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Sunday July 3rd, 2022 11:02PM

Games2Watch: Region 7-3A could get interesting; Branch and Gainesville need wins

By Bo Wilson Sports Editor

I'm like a kid at Christmas because the final three weeks of the season are loaded with key region games, region title bouts, and playoff hopefuls.

Last week we saw movement in the region standings. Region 7-3A is the most interesting, with three teams in the hunt for the title -- Cherokee Bluff, Dawson County and North Hall. Bluff, Dawson County and North Hall still have to play each other. Could it come down to a three-way tie for the top spot? You know Bluff beats Dawson, North Hall beats Bluff, Dawson beats North Hall? Has anybody got a coin?

In Region 6-7A, Denmark and South Forsyth meet for the top spot in the standings. 

In Region 8-4A, No. 1 Jefferson and North Oconee are on a collision course for the title as Flowery Branch is playing for the No. 3 spot. 

It could get wild over the next three weeks. Below are what I think are Games2Watch.

DAWSON COUNTY AT CHEROKEE BLUFF

It's not exactly what we had predicted before the season started in Region 7-3A. We had Dawson County on the outside looking in at this point. We made our choice based on the graduation losses, and dynamic receiver Jaden Gibson, who left for Rabun County.  But just as a Sid Maxwell team does, it improves with each game, and when region play begins, they start hunting. However, they'll face a powerhouse in Cherokee Bluff. 

The Bears have been dominating their opponents, winning by an average of 38.4 points per game, and their defense, well, let's just say it is nasty. Jayquan Smith is one of the top rushing leaders in the state and can rip up a defense like no other. Of course, part of the credit goes to the big guys up front, opening holes for the senior All-AccessWDUN running back. 

As for the Tigers, senior quarterback Zach Holtzclaw has found a rhythm. He's not leading the state, as he did last season, in passing, but is taking care of business on the field. Bailey Dameron has emerged as the go-to receiver, and the offensive line, that struggled early on, has made vast improvements throughout the schedule. 

Last year, the Tigers led, 20-14, at halftime, but Cherokee Bluff outscored the Tigers 14-7 in the second half to win, 28-27. Will it be the same type of game this season? I'm not sure I can predict that. Bluff is rolling. The Tigers are rolling. Who has the most firepower? I think Bluff does, but I still can't pick the winner ... right now. Tune in Friday for my pick.


GAINESVILLE AT WEST FORSYTH

Well, not sure where to start here. What I can tell you is Gainesville needs to win, now. The Red Elephants' lackluster offensive performance against South Forsyth led to a 17-9 loss. The loss also put them in a must-win-out situation to host a first-round playoff game, but they'll also need some help from South Forsyth and West Forsyth to make that happen. 

Anyway, they face a struggling West Forsyth team right now. A team without its star running back, Peyton Streko (659 yards, 11 TDs through five games). The Wolverines went from region favorite to playing for its playoff lives. The desperation of the two teams should make for an old-fashioned school-yard fight off Drew Road on Friday. 

But the Red Elephants will have to find its offense early -- only three points in the first half last week. Right now, sophomore quarterback Baxter Wright's status for Friday night is unknown. He was injured in the second half against South Forsyth. Macere Walker stepped in at quarterback last week and tossed a touchdown to Naim Cheeks. Will he be the guy this week? 

Although Streko is out, the Wolverines still have Keegan Stover at quarterback. The junior has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. And you can't sleep on Georgia-commit Oscar Delp in the passing game. He leads the team with 609 yards from the tight end spot. 

It'll be a tough task for the Red Elephants, but they stepped up against a potent War Eagle offense last week. This one hinges on Big Red's offensive production. 


FLOWERY BRANCH AT MADISON COUNTY

The Falcons swerved back on the road to the playoffs with a big win, 34-14, over Cedar Shoals at Falcon Field last week. It was as close to a must-win situation as you could get. However, unless North Oconee or Jefferson loses in the final three games of the season, the Falcons will be on the road in the playoffs.

But they can start mixing the cement that will lock them in at the No. 3 seed in Danielsville on Friday.

Flowery Branch will travel to play a Madison County team that wants to take a playoff spot from the Falcons. The Red Raiders held on to beat Chestatee and are tied with the Falcons right now for the fourth spot in the region. If the Red Raiders have success with the run-game again this week, they could pull the upset.

I'm not sure they have enough to do it, though. The Falcons bring in the threat of the passing game, with David Renard and a steady rushing game with Myles Ivey and Malik Dryden. The Red Raiders, on the other hand, don't like to pass that much but will if needed. So, I think this one comes down to who has the better game plan and execution. 

OTHERS TO WATCH

  • White County at Lumpkin County -- The Indians are still in the hunt for a playoff spot but will have a large test against the Warriors. White County is coming out of an off week and is well-rested. If the Indians are going to have a shot at the upset, Cooper Scott and the offense will have to be on target. If not, Darius Cannon and Silas Mulligan will run for days.
  • Banks County at Riverside -- These two need a region win, and the team that wins the game has a shot at the playoffs. The Eagles have struggled with player personnel all season, while the Leopards' offense has been anemic most of the season. Who can find a rhythm on offense gets this one. 
  • Lanier at Buford -- This one is on here as a formality. It's a key game for both, but Buford rolls in this one. 

FRIDAY, OCT. 22 SCHEDULE

Banks County at Riverside Military*
Dawson County at Cherokee Bluff*
Eastside at Jackson County*
Elbert County at Rabun County*
Flowery Branch at Madison County*
Franklin County at East Jackson*
Gainesville at West Forsyth*
Greene County at Towns County*
Habersham Central at Central Gwinnett*
Jefferson at Chestatee*
Johnson at Greenbrier*
Lanier at Buford*
Social Circle at Commerce*
West Hall at Gilmer*
White County at Lumpkin County* 

(* -- denotes region contest)

OFF THIS WEEK

East Forsyth
East Hall
Lakeview Academy
Lanier Christian
North Forsyth
North Hall
Union County

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