Region is now underway for all but three area regions (8-2A, 8-A Public, 6-A Private) and that means games Friday night carried a lot more weight than the weeks before.
Here are five things we learned this weekend:
1. Jefferson is scary good, and they may get better
As if Jefferson's talent-loaded roster and 4-0 start wasn't reason enough to fear them, they may have just given more reasons Friday night. The Dragons (5-0, 1-0 8-4A) dispatched seventh-ranked Flowery Branch (3-2, 0-1 8-4A) 27-7 at Memorial Stadium in their Region 8-4A opener and, more impressively, did so in a somewhat sloppy effort. They committed over 100 yards worth of penalties, stalling a number of drives, yet still finished with over 320 yards rushing, by far the most allowed by Flowery Branch's defense all season. Also of note, it was the first game back from injury for Jefferson running back and Kansas State-commit Jordan Perry, who was a key cog in their triple-option attack. Once Perry gets back into rhythm and the Dragons clean up the penalties, they may be the most well-oiled offensive machine in the state in 4A and possibly among several classifications. By the way, their defense isn't bad either, as they allowed just seven points to a Flowery Branch offense that was averaging 35 points per game entering the contest.
2. Cherokee Bluff, North Hall are 7-3A front-runners
Last year, Region 7-3A was decided by a matchup between Cherokee Bluff and North Hall in Flowery Branch in Week 11 of the season. Early returns suggest a sequel may be on the way. Both teams looked dominant in their region openers Friday night. The defending champion Bears (5-0, 1-0 7-3A) traveled to Ellijay and rolled past Gilmer 40-6, turning a competitive first half into a runaway. The Trojans (3-2, 1-0 7-3A), meanwhile, romped West Hall in Oakwood 38-14 in a game they led 35-0 at halftime. There will be chances for other teams to stake their claims in the race, including this week when White County heads down to the Brickyard for their annual rivalry matchup with North Hall. Until someone knocks one of the two off, however, it would be hard to argue that they have looked like the two best teams in the region so far this year. While Cherokee Bluff is unbeaten, the Trojans have played a brutal non-region schedule including ranked teams in Stephens County and Hart County. It should be a fun home stretch in 7-3A play.
3. Deja vu -- here comes Dawson County
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Anyone who thought Dawson County was done after an 0-3 start clearly didn't remember 2020, when the Tigers also started 0-3, only to rally down the stretch and come within just a few plays of a home playoff game or even a region championship. It looks like the mid-season turnaround has started this year as well. The Tigers (2-3, 1-0 7-3A) have now won back-to-back games after beating White County in Cleveland 31-28 on a walk off field goal from Dom LeBlanc. It was a game Dawson County trailed 28-14 late in the 3rd quarter before rallying to break the Warriors' hearts late for the second year in a row. While Zach Holtzclaw had another strong performance and receiver Bailey Dameron had over 100 yards, perhaps the most impressive performance was that of the Tigers' oft-forgotten running game. Conley Dyer finished just shy of 100 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries.
4. Rabun County is putting defenses through the shredder
Rabun County might have taken that season-opening loss to Jefferson in which they scored just 13 points, their lowest total since August of 2018, personally, because they've been taking it out on every defense they've faced for a month since then. Through the first five games of the season, they have scored more points each week than the week before. That might not sound that impressive until you consider that they scored 47 points in Week 2. They are averaging 50.4 points per game on the season with the Jefferson game factored in and averaging a staggering 59.7 points per game in the four games since then. Georgia-commit quarterback Gunner Stockton has chewed up and spit out defenses, leading Class 2A in passing yards with 22 touchdown passes halfway through the regular season. The top recipient of Stockton's passes has been senior Jaden Gibson, who leads the state in receiving yards with over 600 so far. The Wildcats (4-1) face another big challenge this week when they travel to defending Class 3A champion Pierce County.
5. Gainesville defense shows it can win games too
Much of the credit to Gainesville's hot start this season has been given to the offense, and for good reason. The Red Elephants are averaging 30 points per game against a tough schedule and have had tremendous play from quarterback Baxter Wright and running back Naim Cheeks. Friday night, however, Gainesville (4-1, 1-0 6-7A) needed its defense to rise to the occasion, as that offensive unit was held to just 20 points on the road in their final non-region game of the year at Hillgrove. They answered that call, holding the Hawks to just one score and keying a 20-7 win. Knowing they can win a game even when their offense isn't tearing through opponents will help keep head coach Heath Webb's mind at ease as they head into the meat of Region 6-7A play this week starting at Lambert. If last year was any indication, region play will provide plenty of down-to-the-wire battles.