Monday May 29th, 2023 8:41PM

2nd round previews: Area teams try to buck trends in 2nd round

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Only eight teams from the northeast Georgia area managed to navigate into the second round of the Georgia High School Association playoffs last week.

But what the area lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in the quality of the teams left. Five are region champs -- Buford, Jefferson, Cherokee Bluff, Rabun County, Commerce -- and will be playing at home on Friday. Five are ranked in the top 10 in their respective classifications, and the other three are near the top of their classifications in several statistical categories.

Road wins are hard to come by so Flowery Branch, Dawson County, and North Hall will have their hands full. But as history has proven over the years, one-third of region champs are knocked out in the second round.

No one is safe.

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: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
-- CAMBRIDGE (R7, S3) (6-5): Defeated Kell 36-14 in the first round
-- BUFORD (R8, S1) (9-1): Defeated Douglas County 48-0 in the first round
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... There could not be a more stark difference in programs than this matchup. The Cambridge program began in 2012 and got its first-ever playoff win last week. The Wolves, meanwhile, are into the playoffs for a 22nd straight year and are 35-4 in the playoffs since 2012 with four state titles. ... After a 2-4 start, the Bears have won 4 of their last 5 games, including last week. They have increased their offensive output from 23.3 ppg to 28.4 ppg and given up a touchdown less on defense from 24.6 ppg down to 18.2 ppg during their five-game run. ... Buford, however, offers a challenge they haven’t seen. The top-ranked Wolves are 2nd in scoring (40.5 ppg) and have the stingiest defense in 6A allowing just 5.8 ppg on the season. ... Cambridge is 1-6 all-time against ranked opponents. Buford has won 20 straight 2nd round games. The Wolves’ last loss in the 2nd round came in 1999, 28-0 to Washington-Wilkes.


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Hughes-Spalding Stadium, Atlanta
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (R8, S2) (9-2): Ranked No. 5 in Class 4A; defeated Luella 40-7 in the first round
-- MARIST (R6, S1) (9-0): Ranked No. 1 in Class 4A; defeated Central-Carroll 49-0 in the first round
-- NOTABLE: Marist leads series 2-0. The War Eagles won 20-0 and 27-0 in 2018 and 2019 while both teams were in Region 7-4A. ... Branch got its first playoff win last week since 2017 but also has not advanced past the 2nd round since 2011. ... The obvious matchup is the Branch offense against the Marist defense. The Falcons bring in the classification's No. 2 offense (420 points, 38.1 ppg) against the War Eagles' top-rated defense (27, 3.0 ppg). Marist has pitched four shutouts and allowed more than three (3) points only once all season, a 52-21 win over Mays. Flowery Branch, which put up more than 350 yards and all 40 points in the first half last week, has scored less than 27 just once in a 40-10 loss to No. 2 Jefferson. ... But the key unit may be the Branch defense. Since the opening half of the season, the young Falcons defense has improved vastly. They gave up 29.8 ppg in their first 5 games but just 103 points (17.1 ppg) since, which would put them in the top 10 in 4A.  The Marist offense is 5th in 4A with 347 points (38.5 ppg). ... This will be the fifth time in their history the Falcons have faced the No. 1-ranked team. They are 0-4, including a 27-0 loss to the War Eagles and a 14-6 loss to Cartersville last season.

-- WHEN: 7:30
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- HAPEVILLE CHARTER (R6, S2) (5-3): Ranked No. 9 in Class 4A; defeated Heritage-Catoosa 6-0 in the first round
-- JEFFERSON (R8, S1) (9-0): Ranked No. 2 in Class 4A; defeated Mt. Zion-Jonesboro 65-0 in the first round
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... Jefferson has been rolling all season behind Malaki Starks, Kolton Jones, and the rest of a punishing ground game that is averaging 330 yards/game. But the defense has turned it up a notch as well with three shutouts in their last four games and giving up just 12 points (3.0 ppg) in that span. The Dragons lead 4A in scoring (423, 47.0 ppg) and are 4th in defense (69, 7,6 ppg) ... Hapeville is into the 2nd round for a fifth straight season but has scored fewer points (123, 15.3 ppg) than they have allowed (131, 16.3 ppg) on the season. ... Jefferson is looking for its 4th quarterfinals in 5 seasons. The Dragons are 5-1 in their last six games against ranked teams, including 2-0 this season (Rabun County, Flowery Branch). ... The Hornets have been ranked most of the season and are no stranger to success having won the 2017 Class 2A state title. They also have had success against ranked teams over the years. They are 4-3-1 in their last 8 games vs. ranked teams. However, the Hornets are 0-3 in their last three true road games. ... Jefferson has won 11 straight at Memorial Stadium and is 7-1 in its last 8 home playoff games going back to the 2015 season.


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Yonah Field, Flowery Branch
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM WDUN
-- CARVER-ATLANTA (R5, S2) (5-4): Defeated Hart County 32-21 in the first round
-- CHEROKEE BLUFF (R7, S1) (10-1): Region 7-3A champs; defeated LaFayette 35-7 in the first round
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Panthers have played a brutal schedule as four of their nine opponents were ranked in the top 10 at some point. Bluff is not currently ranked but was for a good part of the season. Carver went 1-3 in those four previous games. ... The teams are similar in that they like to run the ball first but can throw it as well. The Panthers are averaging 275 yards/game on the ground and over 400 yards of offense. The Bears are averaging 191 yards on the ground and 300 yards of offense a game but in several games the regulars did not play in the second half with running clocks. ... Sr. Bluff RB Jayquan Smith (952 yards) is closing in on 1,000 yards and is averaging 7.6 ypc. ... The Panthers are 0-6 in their last six true roads games. Their last road win came against Decatur (20-14) to close the 2018 regular season. Carver also is averaging just 21.1 ppg while the Bears have been one of the classification's best defensive teams (139, 12.6 ppg). The Bluff offense is averaging 35.8 ppg while the Carver defense is surrendering 25.6 ppg and has allowed 27 or more five times.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Warriors Stadium, Watkinsville
-- DAWSON COUNTY (R7, S3) (6-5): Defeated Adairsville 45-31 in the first round
-- OCONEE COUNTY (R8, S1) (9-0): Defeated Westminster 21-7 in the first round
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Tigers will have one of the toughest roads the rest of the way, beginning with the Warriors, who were the 2019 Class 4A state runners-up. It was the Tigers’ fourth straight opening round win. Now they will try to get into the quarterfinals for just the second time in program history and the first time since 2015. ... It should be another of those classic matchups. Dawson is 4th in offense in 3A (411, 37.3 ppg) while the Warriors are 4th in 3A in defense allowing just 78 points (8.6 ppg) and whichever unit wins that battle could set the tone. The Tigers have scored 35 or more 8 times behind 3A’s top passer in Zach Holtzclaw has thrown for 2,760 yards and 27 touchdowns, and three receivers (Dakohta Sonnichsen, Jaden Gibson, Tyler Lane) each have at least 650 yards receiving with 21 combined TDs. . ... However, Oconee is just 17th in offense (266, 29.5 ppg) and the Tigers defense may hold the key. After surrendering 43.6 ppg in its first three games, the Dawson defense has given up just 21.5 ppg since.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Spartans Sports Complex, Norcross 
-- RADIO: 94.5 FM The Lake
-- GREATER ATLANTA CHRISTIAN (R5, S1) (10-0): Ranked No. 5 in Class 3A; defeated Franklin County 37-7 in the first round
-- NORTH HALL (R7, S2) (7-4): Defeated North Murray 36-28 in the first round
-- NOTABLE: GAC leads series 4-0. The Spartans won 45-21 in 2019. ... This is a showdown between former region opponents. And it has not been a kind series for the Trojans, who have scored just 41 total points in the four meetings (10.2 ppg) since 2016. The Trojans have averaged 31.7 ppg against everyone else in that 4-year span. ... The Trojans' patented wing-T offense was in full force last week piling up 370 yards behind senior Clark Howell, who had 233 yards rushing and more than 100 yards on kickoff returns. ... However, GAC is allowing just 12.4 ppg on defense and has forced 18 turnovers, 16 INTs, on the season. North Hall, which has never scored more than 21 against the Spartans, is only averaging 5 pass attempts a game. ... North Hall is just 1-5 in its last six road games going back to 2015 and GAC is 12-3 at home in the playoffs since 2015. ... The Trojans are looking for their first Elite 8 since 2012. GAC is trying to make its 6th Elite 8 in 7 seasons.


-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
-- MODEL (R7, S3) (7-4): Defeated Washington 28-14 last week on the road
-- RABUN COUNTY (R8, S1) (10-1): Ranked No. 3 in Class 2A; defeated Haralson County 35-7 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Wildcats may have made their biggest statement last week against a Haralson squad that some thought was capable of pulling the upset. Rabun jumped on the Rebels quickly and never let up. ... Rabun has been tough on unranked teams over the years. The Wildcats are 61-1 against unranked teams, as a ranked team, since 2015. Their only loss came to Fitzgerald at home in the 2018 quarterfinals. ... Model is just 1-22 vs. ranked teams since 2000. ... The Blue Devils are 24th in offense, 17th in defense in 2A. Last week was their first playoff win since 2014. However, they have not advanced past the second round since winning the Class 2A state title in 1979. ... Offense is the key for the Blue Devils. When they have scored more than 14 points, they are 7-0. When scoring less than 14, they are 0-4. ... Blue Devils RB Joseph Wallace had 192 yards last week. ... The Rabun defense (180, 16.4 ppg) is just 16th in Class 2A but they have allowed just 51 points (8.5 ppg) over their last six games. ... Rabun still has the best offense in Class 2A (542, 49.2 ppg) behind the nation’s top Jr. QB in Gunnar Stockton (2,621 yards passing, 40 TD, 1 INT; 1,159 yards rushing, 21 TD). He is now 11th all-time in Georgia in passing yards (9,011) and just 372 behind Rabun’s all-time passing leader (Bailey Fisher -- 9,383, 2014-17). ... Sr. WR Adriel Clark continues his breakout year with 58 catches for 1,252 yards and 24 TDs, which puts him just three behind the season record held by Demarco Robinson of ML King (27, 2010).


-- WHEN: 8 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Commerce
-- GORDON LEE (R6, S2) (10-1): Defeated Georgia Military 56-0 last week
-- COMMERCE (R8, S1) (10-1): Ranked No. 4 in Class A Public; defeated Manchester 52-20 last week
-- NOTABLE: Gordon Lee leads series 1-0. The Trojans won 16-14 in the 1st round of the 2007 playoffs in Chickamauga. ... Commerce has won 38 straight games vs. unranked teams while being ranked. The Tigers last loss in that combination was in 2016 in a 21-14 loss to Athens Christian. This could be one of their biggest challenges of late. ... Gordon Lee is having its best season since 2002, when the Trojans last advanced to the quarterfinals. The Trojans are in the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and just the second time since 2009. And, last week’s playoff win was their first since that win over Commerce in 2007. It is just the 4th time in their history they have won 10 games in a season. ... Meanwhile, the Tigers are in the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season and it is the 24th time they have won at least 10 games in a season. The Tigers are looking for their 5th quartefinals appearance in the last seven seasons. ... You may want to get to the game on time for this one. Both teams love to run the ball and it could be over in an hour. ... The Trojans are averaging 355 yards/game on the ground behind Sr. Cade Peterson (158 car., 1,711 yards, 26 TD) which leads Class A Public by a mile. But they also have three other rushers with over 300 yards each, including So. Bo Rhudy (122-913 yards, 11 TD). They are averaging 5 rushing TDs a game. ... Commerce is averaging over 319 yards/game behind Fr. RB Sammy Brown (1.043 yards). But the Tigers can come at you in waves with Dreylan Martin (740 yards), Trey Huff (571), Tyelon Brock (414) and Elijah Burns (225) who have over 1,900 yards combined in their triple-option attack. ... The Tigers are 6-1 in their last 7 home playoff games. The Trojans are 1-11 all-time in road playoff games. Their only road playoff win came in 2005 in a 21-16 victory over ELCA.

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