Despite early troubles, several teams could find themselves right back in the picture for region titles after tonight in several crucial games around the area.
Jackson County in Region 8-5A, Dawson County and Lumpkin County in Region 7-3A, and Union County in Region 8-2A all put themselves in position last week with huge region wins.
Jackson County (3-3, 1-2 Region 8-5A) had lost its first two region games by just six total points. But last week’s win over then-first place Loganville (3-3, 2-1 Region 8-5A) put the Panthers as one of six teams within a game of second place. They also have the easiest road left with only one region game remaining against the top three teams in the region. They take on winless Johnson (0-5, 0-3 Region 8-5A) tonight and cannot be caught looking ahead to have a chance to continue a climb up the standings.
In the span of just eight days Union County could go from winless to holding the early lead in Region 8-2A with a 2-0 record. The Panthers knocked off Riverside Military last week and a win tonight over Banks County would almost assure the Panthers of a fourth straight playoff appearance by holding the head-to-head tiebreakers. Banks still has No. 1 Rabun County left and RMA had to forfeit their game this week with the Wildcats because of COVID issues.
Lumpkin County (2-3, 1-0 Region 7-3A) snapped a long 7-3A losing streak last week beating Gilmer and now finds itself as one of four unbeatens. The Indians are heavy underdogs against North Hall (4-2, 2-0 Region 7-3A) tonight but no matter what happens they will still be no worse than fourth place in the standings, and possibly higher if they can pull the upset.
Dawson County (2-3, 1-0 Region 7-3A) was looking very much like a rebuilding team opening with three early losses. But after beating White County two weeks ago for their second straight win, the Tigers now can solidify a spot in the top three with a win tonight over a struggling Gilmer squad.
In a tight race in Region 6-7A, North Forsyth (4-2, 1-1 Region 6-7A) got back in the race, knocking off then-No. 7 West Forsyth last week. The Raiders take on a struggling Forsyth Central (1-4, 0-2 Region 6-7A) tonight and cannot afford a letdown in a region that already has produced four upset wins in the opening two weeks. A win keeps them alive. An upset loss, however, could be devastating for their playoff chances.
Then there is the other side of things. For several teams that were projected to challenge for playoff spots and possibly even region titles, tonight could spell the end of the road not just for a title but for the playoffs as well.
West Hall and White County had high expectations in Region 7-3A coming into the season with plenty of experience and firepower returning in 2021. After last week, both now sit 0-2 in the region and they meet in Oakwood with one of them leaving with an 0-3 record and in last place in the standings. The winner will be right back in the middle of the playoff race depending on outcomes of the other two games.
Another huge game in Region 8-4A has Chestatee and East Hall meeting at the Lynn Cottrell Complex. The winner of this one will be right back in the playoff mix while the loser will have a huge mountain to climb. Another loss for the Vikings (1-5, 0-2 Region 8-4A) would be tough to overcome for a playoff spot with No. 8 Flowery Branch and North Oconee still left to play. The War Eagles (2-3, 0-1 Region 8-4A) dropped their region opener last week and still have both No. 1 Jefferson and Branch left.
Lakeview Academy has been in a rebuild mode in 2021 but with just five teams in Region 6-A Private, one region win could get you in the playoffs. Tonight could be the deciding factor for the Lions (1-4, 0-1 Region 6-A Private). They take on King’s Ridge (2-3, 0-0 Region 6-A Private), a team they narrowly beat last season (14-6 at home). A win keeps them alive. A loss with Mt. Paran still left to play would put them in a must-win situation with just two region games remaining.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING? Towns County and East Jackson could both get wins tonight against teams they have never beaten. However, both will be huge underdogs. ... The Indians play host to Commerce, which has owned them in a series that goes back to 1984. East Jackson travels to Class 3A No. 7 Monroe Area. ... The Tigers are 25-0 against Towns County and only two games in the series’ history have been decided by 14 points or less. But this year’s Towns County group (4-2, 0-1 Region 8-A Public) may be one of the best it has ever fielded. They have the Class A Public rushing leader in Kyle Oakes (994 yards, 14 TD) and a defense that has allowed just 85 points (17 ppg) over their first five games. The Tigers, meanwhile, have won two straight (3-2, 01-0 Region 8-A Public) but are still breaking in new coach Mark Hollars and a slew of young players that are also just now starting to jell. ... It’s similar stats for East Jackson (2-4, 0-1 Region 8-3A) vs. the Purple Hurricanes (6-0, 1-0 Region 8-3A). Only one of their five meetings, all since 2016, have been decided by 12 points or less and the Eagles have managed just 20 total points over the past four matchups. ... East Jackson is 0-20 in its history against ranked teams.
A LONG TIME COMING, MAYBE: Habersham Central and Lumpkin County will try to end long losing streaks against their opponents tonight. The Indians play host to North Hall while Habersham Central plays host to Dacula. ... The Indians (2-3, 1-0 Region 7-3A) have lost 7 straight to North Hall (4-2, 2-0 Region 7-3A) and have just one win over the Trojans since 1983. But they haven’t beaten North Hall in Dahlonega since 1976. The Trojans are 10-3 all-time in Dahlonega. But both teams come in on a roll as North Hall has won three straight and Lumpkin County has won two straight in what will be a huge Region 7-3A game for both. ... Habersham Central (2-4, 0-2 Region 8-6A) is looking to end a 5-game skid to Dacula (3-3, 2-0 Region 8-6A). The Raiders have not beaten the Falcons since the two joined the same region in 2016 and have not won in the series since 2007. The only Raiders win at home in the series was in 2006.
LEADERS OF THE PACK: Once again, three Northeast Georgia-area players lead their respective classifications in one of the three key offensive stats.
Rabun County senior and Georgia-commit Gunner Stockton continues to pace Class 2A in passing with 1,879 yards (25 TD) while teammate Jaden Gibson leads Class 2A, and the entire state, in receiving with 829 yards and 7 TD on the season. Stockton, however, has now climbed into 2nd in the state in yardage, just 25 yards behind Aaron Philo of Prince Avenue Christian, who leads Class A Private with 1,904 yards.
And Towns County’s Kyle Oakes is still leading the way in Class A Public with 994 yards rushing. He now sits 6th overall in the state.
Several other players are beginning their climb toward the top of the stat sheet as seven players are now in the top five in their respective classifications.
The Northeast Georgia area has four of the top five rushers in Class 3A. North Hall’s Kevin Rochester is now 2nd in Class 3A, and 8th overall in Georgia, with 966 yards rushing, just 83 yards behind 3A leader J.L. Lackey of Hart County (1,049). East Jackson’s Tyler Crow is 4th in 3A (797 yards) and Cherokee Bluff's Jayquan Smith is 5th with 787 yards.
In passing, Chestatee’s Luke Bornhorst is now 3rd in Class 4A with 1,187 yards. He led the classification two weeks ago. East Hall’s Clete Cooper is 6th in 4A with 1,035 yards. Gainesville sophomore Baxter Wright is starting to make a move in Class 7A rising to 13th in the state’s highest classification with 1,072 yards.
In receiving, Dawson County’s Bailey Dameron is now 2nd in Class 3A, and 11th overall, with 606 yards, which is just 86 yards behind 3A leader Cam Lacy of Stephens County (692 yards). Darius Cannon of White County is 3rd in 3A, 23rd in the state, with 508 yards.
And Towns County’s Collin Crowder is 2nd in receiving in Class A Public with 519 yards, good for 19th overall. He is 160 yards behind classification leader Brandon Smallwood of Wheeler County (679 yards).