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Sunday September 20th, 2020 4:17AM

ICYMI: Week 1 caps: IT'S HAPPENING! And several big matchups are on tap

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Believe it, or not, we are FINALLY here!

The leadup to the 2020 football season would have made Ripley! proud. It has resembled a world-class roller coaster with nearly-daily twists and turns as programs around the state, and northeast Georgia, have tried to navigate through COVID-19 infested waters. 

One area program -- Riverside Military Academy -- opted out back in May. Many others have had to quarantine. East Jackson was forced to cancel its first two games just on Monday, four days before their opener with West Hall, due to an outbreak.

But on Friday at 7:30 p.m., 16 northeast Georgia area teams, in the AccessWDUN coverage area, will kick off their seasons around the area and state. North Hall plays host to Paulding County at 11 a.m. on Saturday at Lynn Cottrell Stadium at The Brickyard.

Two teams face intriguing road games as Dawson County travels to Cass and Gainesville heads to Stockbridge. Habersham Central plays host to a rising Madison County team that advanced to the quarterfinals in Class 4A in 2019.

Another team will break in a new coach. Johnson and new skipper William Harrell battle the rising Bears of Cherokee Bluff at The Dungeon.

Lakeview Academy and new coach Lee Shaw were scheduled to take on perennial powerhouse Mt. Paran, but that game was canceled on Wednesday night.

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

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE FOR Sept. 4
(Games listed in alphabetical order of visiting team)
ARMUCHEE at TOWNS COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: At the gate. Towns County is allowing 100 percent capacity
-- WHERE: Frank McClure Stadium, Hiawassee
-- ARMUCHEE (0-0, Region 6-A Public): Season-opener, 0-10 in 2019
-- TOWNS COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-A Public): Season-opener, 0-10 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks are recommended, but no temperature checks. Concessions will be prepackaged.
-- NOTABLE: Armuchee leads series 2-0. The two teams have not met since 1983, a 41-0 Armuchee victory. ... Both teams are coming off rough 2019 campaigns and someone will break a long losing streak. ... Towns County has seen an increase in the numbers despite the wild offseason and a former Towns County player in QB Mason Thomas transferred back to Hiawassee from Cherokee Bluff, giving the Indians some help on the offensive side. ... Based on 2019 numbers this is a toss-up. Armuchee scored the fewest points in Class A (59, 5.9 ppg) while Towns County gave up the most points (537). Towns averaged a field goal more per game (8.9 ppg) on offense while Armuchee allowed 44.3 ppg.


COMMERCE at BANKS COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: $7 at the gate; 100 percent capacity
-- WHERE: Leopards Stadium, Homer 
-- COMMERCE (0-0, Region 8-A Public): Season-opener, 9-3, 2nd rd Class A Public playoffs in 2019
-- BANKS COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-2A): Season-opener, 3-7 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks recommended, no temperature check. Concessions will be sold.
-- NOTABLE: Commerce leads series 30-2. The Tigers have won 15 straight in the series and last won 42-13 in 2017 in Homer. Both of Banks County's wins have been at home, the last one in 1992. ... The Tigers are loaded again, though they will be breaking in a new QB in 2020. A pair of All-Region 8-A players in 2019 in Sr. HB Tyelon Brock and Sr. C Payton Freeman, as well as Sr. WR Jake Frates, should be focal points early in the season on offense. ... With 14 returning starters from last year’s group, the Leopards may feel this is their best chance in years to snap the losing streak. They have experience across the line in seniors Josh Stapleton, Tanner Kaminski, Dawson Welborn, and Wyatt Whitfield and Jr. QB Bowen Roberts returns on offense... The key may be if the Leopards defense, which should feature an improved front-7, can slow down the Tigers triple-option offense, which averaged 35 ppg in 2019.


DAWSON COUNTY at CASS
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: 60 percent capacity. Tickets at the gate until capacity but only 900 for visitors. Tigers fans should go to gofan.co
-- WHERE: Doug Cochran Stadium, Cartersville
-- RADIO: www.northgeorgiasportslink.com
-- DAWSON COUNTY (0-0, Region 7-3A): Season-opener, 8-4, 2nd rd Class 2A playoffs in 2019
-- CASS (0-0, Region 7-5A): Season-opener, 4-6 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks not required, no temperature check. Concessions will be sold.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Tigers may have to rely on what is expected to be an explosive offense behind Jr. QB Zack Holtzclaw, who threw for 2,352 yards and 23 TDs in 2019. His top target from 2019, Sr. Dakohta Sonnichsen (891 yards, 8 TDs) returns as does So. WR Jaden Gibson (365 yards, 3 TDs). ... The Dawson defense is rebuilding with just two returning starters but the Colonels struggled scoring in 2019 averaging just 15 ppg in a tough region. ... The Tigers also one of the best kicking weapons in the state in Sr. Caleb Bonesteel if things get tight. ... Dawson County has won four straight season-openers, three on the road, and is 4-1 in season-openers under Sid Maxwell. ... Cass is just 2-4 in season home openers going back to 2008.


FANNIN at UNION COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: $7 at the gate; 100 percent capacity
-- WHERE:  Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville
-- FANNIN COUNTY (0-0, Region 7-2A): Season-opener, 6-5, 1st rd Class 3A playoffs in 2019
-- UNION COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-2A): Season-opener, 10-2, 2nd rd Class 2A playoffs in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks recommended, no temperature check. Prepackaged concessions will be sold.
-- NOTABLE: Union County leads series 15-13. The Panthers won 33-14 in Blue Ridge in 2019. Union County has won 8 of the last 9 and the two teams have met every year since 2006. ... The Panthers are in a rebuilding mold after graduating QB Pierson Allison and 3 of their top 4 WR from last season. They still have RB Jonah Daniel (1,570 yards, 16 TDs in 2019) and may have to lean on the workhorse early on while breaking in a new passing attack. ... The Panthers do return the bulk of a defense that allowed just 17.6 ppg in 2019 and should be stout once again. ... The Rebels dropped down from Class 3A and have been a program on the rise increasing from just 2 wins in 2017 to 4 in 2018 and 6 last year with back-to-back playoff appearances. They also are replacing some key spots but will have a solid OL led by Sr. Mason Bundy and will have a strong special teams led by Sr. kicker Luke Holloway. ... Whichever offense can find some traction may be the biggest key in this one.


FRANKLIN COUNTY at LUMPKIN COUNTY 
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: $7 at the gate; 100 percent capacity
-- WHERE: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega
-- FRANKLIN COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-3A): Season-opener, 2-8 in 2019
-- LUMPKIN COUNTY ( 0-0, Region 7-3A): Season-opener, 1-9 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks recommended, no temperature check. Concessions will be sold.
-- NOTABLE: The series is tied 2-2. Franklin County won the last meeting 29-8 in 2015 in Carnesville. All four meetings have been since 2010 and the home team is 4-0 in the series. ... The last Lumpkin County win came in 2014, 27-21 in Dahlonega. ... Two programs looking to improve off tough 2019 seasons. The Indians scored just 12.2 ppg and allowed 39.9 ppg in Caleb Sorrell’s first year. Lumpkin is replacing some key spots but the numbers are way up, though they will spot a roster half full of freshmen. The defense, which should be improved, may have to carry the way early while they rework the offense. ... Franklin is just 3-12 on the road since the start of the 2017 season. The Lions managed just 14.2 ppg on offense and allowed 28.7 ppg on defense in 2019.


GAINESVILLE at STOCKBRIDGE
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased at http://spicket.events/stockbridge -- use access code: FJGFTW
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Stockbridge
-- RADIO: 94.5 FM The Lake
-- GAINESVILLE (0-0, Region 5-7A): Season-opener, 5-6, 1st rd Class 6A playoffs in 2019
-- STOCKBRIDGE (0-0, Region 4-5A): Season-opener, 8-3, 1st rd Class 5A playoffs in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks recommended. No concessions.
-- NOTABLE: Stockbridge leads the series 1-0. The Tigers won 40-34 in 2015 in the 2nd round of the Class 5A playoffs in Stockbridge. ... The Red Elephants are embarking on their first season in Class 7A and will get a quick test to see if they are ready in a Tigers program that has won 89 games since 2011 (9.8 wins per year). ... A key group to watch will be the GHS defense, which is expected to be bigger, faster, and deeper in 2020 and led by LB Yusif Ali and DE. The Tigers offense in their first season under new coach Steve Boyd last year dropped off from the year before (24.8 ppg in 2019, 31.4 in 2018) and lost its QB and top rusher from last season. It should be a favorable matchup for the Red Elephants. ... The GHS offense is expected to be more potent as well as QB Gionni Williams looks more polished in the passing game and will have dynamic WR Lenny Chatman to throw to. So. RB Naim Cheeks could be one of the area’s potential breakout stars.


JACKSON COUNTY at WEST HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: Pre-sale only at each school
-- WHERE: Spartans Stadium, Oakwood
-- RADIO: WDUN FM 102.9
-- JACKSON COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-5A): Season-opener, 3-7 in 2019
-- WEST HALL (0-0, Region 7-3A): Season-opener, 0-10 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks and temperature check required for entry. Concessions will be available.
-- NOTABLE: West Hall leads the series 7-5. The Spartans won 31-21 in 2017 in Oakwood. West Hall has won six straight in the series. The last Jackson County win was in 1993 in Jefferson. ... This game was not on the original schedule but came to fruition after East Jackson was forced to cancel games with both programs in the first two weeks of the season. They put the game together earlier this week as a result. ... It is an intriguing matchup, however. Both programs are looking to use 2020 as a rebuilding catalyst. The Spartans return 14 starters while the Panthers have 20 seniors with varsity experience, their most in several years. ... The key matchup should be the Spartans offense against a good Panthers defense. The Spartans return 7 starters on offense, including 3-year starter at QB in Clayton Jenkins. He will have a talented pair of WRs in seniors Rodrigo Lopez and Tad Davidson as targets. ... The Jackson County defense will be led by Sr. DL Andrew King (a 2019 Region 8-3A 1st Team All-Region selection) and deep line overall.


JOHNSON at CHEROKEE BLUFF
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: Pre-sale only at each school
-- WHERE: Bears Stadium, Flowery Branch
-- RADIO: WDUN AM 550
-- JOHNSON (0-0, Region 8-5A): Season-opener, 4-6 in 2019
-- CHEROKEE BLUFF (0-0, Region 7-3A): Season-opener, 3-7 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks and temperature check required for entry. Concessions will be available.
-- NOTABLE: Series tied 1-1. The Bears won 37-7 for their first-ever program win. ... The Bears have been the early talk of Region 7-3A with the bulk of their team, with experience, returning, including a pair of All Access 11 members in RB Jayquan Smith and RMA-transfer and Kansas-signee Shad Dabney, who is expected to line up in several positions and play both ways. ... The Knights had an uphill battle all offseason with a late coaching change as William Harrell takes over for Stan Luttrell (Hebron Christian). The numbers dropped as well but Harrell already has enthusiasm up to go with some key returning players. Sr. Justin Long will take over at QB and Jr. RB Dayshun Summerour is back. ... The key will if the Knights defense, which has just three returning starters, can slow down what should be an explosive Bears offense behind a good offensive line.


MADISON COUNTY at HABERSHAM CENTRAL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: Available at the gate
-- WHERE: Raider Stadium, Mt. Airy
-- RADIO: WCON 99.3 FM
-- MADISON COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-4A): Season-opener, 6-7, quarterfinals of Class 4A playoffs in 2019
-- HABERSHAM CENTRAL (0-0, Region 8-6A): Season-opener, 3-7 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: There will be no temperature checks and masks are not required.
-- NOTABLE: Habersham Central leads series 19-5. Madison County won 26-20 in 2019 in Mt. Airy. ... Madison County is just 3-9 all-time in Mt. Airy but has won 2 of the 3 meetings on the road in the series. However, Madison County has never won two straight in the series. ... Madison County is expected to continue its climb up the ladder after last year’s breakthrough playoff run. But Habersham brings in a ton of experience from a group that made the playoffs in 2018 and was just two plays from another appearance in 2019. ... Habersham is led by Sr. Duke-commit Joshua Pickett at QB. Pickett, the 2019 Region 8-6A Two-way Player of the Year, played quarterback in his younger days and gives them a dangerous playmaker every down. Sr. RB Jackson Cloatre, who hit the 1,000-yard plateau each of the last two seasons, also returns. ... The Habersham defense is getting a makeover in 2020 and will get an early test against a Madison offense that should be improved from a unit that averaged just over 19 ppg in 2019.


RABUN COUNTY at RIDGELAND
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: 50 percent capacity; $8 at the gate
-- WHERE: Ridgeland High Stadium, Rossville
-- RABUN COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-2A): Ranked No. 1 in initial Class 2A poll; Season-opener, 12-1, quarterfinals Class 2A playoffs in 2019
-- RIDGELAND (0-0, Region 7-4A): Season-opener, 6-5, 1st rd Class 4A playoffs in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks recommended, not required. No temperature checks. Concessions will be sold. 
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Wildcats are looking for big things in 2020 and already are garnering plenty of attention assuming the top-ranked spot in Class 2A in the first poll of the season. They will open with a Panthers program that has made five consecutive trips to the playoffs and won four region titles in that span. ... Rabun County once again will have Gunner Stockton under center. The Jr. has committed to South Carolina and is still considered the top QB prospect in the nation in his class. He will have a plethora of weapons at receiver at his disposal in Sr. Riverside Military transfer Adriel Clark, Sr. Sutton Jones, and juniors Tate Ramey and Hogan Woodard. ... The Panthers defense allowed 29.3 ppg in 2019 and the key will be if they can slow down Stockton and Co. ... The Rabun defense didn’t get enough attention after yielding just 12.8 ppg in 2019 but will have their hands full against a Ridgeland offense that scored 28 ppg last year.


STEPHENS COUNTY at WHITE COUNTY
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: 100 percent capacity. Tickets available at the gate.
-- WHERE: White County Stadium, Cleveland
-- RADIO: WRWH 93.9 FM; www.wrwh.com
-- STEPHENS COUNTY (0-0, Region 8-3A): Season-opener, 1-9 in 2019
-- WHITE COUNTY (0-0, Region 7-3A): Season-opener, 5-5 in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks and temperature checks no required. Prepackaged concessions will be sold.
-- NOTABLE: Stephens County leads series 3-1. The Indians won 21-20 in 2015 in Cleveland. All five meetings have come since 2010. ... The Warriors may have been the best 5-5 team in the state in 2019 that did not make the playoffs after enduring a brutal Region 7-4A. They return 14 starters from that group, including one of NE Ga’s best QBs in Sr. J. Ben Haynes. He will have a good OL in front and a plethora of WRs to throw to in seniors Reece Dockery and Jimmy King, and including Cooper Turner, who returns from injury. ... The Indians are coming their worst season in over 50 years. Their last 1-9 season came in 1967. But youth and depth were an issue and expectations are sure to be higher in Toccoa in 2020. They return QB Kenny Colewell and their top WR in Gamarion Carter. But they also lost 1,200-yard rusher, Hudson Spurlock. ... Defensively the Indians allowed 36.3 ppg in 2019 and will have to improve against a Warriors offense that should one of the most potent in NE Ga.


ST. PIUS X at FLOWERY BRANCH
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- TICKETS: Pre-sale only at each school
-- WHERE: Falcons Field, Flowery Branch
-- ST. PIUS X (0-0, Region 5-5A): Season-opener, 6-6, 2nd rd Class 4A playoffs in 2019
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (0-0, Region 8-4A): Season-opener, 7-4, 1st rd Class 4A playoffs in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks and temperature check required for entry. Concessions will be available.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Falcons have established themselves as a hard-nosed defensive team the last two seasons but are coming into the 2020 campaign with some question marks in the secondary, though they should be stout with seniors Christian Johnson, Clay Anderson, Davieyon Stephens, and Anthony Menjivar anchoring an experienced line. ... The Golden Lions, who run a heavy option attack, return several key players but graduated a 3-year starter at QB and their top two rushers from a group that averaged just 15.2 ppg in 2019. ... The Falcons offense also should be able to improve on last year’s group that averaged 26.9 ppg overall but just 16.2 ppg over their final five games in 2019. Look for the Falcons to lean on All Access 11 RB Jaizen Ellingham (1,057 yards, 15 TDs in 2019) for ball-control.


HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE FOR Sept. 5
(Games listed in alphabetical order of visiting team)
PAULDING at NORTH HALL
-- WHEN: 11 a.m. 
-- TICKETS: Pre-sale only at each school
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- PAULDING COUNTY (0-0, Region 5-6A): Season-opener, 3-7 in 2019
-- NORTH HALL (0-0, Region 7-3A): Season-opener, 8-4, 2nd rd Class 3A playoffs in 2019
-- COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks and temperature check required for entry. Concessions will be available.
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... No team in the NEGa area has more questions than the Trojans, who return just two starters and have to replace 19 seniors from last year’s playoff team. North Hall graduated its top three rushers in their wing-T offense that racked more than 300 yards a game on the ground. ... The key early will be if the Trojans can find the right parts in the offense. Sr. RB Clark Howell will see the bulk of the action early but the O-line is still a work-in-progress. They also will be replacing most of a defense that allowed 23.6 ppg in 2019 but gave up 123 points in just three games. ... The Patriots dropped their final five games in 2019 and scored just 93 points (18.6 ppg) in that span.

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