Thursday March 23rd, 2023 8:13PM

ICYMI: Week 7 previews -- Nearly full region schedule highlights busy night

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

It took seven weeks, but finally, every region in the Northeast Georgia area has opened its road to the playoffs as Regions 8-3A, 8-2A, 8-A Public, and 6-A Private all begin region play on Friday.

In all, 18 games will kick off around the area, with 15 games involving region contests.

However, the biggest, and perhaps most intriguing of the night, has Class 2A No. 1 Rabun County traveling to the swamps of South Georgia to take on Pierce County, ranked fourth in Class 3A and the defending Class 3A state champion.

Region 7-3A continues its treacherous road to the playoffs with three huge games. West Hall will try to end its two-game skid against unbeaten Cherokee Bluff in Flowery Branch while North Hall and White County will renew their annual skirmish at The Brickyard. Lumpkin County opens its 7-3A schedule at home against Gilmer.

Class 6A No. 1 Buford and Habersham Central will battle each other at Tom Riden Stadium as the Raiders will see if they can pull the upset on the road.

Two big games in Region 8-A Public could help determine some early region favorites as Commerce heads to Greene County and a resurgent Towns County group travels to perennial power Lincoln County.

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: Tiger Stadium, Greensboro
-- COMMERCE (2-2, 0-0 Region 8-A Public): Defeated Mt. Paran 20-13 last week
-- GREENE COUNTY (3-2, 0-0 Region 8-A Public): Off last week; defeated Jasper County 28-21 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Commerce leads series 2-0. Commerce won 35-0 in 2020 in Commerce. Just the second meeting since 1981. ... Commerce snapped its longest losing streak since 2018 last week while Greene County already has as many wins as the last two seasons combined. Greene County also has won three straight for the first time since 2018. ... The key to this one may be the Commerce offense vs. the Greene County defense. The Commerce offense has been slow to come around and is in the bottom-third of Class A in scoring (52 points, 13.0 ppg) which also is the fewest among the 8-A Public teams. But the Greene County defense is allowing 23.2 ppg, the most among teams in the region. ... Commerce has won 8 straight region openers going back to a 2012 loss to George Walton Academy. Greene County, however, is 6-1 in its last 7 region openers, the only loss in that time to Commerce last season.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Warrior Stadium, Watkinsville
-- EAST JACKSON (2-3, 0-0 Region 8-3A): Off last week; defeated East Hall 49-21 two weeks ago
-- OCONEE COUNTY (5-0, 0-0 Region 8-3A): Tied for No. 1 in Class 3A; defeated Veterans 35-16 last week 
-- NOTABLE: Oconee County leads series 7-0. The Warriors won 36-14 in 2020 in Commerce. ... The Warriors have won back-to-back region titles and finished as state runners-up each of the past two seasons and is one of 4 8-3A teams that are a perfect 5-0 on the season. ... This will be the Eagles biggest challenge to date. Oconee has won 18 straight at home going back to a loss to rival North Oconee in October 2018. The Warriors also have won 8 straight region games overall. East Jackson has won 2 of its last 3 games overall but has dropped 9 straight region openers. ... The Eagles' offense has caught fire averaging 37 ppg over its last three games. However, Oconee has given up just 71 points (14.2 ppg). ... The East Jackson defense is giving up just 20.4 ppg which is nearly half its average from last year (38.4 ppg). The Warriors are 13th in Class 3A in scoring (138, 27.6 ppg).

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Lions Stadium, Gainesville
-- FELLOWSHIP CHRISTIAN (4-1, 1-0 Region 6-A Private): Ranked No. 6 in Class A Private; defeated St. Francis 40-7 last week
-- LAKEVIEW ACADEMY (1-3, 0-0 Region 6-A Private): Off last week; lost 38-17 to Towns County two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Fellowship Christian leads series 3-2. The two teams did not get to play last year due to COVID. The Paladins won the last meeting 41-14 in 2013 in Roswell. ... Due to a weird schedule, this will be the Lions' 2nd and final home game of the season. It will be their toughest challenge since taking on Rabun Gap at home almost a month ago. Fellowship is 7th in Class A Private in scoring (169, 33.8 ppg) behind a balanced offense that is averaging over 320 yards/game. Lakeview has given up the 4th-most points/game (36.5 ppg) so far in Class A Private. ... Defensively, the Paladins have yielded 118 points (25.6 ppg) but 56 came in a loss to No.1 Trinity Christian. Lakeview has scored the 5th-fewest points in Class a Private (64, 16.0 ppg). ... Lakeview is still a young team in a rebuilding mode. The Lions led Towns 17-8 at halftime last week but were outscored 30-0 in the 2nd half.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Lambert Stadium, Suwanee
-- RADIO: 94.5 FM The Lake
-- GAINESVILLE (4-1, 1-0 Region 6-7A): Defeated Hillgrove 20-7 last week
-- LAMBERT (4-1, 0-1 Region 6-7A): Off last week; lost 35-13 to South Forsyth two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Gainesville leads series 2-1. The Red Elephants won 42-25 in 2020 at City Park. This is the fourth consecutive season the two teams have played. Lambert’s only win came in 2018 in Gainesville. ... The Red Elephants are off to their best start since 2015, which was the last time they advanced past the first round of the playoffs. They also are looking for their first 2-0 start in region play since 2015 (8-6A). ... This Gainesville team seems to like being on the road. They are 2-0 in 2021 in road games and have outscored their first two road opponents 64-7. ... The Longhorns are in the exact same position as last year. They started 4-0 before dropping their next four, all in legion play. ... Lambert is 9th in Class 7A in scoring (177, 35.4 ppg) and is 13th in defense (79, 15.8 ppg). But Gainesville is 12th in defense (75, 15.0 ppg) and over its last 4 games is averaging 35.0 ppg on offense. ... Last year, Lambert allowed just 58 points in non-region play (14.5 ppg) but surrendered 256 points (42.3 ppg) in region play. 

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega
-- GILMER (2-2, 0-1 Region 7-3A): Lost 40-6 to Cherokee Bluff last week
-- LUMPKIN COUNTY (1-3, 0-0 Region 7-3A): Off last week; defeated St. Francis 34-14 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: Gilmer leads the series 25-9. The Bobcats won 62-7 in 2020 in Ellijay. Lumpkin County has won 4 of the last 6 matchups going back to 2007, including the last two games in Dahlonega. ... The Indians snapped their 19-game losing streak and now will see if they can end a 16-game Region 7-3A losing streak this week. Their last region win came vs. Cherokee Bluff in October 2018. ... Despite the eventual lopsided loss, the Bobcats trailed Bluff just 13-6 at halftime last week. ... The key may be the Lumpkin offense, and if it can continue its good work from two weeks ago. The Indians have scored the fewest points in 7-3A (63, 15..7 ppg) -- the 13th-fewest points in Class 3A -- and just 9.6 ppg in its previous three games. ... Until last week, Gilmer had averaged 30 ppg over its first three games.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
-- RADIO: 99.3 FM WCON
-- HABERSHAM CENTRAL (2-3, 0-1 Region 8-6A): Lost 45-14 to Winder-Barrow last week
-- BUFORD (4-1, 1-0 Region 8-6A): Ranked No. 1 Class 6A; defeated Central Gwinnett 41-0 last week
-- NOTABLE: Habersham Central leads series 2-1. Buford won 44-7 in 2020 in Mt. Airy. ... The Raiders are in the middle of facing the top three teams in succession, with Dacula on tap for next week. The Habersham defense had been playing well allowing 20 ppg on the season until running into a good Bulldoggs offense. ... The Raiders will get another stern test in the Wolves, who have scored 40 or more in 2 of their last 3 games and have feasted on 8-6A teams. Since joining the region last season, Buford has 35 or more in all 7 region games to this point averaging 42.5 ppg. Sr. QB Ashton Daniels had perhaps his best game of the season going 7-of-7 for 162 yards and 2 TDs passing last week. ... The Buford defense is 5th in scoring average in Class 6A (10.8 ppg) and held Central Gwinnett to less than 100 yards of total offense last week. ... Sr. RB Simarcus Burney (400-plus yards, 5 TD, 2 100-yard games) and So. QB Carson Parker (300-plus yards, 5 TD) give a young Raiders offense a solid 1-2 ground attack.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Red Devil Stadium, Loganville
-- JACKSON COUNTY (2-3, 0-2 Region 8-5A): Lost 34-30 to Clarke Central last week
-- LOGANVILLE (3-2, 2-0 Region 8-5A): Defeated Johnson 42-0 last week
-- NOTABLE: Loganville leads series 17-6. The Red Devils won 47-7 2020 in Jefferson. Loganville has won 10 straight in the series. The last Panthers win in the series came in 1996, 21-3, in Jefferson. ... The Red Devils are off to their best start since 2016 with two wins by a combined 5 points. The key number for the Red Devils is 28. When scoring 28 or more, they are 3-0. They are 0-2 when scoring less than 28. ...Jackson County nearly pulled the huge upset last week leading Clarke Central until the final drive of the game. Both of the Panthers’ region losses have been by a combined 6 points. Both losses have come in the final minutes of both games as they let late leads slip away. ... Jackson County is yielding just 19.6 ppg while the Red Devils are averaging 23.0 ppg ... The Panthers are averaging 20.4 ppg and WR Jaden Cofer had a breakout game last week with 275 all-purpose yards, including 6 catches for 145 yards.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: East Hall Stadium, Rabbittown
-- JEFFERSON (5-0, 1-0 Region 8-4A): Ranked No. 1 in Class 4A; defeated No. 7 Flowery Branch 27-7 last week
-- EAST HALL (1-4, 0-1 Region 8-4A): Lost 42-8 to Cedar Shoals last week
-- NOTABLE: Jefferson leads series 11-5. ... The two teams did not play last year due to COVID. ... Jefferson won the last meeting 49-0 in 2010 in Jefferson. This will be just the second meeting since 1987 between the two programs. ... On paper, this looks like a mismatch for the Vikings. Jefferson is 5th in Class 4A in scoring (177, 35.4 ppg) and leads the classification in rushing averaging 325 yards/game behind So. RB Sammy Brown (548 yards, 8 TDs). The Vikings defense, meanwhile, has allowed the 2nd-most points in 4A (219, 43.8 ppg). ... The East Hall offense is in the top 20 in Class 4A (120, 24.0 ppg) behind Sr. QB Clete Cooper but is facing a Dragons’ defense (48 points, 9.6 ppg) that is 6th in scoring average. They also held Georgia-commit Gunner Stockton to less than 200 yards passing earlier in the season. ... Jefferson has won 7 straight road games going back to a playoff loss to Crisp County in 2019 but has won 14 straight regular-season road games going back to a season-opening loss to Oconee County in 2018. ... The Dragons have won 12 straight region games going back to 2018. ... East hall has dropped 4 straight region games.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Warriors Stadium, Walnut Grove
-- JOHNSON (0-4, 0-2 Region 8-5A): Lost 42-0 to Loganville last week
-- WALNUT GROVE (2-3, 1-1 Region 8-5A): Lost 44-6 to Greenbrier last week
-- NOTABLE: Walnut Grove leads series 6-1. The Warriors won 56-7 in 2020. Johnson got its only win in the series in 2019, 24-22, in Oakwood. ... The key will be if Johnson can get a rebuilding defense where it needs to be.  Both teams are near the bottom in Class 5A in offense scoring 42 points each but the Knights have yielded the most points in Class 5A (213, 53.2 ppg).  They have forced 7 fumbles, however. The Warriors have given up 123 points (24.6 ppg). ... Johnson is still trying to snap what is now a 16-game losing streak.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Loganville
-- LANIER CHRISTIAN (4-1, GAPPS 8-man): Defeated Praise Academy 65-6 last week
-- VICTORY BAPTIST (4-1, GAPPS 8-man): Defeated Holy Ground 44-26
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... Lanier Christian dropped to No. 2 in scoring in GAPPS but is still scoring 49.4 ppg. But the Lightning defense is still the stingiest unit in GAPPS yielding just 4.0 ppg. They have yet to allow a TD by an opposing offense. ... Victory Baptist has allowed the 6th-most points in GAPPS (176, 35.2 ppg) in the first half of the season.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Bronco Stadium, Gainesville
-- MOUNT PISGAH (2-3. 0-0 Region 6-A Private): Defeated Christian Heritage 20-7 last week
-- EAST FORSYTH (1-4, non-region): Off last week; defeated Riverside Military 27-6 two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The Broncos have had two weeks to celebrate their first-ever win and will take on a Patriots team that is under new direction. ... Mt. Pisgah, after averaging 28.6 ppg in 2020, is off to a slow start scoring almost a touchdown less per game in 2021. The Broncos are still growing the program and have played a very tough first-year schedule. The Patriots will be the fourth playoff team from 2020 they have taken on in their first 6 games. ... Mt. Pisgah is 7th in Class A Private in passing, averaging just under 160 yards/game.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: War Eagles Stadium, Gainesville
-- NORTH OCONEE (2-3, 1-0 Region 8-4A): Defeated Madison County 28-0 last week
-- CHESTATEE (2-2, 0-0 Region 8-4A): Off last week; lost 23-21 to North Hall two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: North Oconee leads series 3-0. The Titans won 44-0 in 2020 in Bogart. ... The War Eagles were the only 8-4A team to not get region play started last week. ... They have been one of the pleasant surprises in 2021 having already snapped a long losing streak and sitting at .500 or better heading into region play for the first time since 2017. ... An improved defense is the reason. They gave up 60 to Cherokee Bluff in the opener but have yielded just 58 points (19.3 ppg) over their past 3 games. They gave up a Class 4A-worst 469 points in 2020. ... The War Eagles offense has been bolstered by Sr. QB Luke Bornhorst, who has improved on his breakout in 2020, by leading Class 4A in passing (1,034 yards). ... North Oconee snapped a 2-game losing streak with its shutout win last week, the Titans’ first shutout win since beating Chestatee last year. ... The War Eagles also are trying to snap a 7-year drought in opening region play with a win. Their last region-opening win came in 2013 in a 33-23 win over Eastside, which is also the last time they were over .500 for the season and in region play at the same time.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Bearville Stadium, Blackshear
-- RABUN COUNTY (4-1, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Ranked No. 1 Class 2A; defeated Pickens (SC) 70-14 last week
-- PIERCE COUNTY (4-1, 0-0 Region 1-3A): Ranked No. 4 Class 3A; defeated Class 2A No. 3 Fitzgerald 17-0 last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... This is one of the premier matchups in the state this week. The Bears are the defending Class 3A state champs while the Wildcats lost in the Class 2A semifinals in 2020. ... Both teams are riding 4-game win streaks after dropping their openers to higher-classification teams. ... Pierce County is the fourth-ranked team the Wildcats have played so far this season, all on the road, and they are 2-1 in those games (Jefferson). The Wildcats will be the third consecutive ranked team the Bears have played and the 2nd straight against a top 3 team in Class 2A. They are 2-0 in those games so far. ... The key matchup may be the Rabun offense that is No. 1 in Class 2A (252, 50.4 ppg) vs. the Bears defense, which is 4th in Class 3A, allowing just 6.6 ppg. The Rabun OL of 5 seniors vs. the Pierce front-7 will be something to watch. The Bears have recorded 56 TFL and 21 sacks in the first half of the season. ... Rabun is led by Sr. QB and Georgia-commit Gunner Stockton, who leads Class 2A with 1,628 yards and 22 TDs. His favorite target is Jr. WR Jaden Gibson, who leads 2A and is 2nd in the state overall in receiving with 668 yards and 6 TDs. But 7 different receivers have TD catches for Rabun in 2021. Jr. RB Lang Windham had a big game last week with 192 all-purpose yards, including 4 rushing TDs.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Red Devils Stadium, Lincolnton
-- TOWNS COUNTY (4-1, 0-0 Region 8-A Public): Defeated Bethlehem Christian 14-11 last week
-- LINCOLN COUNTY (3-2, 0-0 Region 8-A Public): Lost 28-16 to Elbert County last week
-- NOTABLE: First-ever meeting between the two programs. ... The two teams did not get to play last year due to COVID. ... The Indians certainly are one of the most improved teams in Class A with their most wins since their only playoff season of 2017. ... This will be the fifth road game of the season already for Towns County, which is 3-1 away from Hiawassee. The 3 road wins are the most in a season for the Indians since 2008. The Red Devils are just 2-2 at home in 2021. ... Towns has dropped 5 straight region openers while Lincoln County is just 1-3 in its last 4 region openers. ... Lincoln was the preseason favorite to win the region but the Indians will pose a serious upset challenge. Towns is averaging over 200 yards/game on the ground and over 300 total yards/game on offense behind Class A Public’s leading rusher Kyle Oakes (883 yards, 12 TDs). The Indians have scored the 2nd-most points of 8-A teams (143, 28.6 ppg) which has them on pace for their 2nd-best offensive season in program history (2008, 336 points). Meanwhile, the Red Devils have surrendered 94 points (18.8 ppg) which is the 2nd-most of the 8-A Public teams at the halfway point of the season. ... The Towns defense is allowing just 17.0 ppg while Lincoln is averaging 22.2 ppg. LB Seth Gillis had another big game last week with 9 tackles, 3 for losses, for the Indians.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Maginnis Field, Gainesville
-- UNION COUNTY (0-4, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Lost 54-24 toMurphy (NC) last week
-- RIVERSIDE MILITARY (1-3, 0-0 Region 8-2A): Lost 62-0 to Toombs County last week
-- NOTABLE: Union County leads series 6-2. The Panthers won 29-14 in 2015 in Blairsville. All 8 meetings have been as region foes. The last RMA win came in 2009, 28-27, in Blairsville. ... Both teams have been struggling but both also have the opportunity to make a quick claim as a playoff team with a win. With this being the only 8-2A of the week, the winner will hold first place and the all-important tiebreaker. ... The Eagles have lost three straight as they are still trying to break in a new roster. They have had trouble scoring since a season-opening win averaging just 4.0 ppg during the losing streak. ... The Panthers have yet to pick up that first win for new coach Michael Perry but have faced a tough schedule that is 13-6 as a group. ... Defense has been the issue for both teams. Both are in the bottom 10 in Class 2A. Union has given up the 6th-most points (174, 43.5 ppg) while RMA has yielded the 10th-most (140, 35.0 ppg). Union is averaging 16.5 ppg on offense behind Sr. QB Logan Helcher (62-104, 702 yards, 7 TD, 3 INT) and a trio of receivers in Jr. Griff Young, Jensen Goble, and Keyton Chitwood, who each have 12 or more receptions and 5 combined TDs.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Raider Valley, Coal Mountain
-- WEST FORSYTH (2-2, 0-0 Region 6-7A): Ranked No. 7 in Class 7A; off last week; lost 38-10 to Mill Creek two weeks ago
-- NORTH FORSYTH (3-2, 0-1 Region 6-7A): Off last week; lost 20-17 to Denmark two weeks ago
-- NOTABLE: West Forsyth leads series 10-3. North Forsyth won 24-10 in 2020 on the road. ... Both teams are coming off losses but the Raiders can ill-afford to open region play with two losses and stay in the playoff race. ... The key in this one is which team will be able to run the ball. The Raiders are 6th in Class 7A in rushing (190 yards/game) while the Wolverines are averaging 170 yards/game. ... North Forsyth’s defense is 11th allowing just 11.0 ppg. ... West Forsyth has lost its last four region openers, including last season to the Raiders. ... North Forsyth has not started region play 0-2 since 2014.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: Bears Stadium, Flowery Branch
-- WEST HALL (2-2, 0-1 Region 7-3A): Lost 38-14 to North Hall last week
-- CHEROKEE BLUFF (5-0, 1-0 Region 7-3A): Defeated Gilmer 40-6 last week
-- NOTABLE: Cherokee Bluff leads series 1-0. The Bears won 35-7 in 2020 in Oakwood. ... Last year’s game was closer than the final score. The game was tied at halftime with the Spartans driving for a potential go-ahead score when turnovers doomed them in the second half. ... The key will be if the West Hall defense can rediscover its mojo. After giving up just 28 total points in the first two weeks, the Spartans defense has allowed 40 ppg over their last two. They will need all they can find. ... The Bears come in as the No. 2 offensive team in the state averaging 54.4 ppg. Sr. Bluff RB Jayquan Smith had his best game of the season last week rushing for 255 yards and 4 TDs and now has 3 100-yard games and 11 TDs on the season. QB Sebastian Irons is completing 60 percent of his passes for 7 TDs and just 2 INTs. ... The Bears defense is 5th in Class 3A (34, 6.8 ppg) and has forced 9 turnovers so far. After a hot start, the West Hall offense (83, 20.7 ppg) has managed just 21 points in its last two games, both losses. ... Bluff is 7-2 in its last 9 home games while West Hall is 2-1 on the road in 2021 and 3-1 in its last 4 road games overall. ... The Spartans also are trying to avoid a third-straight 0-2 start to region play.

-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. 
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM WDUN; 93.9 FM WRWH
-- WHITE COUNTY (1-4, 0-1 Region 7-3A): Lost 31-28 to Dawson County last week
-- NORTH HALL (3-2, 1-0 Region 7-3A): Defeated West Hall 38-14 last week
-- NOTABLE: Series tied 24-24-1. North Hall won 34-31 in 2020 in Cleveland. ... Normally home field advantage would play a huge role. But not in the recent history of this series. The teams have split the last 12 meetings overall but in the last 7 matchups the road team is 6-1, including going 4-0 in the last four matchups. ... The Warriors could use any positive stat they can get. They are off to their worst start since 2018 and last week let a 14-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter. And while things may look dire for the Warriors, they started region play 0-2 each of the last three seasons and made the playoffs twice. ... North Hall has righted its ship winning two straight and Kevin Rochester and their wing-T also are back. Rochester, who is 3rd in Class 3A with 681 yards, rushed for 162 yards and 4 TDs last week as they piled up over 300 yards on the ground. ... Look for the offenses, at least based on stats, to decide this one. The Warriors have allowed the 8th-most points in Class 3A (142, 28.4 ppg) while North Hall has given up the 11th-most points (139, 27.8 ppg). ... The Trojans are the No. 1 rushing team in Class 3A averaging 295 yards/game.

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