power Archer in the first round of the playoffs, but right now they look to be up to the task.
3. White County is back, and maybe better than ever
Remember when White County was the odds-on favorite to win the Region 7-3A championship? The Warriors remember, and now you likely do too. A blowout 48-7 win over region champ Cherokee Bluff Friday night was a firm reminder of just how good White County (7-2, 3-2) has been, and how big of a threat they can pose to anybody in the 3A state playoffs when healthy. Star quarterback J. Ben Haynes, who was out for the team's losses to Dawson County and North Hall due to injury, is now back in the lineup and back to his old ways. He threw for 215 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another as the team built a 34-7 lead at halftime in front of a stunned Bears Stadium. The win didn't change seeding for White County, as they were already locked into the number four spot, but it will provide them with plenty of momentum and confidence as they travel to Rockmart for the first round of the playoffs this Friday. After all, if you can beat one region champion on the road in November, why not two?
4. Habersham Central got in the hard way
Making the Class 6A playoffs is almost never easy, but Habersham Central head coach Benji Harrison probably would have wished his Raiders had taken a slightly less stressful path to their postseason berth. As if a come-from-behind win at Winder-Barrow earlier in the season, an upset of Lanier and playing two must-win games in five days to end the regular season wasn't enough to keep the heart pumping, Habersham Central found themselves down 28-0 in the 2nd quarter at Shiloh in the season finale Saturday afternoon. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained. The Raiders (6-4, 4-2) stormed back to win 45-37 and secure the number three seed in Region 8-6A. There isn't much this team hasn't seen and they'll need every bit of that experience as they head west for a first-round playoff matchup at Rome. But then again, nothing's come easy for Habersham Central so far.
5. Commerce uses big second halves to finally capture region crown
While Commerce won every region game in 2020 by at least 10 points, make no mistake: the Tigers earned their first region title since 2003. The win Friday over Lincoln County to secure the 8-A Public championship followed almost the exact same script as the previous week's win at Washington-Wilkes. The Red Devils scored first and led for almost the entire first half. While Commerce was able to tie it up before halftime, it was the second half where they pulled away to victory. They outscored Lincoln County 10-0 in the second half, shutting them out over the final two and a half quarters, almost identical to their 14-0 outscoring of Washington-Wilkes in the second half of that win. Toughness is needed for a championship run, and now Commerce (9-1, 5-0) will enter the Class A-Public playoffs as one of the top contenders. Any team hoping to beat the Tigers will need to know this: it will take more than one good half to keep this team down.