A thrilling finish at North Hall, a defensive slugfest in Buford and the start of region play in 6-7A and 8-5A highlighted a busy and impactful weekend of high school football in Northeast Georgia.
Here are five things we learned in Week 5:
1. Local rivalries living up to billing in 2021
Rivalires are the secret sauce to any sports season. Games between two teams that have no love for each other add an intensity and passion that cannot be manufactured or substituted. Sometimes, however, a "rivalry game" will disappoint with a blowout one way or the other. In 2021, that has not been the case. Virtually every rivalry matchup played so far has been a down to the wire thriller. For the latest example, see Friday night's "Battle of Highway 60" between North Hall and Chestatee. The Trojans won their fourth in a row in the series in a 23-21 thriller thanks to Luke Brown's walk-off field goal at The Brickyard. Gainesville and Flowery Branch played in a classic shootout the week before. Rivalries are good for all parties involved, but even more so when they produce these kinds of games.
2. No letdown for Gainesville, Flowery Branch after showdown
Speaking of Gainesville and Flowery Branch, there were questions entering Week 5 about how both teams would respond after a emotionally charged 42-35 Red Elephants win the week before. The answer: very well. Gainesville returned to their home field at City Park Stadium with a 34-7 rout of Forsyth Central to open region play. The Falcons went back home and took out their frustrations with a 56-0 dismantling of Hiram to wrap up their non-region slate. Make no mistake, these two teams will be forces to be reckoned with the rest of this season with strong units on both sides of the ball. Both teams are also getting solid quarterback play in Gainesville sophomore Baxter Wright and Flowery Branch senior David Renard. The Falcons will be put to the test this week in a matchup with Class 4A number-one ranked Jefferson.
3. Oakes, Towns County looking strong entering region play
Towns County has been very quietly building a steady program over the last three years under head coach Jason Roquemore. After an 0-10 campaign in his first year in Hiawassee in 2019, they won three games in 2020 and came within one quarter against Social Circle of making what would have been just their second state playoff appearance in program history. With Friday night's 38-17 win over Lakeview Academy, the Indians have already matched that win total in just four games and are looking like a team to watch with Region 8-A Public play just two weeks away. Much of that success can be attributed to the play of running back Kyle Oakes, who spearheaded their road win two weeks ago over Baconton Charter with almost 250 rushing yards.
4. Opening week of Region 6-7A play already providing intrigue
Last year, Region 6-7A was a wild ride. 2021 is already looking like much of the same. The region, consisting of almost all of the Forsyth County schools plus Gainesville, has already seen some unexpected results with just three region games having been played so far. Gainesville was the most unsurprising result of the opening week of region play as they routed Forsyth Central, but North Forsyth fell in a Thursday night upset to Denmark 20-17 in Alpharetta. Meanwhile, previously unbeaten Lambert was blown out by nearby South Forsyth 35-13. While the War Eagles' win was not necessarily a shock, the manner in which they routed the Longhorns was as they are in their first year under new head coach Troy Morris. At this point, defending region champion West Forsyth and Gainesville look like the front-runners in the region, but don't be surprised if a few more twists are thrown into the mix in the coming weeks.
5. The old adage is true - turnovers will hurt you in close games
Talk to any football coach at any level and they will tell you that one stat can swing a game more dramatically than any others - turnovers. There were plenty of examples of how impactful they can be last week. North Forsyth suffered a pair of first-half turnovers including a pick-six that led to a loss at Denmark Thursday. Then Friday, Chestatee was leading by one point in the final minute of the third quarter on North Hall's five yard line looking to add a potentially devastating touchdown when a fumble gave the Trojans the ball back and new life, leading to their aforementioned win. Habersham Central was in position to potentially upset unbeaten Stephens County in their rivalry matchup, but five turnovers led to a 35-18 loss. Buford never committed any outright turnovers, but turned the ball over on downs four times in a 7-0 home loss to Chaminade-Madonna of Florida. So if you find yourself in a tight ball game, remember the oldest rule in the book - take care of the football!
SEPT. 17 SCORES
Chaminade-Madonna (Fla.) 7, Buford 0
Cherokee Bluff 56, Lakeside-Atlanta 0
East Jackson 56, East Hall 27
Eastside 65, Johnson 0*
Fannin County 30, Banks County 13
Flowery Branch 56, Hiram 0
Gainesville 34, Forsyth Central 7*
Johnson Ferry Christian 14, Lanier Christian 6
Lumpkin County 34, St. Francis 14
North Hall 23, Chestatee 21
Pickens 45, Union County 7
Rabun County 63, Saluda (SC) 7
Stephens County 35, Habersham Central 18
Towns County 38, Lakeview Academy 17
Walnut Grove 16, Jackson County 14*
SEPT. 16 SCORES
East Forsyth 27, Riverside Military 6
Denmark 20, North Forsyth 17*
(* -- region contest)