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Saturday October 23rd, 2021 8:56AM

Football: Branch, Buford, Rabun have interesting Week 4 matchups

By Bo Wilson Sports Editor

It was on the schedule, then off the schedule, now back on the schedule. I'm talking about the Flowery Branch vs. Gainesville annual rivalry showdown.

The game was canceled and was supposedly not to be rescheduled, but someway, somehow, the game now will be played on Friday at City Park -- Lord willing.

With the addition of the Branch-Gainesville game, this week went from OK to good quickly. No. 1 Buford is hosting Myers Park High out of North Carolina. Myers Park is ranked eighth among all classifications in North Carolina. Rabun County picked up defending Class A champion Murphy High School in North Carolina, another top opponent in the Tar Heel state.  

Oh, and if you haven't seen our video feature on a look back at the 2009 Class 3A semifinal classic with Flowery Branch and Gainesville, click here.


FLOWERY BRANCH AT GAINESVILLE

So, where to start with the Branch and Big Red? 

It's still a relatively young rivalry, call it a love-hate relationship, if you're reading Twitter today. Branch has won the last three, and before that, Gainesville had won three in a row. But Big Red still holds the series lead 10-6 and the largest margin of victory, 58-10 back in 2003 -- the second game ever played between the two. Since 2009's down-to-the-wire Class 3A semifinal battle, however, the series has been neck and neck -- 4-4. Flowery Branch can match Gainesville's longest win streak of four games (2002-2005) with a win this week.

Regardless of the history, the two student sections going back and forth on social media and us, the media, making a big deal about the game, the 2021 edition of the rivalry could go one of two ways: Flowery Branch or Gainesville wins. Yeah, you thought I was going to add fuel to the fire on a Wednesday? We'll do that with our FGN Pick 'Em Show on Friday.

On a more serious note, you be the judge: Since giving up 14 points to St. Pius X in Week 1, Flowery Branch (2-0) has allowed just one touchdown over the past six quarters ... Gainesville (1-1), on the other, had a breakout game in Week 2 against Chattahoochee, scoring 44 points in the 44-0 win. So, you make the call on this one: Gainesville or Flowery Branch. 


MYERS PARK, NC AT BUFORD

After taking a week off, top-ranked Buford welcomes a pretty good Myers Park, NC team into Tom Riden Stadium this week. The Mustangs are ranked No. 6 in the Class 4A West poll, and eighth across all classifications. They made the quarterfinals in the 2020 playoffs but have a new coach at the helm now. Does any of this really matter when it comes to the Wolves?

While it's true the Wolves have stumbled in their first two games, a come-from-behind win over North Cobb in Week 1 and a 16-3 win over Clarke Central in Week 2, Buford is on track. 

They'll have two tough home games before starting Region 8-6A play against Central Gwinnett -- Myers Park and Class 3A runner-up Chaminade-Madonna out of Florida next week. 

The Mustangs, however, were one win away from the state finals last season and return several key players to the roster this season, including Rivals.com three-star quarterback Lucas Lernhoff, who passed for almost 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2020. Jacob Newman, the leading rusher with 809 yards and six touchdowns, is back as well. Also returning is three-star receiver Camarion Thorton, who led the team with 12 TDs and 660 yards in 2020. He already has 345 yards through the first three games. 

Buford's defense, however, will be up to the task. The question will be will the Wolves' offense find the endzone more than once this week. I think so. Buford rolls in this one. 


RABUN COUNTY AT MURPHY, NC

This game is a last-minute addition to the slate for the No. 2 Wildcats. With last week's cancellation due to COVID-19, and Wahalla, SC pulling out this week, coach Jaybo Shaw rushed to find a replacement road game. Enter Murphy, NC., who won the Class A state championship this year -- yes, this year.

The state of North Carolina played its football season earlier this year, and Murphy captured the title on May 8 over Northside-Pinetown. So, the Bulldogs had a spring game on steroids. 

The Bulldogs return several from the state title team, including starting quarterback Kellen Rumfelt, who passed for 254 yards in that game and compiled more than 1,200 yards on the season. Also back are running back Ty Laney and receiver Payton McCracken

But the Bulldogs' defense lost a few to graduation, including leading tackler Ray Rathburn. The Bulldogs will have their hands full with Rabun County's explosive offense, led by a slew of talented athletes. Gunner Stockton racked up 510 yards of offense in a Week 2 blowout of Pace Academy. He also tossed for six touchdowns and rushed for another. He also has several weapons around him, including running back Lang Windham, receivers Jaden Gibson and Baxley O'Brien, along with a stout O-line led by Bear Old. 

Rabun's defense could be put to the test, but I highly doubt it. They've got a solid unit to build the wall around Murphy's offense. This one will be Rabun County all the way. 


OTHER GAMES WORTH THE PRICE OF ADMISSION

♦ HABERSHAM CENTRAL AT WHITE COUNTY -- White County plays host to rival Habersham Central. Both are coming into the game off a win but that doesn't really matter when it comes to this game. I think White County may have the slight edge this week as they have the most skill players back this season. It'll depend on how conservative the Warriors play it on offense as to how many points they put on the board. On the other hand, the Raiders might have a say-so about those points. I can't pick a winner in this one ... yet. 


♦ WEST HALL AT CHESTATEE -- West Hall will make the long ride over to Chestatee on Friday. The Spartans are trying to start the season 3-0 for the first time in a long time, and the War Eagles are trying to win back-to-back for the first time since 2017. West Hall has the better team, but the War Eagles showed vast improvement against Union County last week on both sides of the ball. It'll come down to turnovers and special teams in this one. I suspect, the Spartans will force more than they make. Still, though, I'll pick the winner on Friday. 

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