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Saturday August 13th, 2022 7:57PM

Football: Big week for area teams looking to make a playoff push -- or stay in the race

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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With just a month left in the regular season, it’s becoming crunch time for any team looking to make the 2021 Georgia High School Association playoffs.

And in just about every region involving Northeast Georgia area teams, nearly all of the 17 games on the docket in Week 9 could make or break several teams and start to shape the playoff picture.

Here are the impact games in Week 9 in each of the eight regions housing the 26 area teams we cover at AccessWDUN. Region 8-A Public, however, has the entire week off -- except for Commerce, who is playing a non-region game against Franklin County as it gets ready for a sprint to the finish beginning next week.

REGION 6-7A

In this always topsy-turvy region, every game is key. Gainesville plays host to South Forsyth, and North Forsyth travels to Lambert. Both the Red Elephants and Raiders can make a move into the top three in the standings with wins.

The War Eagles (5-1, 2-0 Region 6-7A) can cement themselves in the upper-tier with a win, while the Red Elephants (4-2, 1-1 Region 6-7A) can pull into a tie with the War Eagles and hold the tiebreaker with a victory at City Park.

North Forsyth (5-2, 2-1 Region 6-7A) can climb to within a 1/2 game of idle Denmark and into second place with a win and a South Forsyth loss, while Lambert needs a win to avoid dropping to the bottom of the standings. But a Lambert win puts the Longhorns (5-2, 1-2 Region 6-7A) into third and holding the tiebreakers over the Raiders and Gainesville. A Raiders loss would knock them out of the top four.

West Forsyth (2-4, 0-2 Region 6-7A), last year’s region champs, is playing host to Forsyth Central (1-5, 0-3 Region 6-7A) and needs a win to avoid dropping into last place in a battle of the bottom two teams in the region at the moment.

I’ll take the Raiders to use its defensive strength to hold off Lambert, and being at home should be a big positive for the Red Elephants, who should get its offense reignited to win a shootout. West Forsyth should get back in the race with a win as well.

REGION 8-6A

First-place Dacula is off this week, which means the winner of the Buford-Shiloh showdown at Tom Riden Stadium can join the Falcons atop the standings. The Wolves (5-1, 2-0 Region 8-6A) are a perfect 8-0 in 8-6A since joining the region last season. They have yet to surrender a point in region play in 2021. The Generals (2-4, 2-0 Region 8-6A) have played everyone tough, with four of their six games being decided by eight points or less, two by just one point.

Habersham Central, meanwhile, is in a must-win situation as the Raiders (2-5, 0-3 Region 8-6A) travel to Lanier (2-3-, 1-1 Region 8-6A). Habersham Central needs a win just to stay alive in the playoff race. But they sat in almost an identical spot in 2020 and reeled off three straight wins, beginning with Lanier, to end the season and get into the playoffs.

The Raiders also will be keeping an eye on the Winder-Barrow-Central Gwinnett game. A Bulldoggs loss to the Black Knights would put Habersham, with a win, in a tie with the Bulldoggs, who still must play Buford. However, the Bulldoggs knocked off the Raiders earlier in the season.

Despite the Generals' recent success, they will be no match for the Wolves, while Habersham Central puts in a game effort but falls just short on the road.

REGION 8-5A

Johnson is the only area team playing on Friday as the Knights (0-6, 0-4 Region 8-5A) take on Apalachee (1-5, 1-2 Region 8-5A) on the road, with the loser all but effectively eliminated from the postseason as six teams, including Apalachee, are within one game of second place. The Wildcats can pull into a tie for no worse than third place with a win.

Idle Jackson County, however, has a lot to gain from the Clarke Central-Greenbrier matchup in Athens. The Panthers (4-3, 2-2 Region 8-5A) are also among those six teams and have already played first place Clarke Central. A Greenbrier loss would put them in a tie with the other five teams with three games remaining.

Jackson County holds its playoff fate in its hands with finishing games against Eastside, Greenbrier, and Apalachee, so you know they are routing for the Gladiators.

REGION 8-4A

While No. 1 Jefferson and No. 10 North Oconee sit tied atop the standings, Flowery Branch, East Hall and Madison County all are fighting to just stay alive.

Jefferson (7-0, 3-0 Region 8-5A) is off this week, and needs it as the Dragons’ top two stars -- Malaki Starks and Sammy Brown -- both are nursing injuries.

It’s shocking considering the high expectations coming into the season, but the Falcons (3-3, 0-2 Region 8-5A) are in an almost must-win scenario this week against a talented Cedar Shoals (2-3, 2-1 Region 8-5A) squad. The Jaguars could cement their spot among the top three with a win. A loss would not eliminate the Falcons, but they would then be in crisis mode to make the playoffs with just three weeks left. But a Branch win would move them just one-half game behind the Jaguars, who still must play North Oconee and a much-improved Chestatee team.

Speaking of the War Eagles (3-3, 1-1 Region 8-5A), they have a chance to move into a tie for third with a win over Madison County (3-3, 0-2 Region 8-5A) and a Cedar Shoals loss. And it’s almost a must-win to make sure they stay in the race with games against Jefferson, Branch and Cedar Shoals to close out the season

The Vikings (1-6, 0-3 Region 8-5A) also need a win against North Oconee  (4-3, 3-0 Region 8-5A) to stay alive for a possible playoff spot. A loss would eliminate them. A win for the Titans clinches a playoff spot and no worse than third place.

In a tough battle, Branch should hold off the Jaguars to get back in the race while Chestatee makes it two straight region wins to stay in the race as well. The Titans may be playing better than any team in the region right now and deal the Vikings a knockout blow to their playoff chances.

REGION 7-3A

Similar to last season, No. 10 Cherokee Bluff, Dawson County, and North Hall all sit unbeaten in the standings. All three teams look like they are rounding into playoff form and will be tough to beat.

However, all three will play each over the final three weeks of the season, which makes this week’s games even more important to try and keep pace.

North Hall can become the first team to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Gilmer AND a Dawson County win over West Hall. However, a Gilmer upset could drop North Hall as far as third and create all kinds of interesting scenarios.

The Trojans (5-2, 3-0 Region 7-3A) have gotten their wing-T offense rolling during a four-game win streak, while the Bobcats (2-4, 0-3 Region 7-3A) have lost three straight and are allowing 41.3 points/game on defense. A loss would put the Bobcats on the brink of elimination from the playoffs.

Dawson County (3-3, 2-0 Region 7-3A) has won three straight and can keep the pressure on with a win and a huge road trip looming to Cherokee Bluff next week. The Spartans (2-4, 0-3 Region 7-3A) have dropped four straight and need a win to stay in the playoff race. Another loss would put the Spartans on the brink of elimination. 

Bluff (6-0, 2-0 Region 7-3A) is a heavy favorite over Lumpkin County (2-4, 1-1 Region 7-3A), which is the surprise team of the region so far. A Bears win would keep them at the top of the standings and set up a huge showdown next week with Dawson County. The Indians can jump into third place with an upset win but would drop into a tie with idle White County (2-5, 1-2 Region 7-3A) with a loss.

I see all three of North Hall, Dawson County, and Bluff getting big wins to stay unbeaten and set up a wild and fun three-week finish for the region title.

REGION 8-2A

Region 8-2A is just now getting into the meat of its schedule with two big games on tap.

Union County (2-4, 2-0 Region 8-2A) travels to the Granite Bowl to take on Elbert County (2-3, 0-0 Region 8-2A), which is opening its region schedule.

If the Panthers haven’t already clinched a playoff spot, they can this week with either a win over the Blue Devils OR a Rabun County win over Banks County Friday night.

The Panthers have won two straight, both in the region, behind a rejuvenated offense that is averaging 42.0 ppg in region play. The Blue Devils are giving up 30.4 ppg so far in 2021.

But the Granite Bowl is one of the toughest places to snag a road victory and the Blue Devils are athletic. Elbert and Rabun both get wins to clinch playoff berths and set up next week’s battle for the region title.

REGION 6-A PRIVATE

Lakeview Academy (1-5, 0-2 Region 6-A Private) has another tough task taking on Mount Pisgah (3-3, 0-0 Region 6-A Private) on the road. A loss would not eliminate the Lions but it would put them in a must-win scenario against St. Francis in two weeks for the final playoff spot.

Lakeview may have to wait two weeks to get a shot to clinch a second consecutive playoff berth as the Patriots may be too much right now for the rebuilding Lions to handle.

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