Thursday March 23rd, 2023 9:04PM

ICYMI: Week 6 previews -- Regions 8-6A, 8-4A, 7-3A get playoff quests started

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
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Regions 6-7A and 8-5A got their region schedules under way last week. This week, Regions 8-6A, 8-4A, and 7-3A will join them as the quests for region titles and playoff spots begin for them as well.

Some huge battles in both 8-4A and 7-3A will get things started. None will be bigger than Class 4A No. 1 Jefferson playing host to No. 7 Flowery Branch at Memorial Stadium to open Region 8-4A. The two teams are considered the top two teams in the region and the winner will have the inside track to the region title. Both teams have been outstanding and are coming off huge blowout wins.

Buford in 8-6A gets going with a road tilt at Central Gwinnett while Habersham Central opens at home against Winder-Barrow in a game that should held decide playoff positioning down the road.

And Region 7-3A gets under way with three huge matchups. Defending champion Cherokee Bluff hits the road against an improving and dangerous Gilmer squad. West Hall and North Hall have a monster showdown in Oakwood, as do White County and Dawson County in Cleveland as all four playoff teams from last year face difficult openers.

For a look at all of the weekend's contests involving area teams, simply scroll down. And be sure to check back with AccessWDUN's Friday Game Night throughout the night for score updates, game stories and video highlights. You can also check for scores and highlights on our Twitter feed: @FridayGameNight

(Games listed in alphabetical order of visiting team)
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Taylor Memorial Stadium, Tallapoosa
-- BANKS COUNTY (1-3, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Lost 30-13 to Fannin County last week
-- HARALSON COUNTY (3-1, 0-0 Region 5-2A): Off last week; defeated Model 43-0 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Haralson County leads series 1-0. The Rebels won 44-0 in 2020 in Homer. ... The first of two straight games vs. Region 8-2A teams (Elbert County next week) for Haralson. ... The Rebels were ranked as high as 7th in Class 2A early in the season. Haralson is 9th in scoring (112, 28.0 ppg) and 10th in defense (52, 13.0 ppg) in Class 2A. ... The Rebels rely on the run averaging just under 200 yards/game while throwing for just 27 yards/game so far. Sr. Clay Hyatt (58-396 yards, 1 TD, 2 100-yard games), Jr. Caden Hughes (38-207 yards, 1 100-yard game) and Sr. Wesley Cole (21-180 yards, 1 100-yard game) will offer a huge challenge for the Leopards. ... Banks County is showing marked improvement on defense yielding just 21.0 ppg after giving up 35.2 ppg in 2020. But a rebuilding offense is still struggling scoring just 39 points (9.7 ppg), the 9th-worst in Class 2A. ... The Leopards have lost 5 straight on the road. The Rebels are 6-1 at home in their last 7 games going back to the 2019 season.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tally Johnson Field, Lawrenceville
-- BUFORD (3-1, 0-0 Region 8-6A): Ranked No. 2 in Class 6A; lost 7-0 to Chaminade-Madonna (Fla.) last week
-- CENTRAL GWINNETT (1-3, 0-0 Region 8-6A): Lost 30-7 to South Forsyth last week
-- NOTABLE: Central Gwinnett leads series 6-5-1. Buford won 51-0 in 2020 in Buford. The Wolves have won 4 of 5 meetings since 2000. The last win for the Black Knights was in 2004, 20-14, in Lawrenceville. ... Buford suffered its first shutout loss last week since a 10-0 loss to Cartersville in the 2015 Class 4A state championship game. ... Offense has been the problem for Central, which has scored the 4th-fewest points on average (34, 8.5 ppg) in Class 6A. ... The Buford defense was stellar last week forcing 3 turnovers vs. a potent Chaminade offense. The Wolves are yielding just 13.5 ppg on the season. ... Under Coach Appling, Buford is 10-1 in region games and 4-1 on the road. ... The Wolves have won 11 straight region openers on the field, though they were forced to forfeit a win over Banks County in 2012. Their last loss in a region opener was in 2009 at Lovett. ... The Black Knights have dropped 7 straight region games and have not won a region opener since beating South Gwinnett in 8-6A in 2015.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Huff-Mosley Stadium, Ellijay
-- CHEROKEE BLUFF (4-0, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Defeated Lakeside-Atlanta 56-0 last week
-- GILMER (2-1, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Off last week; defeated East Jackson 41-34 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Cherokee Bluff leads series 1-0. The Bears won 21-6 in 2020 in Flowery Branch. ... Cherokee Bluff has been dominant in the non-region portion of its schedule leading the entire state in scoring (232 points, 58.0 ppg) and is 4th in Class 3A in defense allowing just 28 points (7.0 ppg). They routed a good Chestatee team last month and the Bobcats, under former St. Pius coach Paul Standard, will be their biggest challenge since then. ... Gilmer is riding a 2-game win streak but both were tight finishes. They are averaging 30 ppg and giving up 30 ppg. ... The Bobcats have not won three three straight games since 2014, which is also the last time they won more than four games in a season. Gilmer has lost 7 consecutive region openers. ... The Bears have had good balance on offense but still look to run the ball first averaging 220 yards/game rushing behind Sr. RB Jayquan Smith (43-371 yards, 7 TD, 2 100-yard games)

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Panthers Stadium, Jefferson
-- CLARKE CENTRAL (1-2, 1-1 Region 8-5A): Defeated Apalachee 31-17 last week
-- JACKSON COUNTY (2-2, 0-1 Region 8-5A): Lost 16-14 to Walnut Grove last week
-- NOTABLE: Clarke Central leads series 7-0. The Gladiators won 38-10 in 2020 in Athens. ... The Panthers let one slip away last week and cannot afford an 0-2 start. The Gladiators rallied from an early deficit last week. ... Both defenses are in the top 15 in Class 5A with Jackson Co. giving up just 16 ppg and Clarke yielding 18 ppg on the season. Both offenses have struggled early on. ... The Panthers are averaging just 18 ppg while the Gladiator have scored just 36 points (12 ppg) with 31 coming last week. ... Clarke has won 10 straight region games going back to 2019. ... The key matchup will be the Panthers rushing attack, which is averaging over 200 yards/game vs. the Gladiators front-7. Jackson Co. Sr. RB Trey Ransom has been a load for every team with 423 yards and 3 100-yard games so far on the season. ... The Panthers defense has forced 5 turnovers and their secondary vs. the Gladiators passing attack could be a huge factor as well. Markel Oliver, Xavier Bailey, Cooper Hoffman, Elijah Ling, and Caden Alford all have 1 INT each for Jackson County.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: White County Stadium, Cleveland
-- RADIO: 93.9 FM WRWH;
-- DAWSON COUNTY (1-3, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Off last week; defeated Northview 52-7 two weeks ago
-- WHITE COUNTY (1-3, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Off last week; lost 21-12 to Habersham Central two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: White County leads series 6-3. Dawson County won 42-35 in 2020 in Dawsonville. ... This is a huge game for teams that came into the season expecting to challenge for the region title. ... It has been a tight series of late with 5 of the last 6 meetings since 2001 being decided by 7 points or less. The Tigers have won 2 of the last 3 and they have split the last 4 meetings overall. The home team has won the past four matchups in the series. ... Take the over no matter how good the defenses are. They have averaged right at 70 points combined over those last 6 meetings with four going down to the final series. ... And both defenses in 2021 are struggling. White County (111, 27.7 ppg) is 47th and Dawson County is 48th (28.0 ppg) in defense out of 57 Class 3A teams. ... However, coming into this one both teams also are still trying to find their identity on offense as well. Both teams feature plenty of youth in key positions. ... Tigers’ QB Zach Holtzclaw, who led Class 3A in passing in 2020, has had a slow start completing just 50% of his passes (41-81, 679 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) due to inexperience in the receiving corp. But Sr. WR Bailey Dameron (21 rec., 439 yards, 2 TD) is having a breakout season. No one else has more than 6 catches on the season for Dawson. ... The Warriors have had a QB battle brewing all season with Billy Carder and Trey Nix sharing time most of the season. They still have dynamic playmakers Darius Cannon and Silas Mulligan but turnovers and special teams have hurt them all season.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Waters-Wilkins Stadium, Athens
-- EAST HALL (1-3, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Lost 49-21 to East Jackson last week
-- CEDAR SHOALS (0-2, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Lost 36-18 to Winder-Barrow last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The two teams did not get to play last season due to COVID. ... Both teams are in need of a win to build some momentum. The Jaguars have lost 6 of their last 7 going back to last year while the Vikings were hoping for a better start under new coach Matt Turner. ... Offense has not been a problem for East Hall, which is 15th in a potent Class 4A (118, 29.5 ppg). The defense, however, is still a work-in-progress. They have allowed the 4th-most points (177, 44.2 ppg) coming off a year where they showed marked improvement giving up 35.1 ppg. ... The Jaguars offense, meanwhile, is averaging just 18.5 ppg and just over 200 yards/game on offense. They have scored 20 or fewer points in 10 of their last 12 games going back to the 2019 playoffs.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- FLOWERY BRANCH (3-1, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Ranked No. 7 in Class 4A; defeated Hiram 56-0 last week
-- JEFFERSON (4-0, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Ranked No. 1 in Class 4A; off last week; defeated Mountain View 41-14 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Jefferson leads series 3-0. The Dragons won 40-10 in 2020 in Flowery Branch. All four meetings have been since 2016. ... It has not been a kind series for the Falcons, who have been outscored 108-39 in the first three games. ... The Dragons are rested and are 5-0 following an off week under coach Gene Cathcart. They also have won 15 straight home games going back to a season-opening loss to Oconee County in 2019. ... The Falcons are 6-2 in their last 8 road games, though they dropped their last road game two weeks ago to Gainesville. ... Jefferson is 8-2 in their last 10 games vs. ranked opponents. Branch is 1-5 in its last 6 matchups vs. ranked teams. However, the Falcons knocked off St. Pius on the road to open the season. ... Both offenses have been potent in 2021 with the Dragons 5th (150, 37.5 ppg) using a power option attack and Branch 7th (143, 35.7 ppg) in Class 4A using a more balanced run-pass offense. Both will put pressure on two outstanding defenses. ... The Jefferson defense is 10th in Class 4A (41 points, 10.2 ppg) while the Falcons are giving up 15.7 ppg (63 points) but 42 came in a loss to Gainesville.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Cobb Energy Hillgrove Stadium, Powder Springs
-- RADIO: 94.5 FM The Lake
-- GAINESVILLE (3-1, 1-0 Region 6-7A): Defeated Forsyth Central 34-7 last week to open region play
-- HILLGROVE (1-3, 0-0 Region 3-7A): Defeated Westside-Macon 34-8 last week
-- NOTABLE: Hillgrove leads series 1-0. The Hawks won 28-27 in 2020 at City Park. ... The Red Elephants are riding their first 3-game win streak since 2019 and would love to keep that momentum going as they will jump into a full region schedule next week. ... The Red Elephants are 4-3 on the road since the start of the 2020 campaign. ... The GHS offense has been on fire averaging 40 ppg during the win streak with So. QB Baxter Wright (762 yards passing, 4 TD) and Jr. RB Naim Cheeks (372 yards rushing, 7 TD) leading the way. 12 different receivers have caught passes. ... Since beating Gainesville last year, the Hawks are just 2-7, with defense the main issue allowing just under 29 ppg in that span. Their win last week snapped a 6-game losing streak. But they are 4-3 at home since the start of the 2020 season. ... Gainesville is 11th in defense in Class 7A yielding just 68 points (17.0 ppg) so far.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium, Oakwood
-- LOGANVILLE (2-2, 1-0 Region 8-5A): Defeated Greenbrier 35-34 last week
-- JOHNSON (0-3, 0-1 Region 8-5A): Lost 65-0 to Eastside last week
-- NOTABLE: Loganville leads series 9-2. The Red Devils have won all five meetings since 2016 and 8 straight overall. The last Johnson win in the series came in 1996, 27-10, in Oakwood. ... Johnson is still trying to snap its now-15-game losing streak. ... The Knights continue to struggle on defense allowing the most points (171, 57 ppg) on average in Class 5A. They looked to have turned the offense around with a 35-point effort two weeks ago vs. East Hall but ran into a solid Eagles defense last week. ... Loganville is off to its best start since 2018. The Red Devils are giving up 31 ppg on defense and are 0-2 when scoring less than 28 points. They are 2-0 when scoring 28 or more points.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tiger Stadium, Commerce
-- MT. PARAN (2-2, 0-0 Region 7-A Private): Lost 34-7 to Stratford Academy last week
-- COMMERCE (1-2, 0-0 Region 8-A Public): Lost 27-14 to Elbert County two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Commerce leads series 1-0. The Tigers won 41-9 in 2020 in Kennesaw. ... The Tigers have had two weeks to work out the kinks in what has been a rough start to the season. They are 1-2 for the first time since 2011 and have dropped back-to-back games for the first time since the close of the 2018 campaign. ... Offense has been the main issue as they are still looking for consistent production in their triple-option after replacing the bulk of their backfield from last season. The Tigers are averaging just 10.6 ppg, well below their 35.3 ppg in 2020. ... The defense has also struggled allowing 64 points (32 ppg) during the losing streak. ... The Eagles also have dropped two straight, getting outscored 69-21 in that span. They are allowing 27.5 ppg on the season. ... Commerce has not opened a season 1-3 since 2011. However, the Tigers have won 8 straight regular season home games. The Eagles have lost 7 straight road games, playoffs included. 

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville
-- MURPHY (NC) (2-2, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Defeated Cherokee (Rogersville, TN) 63-23 last week
-- UNION COUNTY (0-3, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Lost 45-7 to Pickens last week
-- NOTABLE: Murphy leads series 11-6. The two teams have not played in 32 years. The Bulldogs won the last meeting in 1989, 40-0, in Murphy and have won four straight in the series. The last Union win was in 1985, 21-13, in Murphy. ... This is a game the Panthers picked up after having to drop its originally-scheduled game with Robbinsville (NC). ... It’s been a streaky series even though it’s been dormant for 32 years. The Panthers won all 6 meetings between 1980 and 1985 with the Bulldogs winning all 7 meetings from 1965 to 1979 with one game in 1972 unreported. ... The key will be if the Bulldogs can hold onto the ball. They have 11 turnovers in 4 games (6 fumbles, 5 INTs). However, they are still averaging 37.5 ppg on offense. ... The Panthers are giving up 40 ppg so far on defense and  the offense has run into three pretty good defenses. But QB Logan Helcher (43-of-77, 519 yards, 6 TD, 1 INT) and WRs Griff Young (8 rec., 179 yards, 2 TD), Keyton Chitwood (10 rec., 119 yards, 3 TD), Jensen Goble (7 rec., 42 yards), and Cayleb Rogers (7 rec., 111 yards, 1 TD) are starting to put together a potent passing attack. ... Murphy is giving up 32.7 ppg on defense.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: West Hall Stadium, Oakwood
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM WDUN
-- NORTH HALL (2-2, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Defeated Chestatee 23-21 last week
-- WEST HALL (2-1, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Off last week; lost 42-7 to Chestatee two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: North Hall leads series 10-5. The Trojans won 42-13 in 2020 at The Brickyard. The Trojans have won 9 of the last 10 meetings since 2003. West Hall’s only win in that span came in 2014, a 38-0 win at home. ... This is a huge game for a pair of teams who came into the season expecting to challenge for the region title. One will leave with a loss in what is expected to be a tight region race all season. The home team has won the last four meetings. ... The Spartans are coming off a disappointing showing against Chestatee in which turnovers and dropped passes and big plays on defense doomed them early. The Trojans needed a field goal on the final play to hold off the War Eagles. ... The key may be the North Hall defense vs. the Spartans offense. The Trojans have allowed the 5th-most points in 3A (125, 31.2 ppg) while the Spartans have a trio of options in the backfield with Sr. Tilil Blackwell (42-214, 4 TD, 1 100-yard game), Sr. Jaden White (9-119, 4 TD, 1 100-yard game), and So. Maliek Richardson (24-123 yards). ... North Hall’s wing-T has looked potent at times and been grounded as well. Sr. QB Bradford Puryear (43-329, 4 TD, 1 100-yard game) and Sr. RB Kevin Rochester (81-519, 5 TD, 2 100-yard games) have been outstanding but the rest of the team has just 250 yards combined. ... The Spartans defense has allowed 70 points (23.3 ppg) but 42 came against Chestatee’s spread attack

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
-- PICKENS (SC) (2-2): Lost 50-18 to J.L. Mann (SC) out of Greenville
-- RABUN COUNTY (3-1): Ranked No. 2 in Class 2A; defeated Saluda (SC) 63-7 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Wildcats once again continue to look outside-the-box for opponents. They will entertain the Blue Flames as the third out-of-state opponent so far. They have played just two teams from Georgia over the first half of the season. ... It has fared well so far as they are 2-0 and have outscored the first two non-Georgia foes 122-21. ... It could be another mismatch as the Wildcats lead Class 2A in scoring (182 points, 45.5 ppg). Rabun County’s Gunner Stockton leads 2A in passing with 1,278 yards while teammate WR Jaden Gibson leads 2A, and the entire state, in receiving with 605 yards. ... The Blue Flames are yielding 31.7 ppg despite pitching one shutout on the season. ... The Wildcats defense gets better each week allowing just 14.2 ppg on the season. ... The Pickens offense is the key to their success. They are averaging 27.7 ppg but are 0-2 when scoring less than 23 points and 2-0 when scoring 23 or more.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: GMS, Gainesville
-- PRAISE ACADEMY (1-2, GAPPS 8-man): Lost 66-6 to Unity Christian last week
-- LANIER CHRISTIAN (3-1, GAPPS 8-man): Lost 14-6 to Johnson Ferry Christian last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Lightning suffered a rough loss last week as both Johnson Ferry scores came on defensive TDs late in the fourth quarter. The offense went into the game averaging 60 ppg but managed just one score. They dropped to 2nd in the GAPPS league in scoring (180, 45 ppg). ... The defense, however, continues to dominate. They still have yet to allow an opposing TD. ... Praise has allowed 136 points (45.3 ppg) which is 4th-worst in the GAPPS league. They are averaging 20.6 ppg on offense.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Maginnis Field, Gainesville
-- TOOMBS COUNTY (1-3, 0-0 Region 2-2A): Lost 18-13 to Class A Public No. 6 Pelham last week
-- RIVERSIDE MILITARY (1-2, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Lost 27-6 to East Forsyth last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... After a solid opening to the season, the RMA offense has run into a pair of tough defenses. But Rodney Robinson (43-333 yards, 1 TD, 2 100-yard games), Max Vogelbacher (16-175 yards, 1 TD, 1 100-yard game), and Justin Hornick (24-240 yards, 2 TD, 1 100-yard game) give them a solid running game that is cranking out 285 yards/game. However, they have fumbled 6 times, losing 4, which has stopped several potential scoring drives. ... The Bulldogs are giving up just under 25 ppg on defense and have generated 8 turnovers (4 fumbles, 4 INT). ... But the Toombs offense is in the bottom third of Class 2A (45 points, 11.0 ppg). They are averaging only 178 total yards/game and just 40 yards on the ground with 7 turnovers (6 INT) on the young season. 

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Bethlehem
-- TOWNS COUNTY (3-1, 0-0 Region 8-A Public): Defeated Lakeview Academy 38-17 last week
-- BETHLEHEM CHRISTIAN (5-0, 0-0 GISA 4-3A): Defeated Southwest Georgia Academy 35-14 last week
-- NOTABLE: Towns County leads series 1-0. The Indians won 28-14 in 2020 in Hiawassee. ... The Knights are putting up some big numbers averaging 32 ppg, including a 56-0 win over GHSA team Cross Keys earlier in the season. They are giving up just 12 ppg with two shutouts on the season. ... The Indians put together their best half of the season last week rallying from a 17-8 halftime deficit to outscore Lakeview 30-0 in the second half. ... Towns County, behind Class A Public rushing leader Kyle Oakes (726 yards, 11 TDs rushing, 5th in all-classifications), is 10th in Class A Public in scoring (129 points, 32.2 ppg). Collin Crowder has moved into 2nd place in Class A Public in receiving, and 35th overall in the state, with 344 yards. The Indians defense has yielded just 74 points (18.5 ppg) on defense. ... Since giving up 537 points (53.7 ppg) in coach Jason Roquemore’s first season in 2019, the Indians defense has really stiffened allowing just 294 points over their last 13 games (22.6 ppg).

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Raider Stadium, Mt. Airy
-- RADIO: 99.3 FM WCON 
-- WINDER-BARROW (2-2, 0-0 Region 8-6A): Defeated Cedar Shoals 36-18 last week
-- HABERSHAM CENTRAL (2-2, 0-0 Region 8-6A): Lost 35-18 to Stephens County last week
-- NOTABLE: Habersham Central leads series 17-9. The Raiders won 27-21 in 2020 in Winder. ... The home team has lost 6 of the last 8 meetings, including four straight since the two teams rejoined the same region in 2016. ... Last year’s region-opening win for Habersham over the Bulldoggs snapped an 8-year string of region-opening losses. ... This is typically a high-scoring matchup but both teams have been rebuilding their offenses with younger players. Winder-Barrow is averaging just 19.2 ppg while the Raiders are averaging 22.7 ppg. ... The Bulldoggs are just 2-8 in their last 10 games scoring 21 points or less and are averaging just 207 yards/game on offense in 2021. But Jr. RB Aidan Thompson has 244 yards and 7 TDs on the season. ... The Habersham power run game is beginning to pick up steam averaging just under 200 yards/game behind Sr. RB Simarcus Burney (376 yards, 4 TDs, 2 100-yard games) and So. QB Carson Parker (281 yards, 4 TDs). ... The Raiders are 3-1 in their last 4 home games while the Bulldoggs are 1-4 in their last 5 road games.
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