Monday May 29th, 2023 10:22PM

ICYMI: 1st round previews: Offense, unfamiliarity could drive an exciting opening round; Sat previews

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

For those not expecting the high school football season to actually make it this far, we welcome you to the first round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs.

And the northeast Georgia area will have at least one team in seven of the eight classifications, 14 teams in all, though Banks County was forced to forfeit its Class 2A playoff matchup due to COVID-19 issues. The games also will be played over two days as the GHSA moved all Class 4A and 2A games to Saturday. The rest will be on the traditional Friday night.

Gainesville (Class 7A), Buford (Class 6A), and Commerce (Class A-Public), all will be in action on Friday having extended long playoff streaks. A pair of newcomers in Cherokee Bluff (Class 3A), and Lakeview Academy (Class A Private) will be making their first-ever playoff appearances.

Another interesting twist is that 11 of the actual 13 matchups will be first time meetings between the two programs. Boring old showdowns will not be the highlight of the opening round.

Of the four contests involving the eight teams from regions 7-3A and 6-3A, six offensive units are in the top 9 and all eight are in the top 14 in Class 3A. There should be plenty of fireworks around north Georgia for sure.

For a look at all of the weekend's contests involving area teams, simply scroll down. And be sure to check back with AccessWDUN's Friday Game Night throughout the night for score updates and game stories and video highlights. You can also check for scores and highlights on our Twitter feed: @FridayGameNight

(Games listed by highest classification and alphabetical order of visiting team)
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Archer Stadium, Lawrenceville
-- RADIO: 94.5 The Lake
-- GAINESVILLE (Region 6, Seed 3) (6-4): Defeated North Forsyth 17-0 last week
-- ARCHER (Region 7, Seed 2) (6-4): Lost 31-14 to Norcross last week for the region title
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... This is an interesting matchup. Archer is a perennial playoff power having been to the quarterfinals or better, including a trip to the 2014 championship game, 6 of the past 7 seasons. The Tigers have won 3 straight 1st round games and 6 of their last 7 overall going back to 2013. GHS has dropped 4 straight 1st round games. Their last win in the playoffs came in 2015, a 25-14 win over Alexander in the Class 5A playoffs. ... But the Red Elephants advanced to the playoffs in their first season in the state’s largest classification. They looked playoff-ready last week in one of their better performances of the season. The defense has been outstanding over the past month allowing just 13.0 ppg. ... The Tigers, meanwhile, are 6th in 7A in scoring (328, 32.8 ppg). ... GHS will have to find some offense. After averaging 35.5 ppg (249 points) over their first 7 games (a 5-2 record), the Red Elephants have scored just 45 points (15.0 ppg) over their final 3 games (1-2 record). ... Archer has allowed just 17.6 ppg (176 points) and in their 4 losses, all to top 3-ranked teams, the Tigers gave up 134 points. They have surrendered just 32 points (5.3 ppg) to everyone else.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
-- DOUGLAS COUNTY (R5, S4) (7-3): Lost 23-7 to Carrollton last week
-- BUFORD (R8, S1) (8-1): Defeated Dacula 35-0 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... Early in the season, this would have been tabbed as a potential quarterfinal matchup at worst. But after a 5-0 start, the Tigers dropped 3 of their last 5 games, two by just 3 points. They were ranked in the top 10 for much of the season. ... Buford has won 8 straight since a season-opening loss to North Cobb. ... Recruiting sites say this matchup could feature as many as 9 seniors ranked as three-star recruits or better. ... Douglas County is only averaging 22.3 ppg but is balanced averaging 160 yards rushing and 157 yards passing. QBs Jimmy Inman and Mike Miller are a challenging duo and have combined for 1,505 yards passing. They also have RB Kobe Harris, who has 913 yards and 9 TDs rushing. ... The Buford defense, however, is the stingiest in Class 6A (58, 6.4 ppg) led by Sr. CB Malik Williams (Nebraska-commit) and S Amari Wansley (Florida Atlantic-commit). ... The Wolves offense, behind RBs Gabe and Victor Venn, is 2nd in Class 6A (357, 39.6 ppg) while the Tigers defense is 7th in 6A (112, 11.2 ppg) led by Georgia-commit DE Jonathan Jefferson, who has 64 tackles, 17 TFL, and 10 sacks.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Barron Stadium, Rome
-- RADIO: 99.3 FM WCON
-- HABERSHAM CENTRAL (R8, S3) (6-4): Defeated Shiloh 45-37 last week
-- ROME (R5, S2) (7-3): Defeated Paulding County 56-27 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Wolves are playoff veterans making their 6th straight trip, including two state title runs in 2016 and 2017. They come in on a 5-game win streak. ... Habersham Central is making its 2nd playoff trip in 3 seasons and is riding high after one of the biggest comebacks in program history last week. They trailed Shiloh 28-0 in the 2nd quarter before reeling off 31 straight points for the win. ... The Raiders' offense is among the classification’s best, sitting 9th (306, 30.6 ppg) behind a punishing ground game behind a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Sr. QB Joshua Pickett (1,521 yards, 21 TDs) is in the top 5 in the state while Sr. RB Jackson Clouatre has 1,101 yards and 9 TDs. ... The Rome defense is yielding 19.1 ppg but has allowed just 67 points (13.6 ppg) during its win streak. ... The Raiders defense has given up the 12th most points in 6A (277, 27.7 ppg) but 94 came against Buford and Dacula. They are giving up just 22.8 ppg against everyone else. They also are ball-hawks. They have forced 22 turnovers, including 17 INTs, 9 in the last two games. ... The Rome offense is averaging just 23.2 ppg and just over 300 yards/game.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Adairsville
-- DAWSON COUNTY (R7, S3) (5-5): Lost 34-21 to North Hall last week
-- ADAIRSVILLE (R6, S2) (6-3): Off last week after Lakeview Ft.-Oglethorpe forfeited; defeated North Murray 42-35 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... Adairsville will be well-rested but that could also lead to some rust after not playing for two weeks. The key number for Adairsville is 32. Adairsville is 6-0 when scoring 32 or more points. They are 0-3 when scoring less than 32. ... Dawson County will counter with the No. 2 offense in 3A (365, 36.5 ppg) behind the classification's passing leader in Zach Holtzclaw (2,518 yards, 25 TD, 4 INT). ... The key for Dawson County will be its defense. The Tigers are allowing 27.3 ppg and only Brantley County (289) and Tattnall County (359) have given up more points than the playoff teams in 3A. But in their 5 wins, the Tigers gave up just 79 points (15.8 ppg). ... The Tigers have won three straight 1st round games. Adairsville has lost its last 2 1st round games, including a 41-0 loss to Jenkins in 2019. Adairsville has not advanced to the 2nd round since 2015.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Bears Stadium, Flowery Branch
-- LAFAYETTE (R6, S4) (4-5): Lost 49-42 to No. 3 seed North Murray last week
-- CHEROKEE BLUFF (R7, S1) (9-1): Region 7-3A champs; lost 48-7 to White County last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... For the Bears, it will be their first-ever postseason game in program history. They won the region crown two weeks ago with a 41-24 win over North Hall, just the 21st time in GHSA history that has been accomplished by a team within its first three seasons. ... The Ramblers are almost making history themselves. It’s their first playoff appearance since 1993 and they are looking for their first playoff win since 1969. ... It should be an interesting matchup between the Bears defense and the LaFayette offense. The Bears, until last week, had not allowed more than 27 points in any game and just 9.3 ppg through their first 9 games. The Ramblers are 9th in 3A in scoring (307, 34.1 ppg). ... However, the Bluff offense has been consistent all season averaging 36.0 ppg behind RB Jayquan Smith (862 yards, 11 TDs, 3 100-yard games) and QB Sebastian Irons (1,212 yards, 13 TD, 5 INT, 63.7%) who has steadily improved throughout the season. ... LaFayette, which is giving up 30.2 ppg on the season, is 2-5 when allowing more than 21 points.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM WDUN
-- NORTH MURRAY (R6, S3) (6-3): Defeated LaFayette 49-42 last week
-- NORTH HALL (R7, S2) (6-4): Defeated Dawson County 34-21 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Brickyard has been one of the toughest places to win for road teams in the playoffs over the past 15 years. The Trojans have won 11 straight playoff games at home going back to a 14-7 loss to Washington County in the 2004 quarterfinals. ... Expect points to be scored in this one. Both offenses are in the top 13 in 3A in scoring. The Mountaineers bring in a high-flying offense that is 5th (352, 39.1 ppg). North Murray WR Michael McDade had a huge game last week with 5 catches for 236 yards and 3 TDs. ... The Trojans counter with their patented wing-T that is paced by senior Clark Howell (200 car., 1,483 yards, 21 TDs, 8 100-yard games) which put him in the top six in the state at the end of the regular season. ... Whichever defense can make a stop could give their team the win. Both teams are in the bottom half of 3A. North Murray has allowed 257 points (28.5 ppg) while North Hall has yielded 270 points (27.0 ppg) but has given up just 157 points (22.4 ppg) over its last 7 games. ... North Hall has won two straight first-round games. The Mountaineers, who advanced to the quarterfinals in 2019, are just 2-2 in their last 4 first-round games.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: The Rock, Rockmart
-- RADIO: 93.9 FM WRWH;
-- WHITE COUNTY (R7, S4) (7-2): Defeated Cherokee Bluff 48-7 last week
-- ROCKMART (R6, S1) (8-1): Defeated Ringgold 35-12 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... Biff Parson, the former Banks County coach, has turned around the Yellow Jackets in just 5 seasons. Rockmart has won 51 games in his 4-plus seasons, including a state championship game appearance in 2018. They won just 52 games from 2006-2015. Rockmart also won its 4th consecutive region title last week ... It should be an offensive showcase game. The run-oriented Jackets lead 3A in scoring (375, 41.7 ppg) and are led by Sr. QB Javin Whatley, who is closing in on a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season. But they have four other players with 200-plus yards rushing and have scored 33 rushing TDs on the season. They have scored 35 or more in 7 straight games. ... The Warriors are 3rd in 3A in scoring (362, 40.2 ppg) behind Sr. QB J. Ben Haynes (1,451 yards, 13 TD,  3 INT; 540 yards rushing, 14 TD) and a plethora of WRs. Seven players have 100-plus yards receiving, led by Dylan Cannon (24-643 yards, 9 TD) and Cooper Turner (29-428, 3 TD). Silas Mulligan has 934 yards and 13 TDs rushing. They have scored 28 or more in all 9 games ... Rockmart has won 4 straight 1st round games. White County has dropped 4 straight 1st round games. The Warriors have not advanced past the first round since 2013.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Jacob Dennis Field, Acworth
-- LAKEVIEW ACADEMY (R6, S3) (5-3): Defeated Providence Christian 35-16 last week
-- NORTH COBB CHRISTIAN (R7, S2) (7-2): Lost 28-13 to Christian Heritage last week
-- NOTABLE: Lakeview Academy leads series 4-0. The Lions won 42-7 in 2013 and all four meetings came between 2010 and 2013. ... It will have to go down as the best season ever for Lakeview, to this point, in its history. It’s the first-ever playoff appearance for the Lions, and their first-ever winning record while playing a region schedule. The 5 wins are the most since they won 6 in 2012 in a non-region year. ... The two teams have not met in seven years and for the Eagles, this is their third consecutive playoff appearance (2-2 all-time in the playoffs). ... North Cobb has been ranked most of the season and Lakeview is 0-15 all-time against ranked opponents. ... The key matchup will be the Lakeview defense, which has allowed just 147 points (18.3 ppg) against the Eagles offense, which is averaging 31.3 ppg, good for 9th in Class A Private.

-- WHEN: 8 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Commerce
-- MANCHESTER (R5, S4) (4-6): Defeated Schley County 12-6 last week
-- COMMERCE (R8, S1) (9-1): Defeated Lincoln County 17-7 last week
-- NOTABLE: Manchester leads series 2-1. The two teams have not played since 1995, a 49-26 Manchester win in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs. The only Commerce win in the series came in 1948, 26-13, in Commerce. ... This the 24th consecutive playoffs for the Tigers, who have won 7 straight coming into the playoffs. The Blue Devils are making their 6th straight trip, which includes 3 quarterfinals appearances. ... Manchester won 3 of its last 4 games after a 1-5 start. The Blue Devils are 4-0 when giving up just 8 points or less. They are 0-6 when allowing more than 8 points. ... While the Tigers triple-option has been as potent as ever (359, 35.9 ppg, 6th in A Public) it has been the defense that has driven things. They have allowed just 14.6 ppg but only 12.8 ppg during their win streak. ... A key area will be turnovers. The Tigers at times have been prone to the fumble and Manchester, which is allowing 20.9 ppg, has forced 11 fumbles on the season.

(Games listed by highest classification and alphabetical order of visiting team)
-- WHEN: 6 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Falcons Field, Flowery Branch
-- LUELLA (R5, S3) (6-4): Lost 34-0 to Region 5-4A champion Riverdale last week
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (R8, S2) (8-2): Defeated East Hall 55-14 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... Experience looks to be a huge advantage for the Falcons. They are making their fourth straight playoff appearance while the Lions are making just their 5th ever playoff appearance. ... Luella, which began playing a varsity schedule in 2004, is guaranteed its first winning season since 2008. However, the Lions have never advanced past the first round in their 17-year history. ... The teams also come in as polar opposites. Branch is riding a 5-game win streak behind the top offense in Class 4A (380, 38.0 ppg) led by the classification’s top passer in David Renard and top receiver in Connor Larson. The Lions are on a 2-game losing streak, both shutout losses. They have dropped 3 of their last 4 after a 5-1 start to the season. ... It has been a tale of two halves for both teams this season. Luella averaged 24.1 ppg and gave up just 12.3 ppg in its strong start but have scored just 13.0 ppg and given up 27.5 ppg over its last four games. ... The Falcons have been consistent throughout on offense but after allowing 29.8 ppg on defense over their first 5 games they have surrendered just 19.2 ppg over the second half of the season. ... A victory would give the Falcons just their second 9-win season since 2011 and their first playoff win since 2017.

-- WHEN: 1 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- MT. ZION-JONESBORO (R5, S4) (2-5): Defeated McDonough 34-8 last week
-- JEFFERSON (R8, S1) (8-0):
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... This looks like, and should be, a huge mismatch on paper and on the field. Jefferson is making its 10th straight playoff appearance and has won 8 of its last 9 opening round games (2018). This is the first playoff appearance for the Bulldogs since 2009. ... The Dragons have been ranked in the top 2 all season and have punished every opponent in their way. Statistically they lead Class 4A in scoring averaging 44.7 ppg and have given up the 4th-fewest points (69, 8.6 ppg). ... The Bulldogs have had a COVID-like season. They lost three games to forfeits but managed to win their final two games of the season to sneak into the playoffs. ... The Jefferson ground game is among the best in the state behind Malaki Starks (900-plus yards) Kolton Jones (500-plus yards, Reese Johnnson (300-plus yards), and Jordan Perry (300-plus yards) who all have had big moments during the season. Mt. Zion has scored just 108 points (15.4 ppg) and 70 of those have come the past two weeks. But the Bulldogs are yielding just 21.1 ppg on defense. ... But the Dragons secret weapon could be Kam Robinson. The Sr. had a school-record 3 punt returns for TDs and added a 59 yard rushing TD last week. He has quietly put together one of the most impressive careers ever by a Dragon scoring TDs via rush, punt return, INT return, fumble return, and a blocked FG return.


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
-- HARALSON COUNTY (R5, S4) (7-2): Lost to Bremen 28-14 last week in region title game
-- RABUN COUNTY (R8, S1) (9-1): Off last week; defeated Union County 63-13 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Wildcats have won 6 straight first round games. They have not won less than 10 games since 2014. Haralson County has never made it past the first round in its history (1968). ... But this Rebels team is different and may offer the Wildcats their toughest playoff opener yet. The Maxwell Ratings have Haralson listed as the toughest No. 4 seed in Class 2A and surely is one of the toughest in any classification. But the two teams have two common opponents in Banks County and Bremen. Rabun beat both while the Rebels fell to Bremen in last week’s finale (28-14). ... It should be a tremendous matchup no matter who has the ball. The Rebels bring one of the best rushing attacks in the state led by a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Marc Harris, who at one point led the state in rushing, and Clay Hyatt. The Wildcats are yielding just 17.3 ppg on defense. ... Rabun can counter with the best offense in Class 2A (507, 50.7 ppg) behind the nation’s top Jr. QB in Gunnar Stockton (2,365 yards passing, 38 TD, 1 INT; 1,046 yards rushing, 19 TD). Sr. WR Adriel Clark has had a breakout year with 52 catches for 1,144 yards and 23 TDs. So. RB Lang Windham has piled up 1,136 yards and 10 TDs rushing. ... The Rebels defense is giving up just 14.7 ppg on the season, however, they have allowed 83 points (27.6 ppg) over their past three games while going 1-2 in that span.

-- WHEN: 1 p.m.
-- WHERE: 
-- UNION COUNTY (R8, S3) (4-5): Defeated Gilmer 7-0 last week
-- HEARD COUNTY (R5, S2) (6-4): Lost 30-17 to Callaway last week for the region title
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Panthers have turned themselves into a perennial playoff team with now 7 appearances in the last 8 seasons. They also snagged their first-ever playoff win in 2019. ... Heard County won the 2018 Class 2A state title but was knocked out in the first round in 2019. ... The 2020 campaign was to be a rebuilding year for Union but in only two games -- losses to No. 2 Rabun County and Elbert County -- were they outmatched. Turnovers and defense have been the key. In their 4 wins, they have given up just 40 points (10.0 ppg) while they have surrendered 171 (34.2 ppg) in their 5 losses. The offense also did not help them out with nearly two dozen turnovers in those games. ... The key number may be 19. When the Panthers have given up more than 19, they are 0-5. When allowing 19 or less, they are 4-0. ... The Braves have a stout ground game with 5 players with 294 yards or more, three with 346 or more yards, and are led by Sr. RB Ashton Bonner (763 yards, 9 TD). ... But after a 4-0 start, Heard dropped 4 of its last 6 games. The Braves have given up more points (255, 25.5 ppg) than they have scored (245, 24.5 ppg) despite the winning record. They are 1-4 when allowing 30 or more points.

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