Wednesday October 4th, 2023 8:34AM

ICYMI: Week 9 previews — Buford-Mill Creek, Rabun-Elbert highlight crucial night around NEGa area

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

If last was week was moving week for teams looking to make the playoffs, then this week may be desperation week for several Northeast Georgia teams.

Despite the smallest schedule of the season with just 13 games on tap involving area teams, it could be a defining week for some. Teams like Habersham Central, Flowery Branch, Cherokee Bluff, Chestatee North Hall, White County, and West Hall all have supremely important region games on Friday, with the fate of the playoffs squarely on their shoulders.

But the biggest matchup of the night will have Class 7A No. 1 Buford playing host to No. 2 Mill Creek at Tom Riden Stadium with the winner grabbing early control in Region 8-7A. Both teams are loaded but the fun matchup will be the Wolves vaunted defense against a high-flying Hawks offense.

Right behind that one is Class A Division 1 No. 3-ranked Rabun County traveling to the always-tough Granite Bowl to take on No. 6 Elbert County in both teams' Region 8-A Division 1 opener.

East Forsyth, the biggest surprise in Region 8-4A and Class 4A, will head to Bogart to see if the Broncos can take down No. 2 North Oconee County. Also in 8-4A, North Hall and Chestatee meet at War Eagle Stadium with the loser possibly out of any playoff scenarios.

Dawson County will try to keep the top spot in Region 7-3A taking on Wesleyan at Tiger Stadium. Union County looks to stay unbeaten in Region 8-2A at home against Providence Christian.

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

(Banks County, East Hall, East Jackson, Jackson County, Lakeview Academy, Lanier Christian, Lumpkin County, and North Forsyth all are off this week.)

(Games listed in alphabetical order of visiting team)
Records: Knights (7-0, 1-0 GIAA Region 4-3A); Eagles (0-6, 0-1 GIAA Region 4-3A)
Last week: Bethlehem beat Lakeview Academy, 24-7; Riverside lost 56-0 to George Walton.
Where: Maginnis Field, Gainesville
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The knights have been dominating on both sides all season. They lead GIAA in defense allowing just 87 points (12.4 ppg) and are averaging 28.4 ppg. Riverside has continued to struggle. They have scored the fewest points in GIAA (57, 9.5 ppg) while giving the most points in GIAA (367, 52.3 ppg). Riverside also is working on a 13-game losing streak.
What to watch for: Can the Eagles break their long losing streak? They will have to find some offensive help for RB Rodney Leon Robinson, who has 436 yards and 2 TDs for the Eagles. They will have to find a way to stop BCA RB Joshua Adams, who has 749 yards (107 ypc) and 11 TDs, and is 3rd in GIAA in rushing.

Records: Tigers (5-2, 0-0 Region 8-A Division 1); Eagles(3-3, 0-0 Region 8-A Division 1)
Last week: Commerce beat Social Circle, 24-21, in OT; Athens Christian beat Oglethorpe County, 49-35.
Where: Eagle Field, Athens
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Commerce leads the series 12-2. The Tigers have won three straight over the Eagles by a combined score of 122-7. The last Eagles win came in 2016. It won't be easy for the Eagles this time around either. Commerce is 4-0 on the road this season. They also are 4-1 in games decided by 5 points or less. PK Ivy Tolbert is a big reason why. She kicked a 26-yard field goal to beat Social Circle; is 3-for-3 on field goals this season; and she made a 27-yard game-winner to beat Banks County earlier in the year. Athens Christian RB Antonio Finch had a huge game last week with 299 all-purpose yards with 4 TDs.
What to watch for: The Commerce offense vs. the Eagles defense. Commerce has scored the fewest points (169, 24.1 ppg) in the region but also has played arguably the toughest schedule. The Eagles have allowed the most points (206, 34.3 ppg). Look for RBs Jaiden Daniels, who is 24th overall in the state and has moved up to 3rd in Class A D1 with 939 yards, and Jaccari Huff, and FB Tyshaun Wiggins, to have big games for the Tigers.

Records: Tigers (5-2, 3-0 Region 7-3A); Wolves (3-4, 2-1 Region 7-3A)
Last week: Dawson County beat Pickens, 27-0; Wesleyan beat White County, 22-17.
Where: Henderson Stadium, Norcross
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Wesleyan leads the series 7-2. This will be the first meeting since 2007. The Wolves have won 4 straight going back to 2005. The last Dawson County win came in 2004 in Norcross. These were the top two projected teams in the preseason. Wesleyan battled some early-season injuries but has gotten healthy and has won two straight. Dawson County has been dominating in region play, outscoring their first three region opponents 114-7, the last two by shutout. This will feature two of the region’s best LBs in Wesleyan’s Trent Debow, who is 3rd in Class 3A with 77 tackles (12.8 tpg), and Dawson County’s Kade Moledor, who has really picked up the pace with back-to-back double-digit tackle games. Moledor (49 tackles) has 8 TFL, 4 sacks, and has recovered a fumble.
What to watch for: The Wesleyan offense vs. the Tigers defense. Dawson County has allowed just 1 TD in its first three region games while the Wolves are averaging just 21.5 ppg. However, Wolves QB Ben Brown leads the region in passing (1,079 yards, 13 TD, 4 INT) and his favorite target is Jamie Tremble, who leads the region in receiving with 518 yards on 32 catches with 7 TD. But the Tigers' trio of Matt Bennett, Christian Webb, and Kenny Nelson have 2 INTs each and the Tigers have picked off 9 passes on the season.

Records: Broncos (5-1, 3-1 Region 8-4A); Titans, ranked 2nd in Class 4A (6-0, 4-0 Region 8-4A)
Last week: East Forsyth beat Cherokee Bluff, 14-7; North Oconee beat Cedar Shoals, 55-12.
Where: Titan Stadium, Watkinsville
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The Titans have been as dominating as any team in the state. They have outscored their first 6 opponents 242-45. No one has scored more than 13 in any game vs. the Titans. North Oconee’s Khalil Barnes may be the best player in the region. Last week he had 8 catches for 142 yards and 2 TDs, scored a rushing TD, and picked off a pass. The 2nd-year Broncos have been the surprise team in the classification. They lead 4A in defense, allowing just 31 points (5.1 ppg) and are tied for 2nd in the region.
What to watch for: The North Oconee offense vs. the Broncos defense. Something will definitely have to give. The Broncos have not allowed more than 14 points in any game this year. But East Forsyth has not played an offense as good and balanced as the Titans, who are 7th in 4A averaging 40.3 ppg behind the most experienced group in the region with QB Max Wilson, RB Dominic Elder, and Barnes and a good offensive line. They are averaging 54.7 ppg in region play.

Records: Raiders (2-4, 0-2, Region 8-6A); Red Elephants, ranked fifth in Class 6A (6-0, 2-0, Region 8-6A)
Last week: Habersham Central was off; Gainesville was off.
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
Radio: 94.5 FM The Lake
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Gainesville leads the series 16-12. The Red Elephants have won 3 of the last 4 meetings and won 4 straight at City Park. The last Raiders win in Gainesville was in 1990. It’s a huge game for the Raiders. With losses already to Lanier and Jackson County, and North Forsyth next week, Habersham cannot afford another loss to have any chance at the playoffs. For all the talk of the explosive Gainesville offense, which is 10th in 6A (227, 37.8 ppg) it’s the Red Elephants defense that perhaps has been the early catalyst. They are 7th in 6A allowing just 83 points (13.8 ppg) and have 29 TFL and forced 9 turnovers on the season. Habersham has had trouble holding onto the ball at times with 7 turnovers and is averaging just 20.1 ppg.
What to watch for: The Gainesville offense vs. the Raiders defense. Habersham has given up 21 or more in all but one game. Gainesville is averaging over 400 yards/game on offense with just 2 turnovers all season. The Raiders will have to find a way to slow down the Red Elephants to have any chance.

Records: Dragons (4-2, 2-0 Region 8-5A); Falcons (2-5, 0-3 Region 8-5A)
Last week: Jefferson was off; Branch lost 20-17 to Winder-Barrow.
Where: Falcons Field, Flowery Branch
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Jefferson leads series 4-0 and all four have come since 2016. The Falcons have dropped 5 in a row, their longest streak since their inaugural season (2002, 0-10), and sit in last place. However, they are just one game out of fourth place and a playoff spot. But they already have losses to Clarke Central, Eastside, and Winder-Barrow so they are in a must-win scenario the rest of the way. They also have the toughest finish left with No. 4 Loganville next week. After allowing 75 points in their first two games, the Dragons have given up just 16 points since (4.0 ppg) with two shutouts. Offensively they are led by RB Sammy Brown (737 yards, 9 TD, 4-100 yard games) and QB Max Aldridge (851 yards, 9 TD, 3 INT passing; 121 yards, 2 TD rushing).
What to watch for: How Jefferson responds this week following the death of leading receiver Elijah DeWitt last week. The Dragons had begun to put things together on both sides of the ball. The Branch offense, after scoring 48 points (24.0 ppg) in its first two games, has scored just 78 points (13.6 ppg) during the losing streak.

Records: Hawks, ranked 3rd in Class 7A (6-0, 1-0 Region 8-7A); Wolves ranked No. 1 in Class 7A (6-0, 1-0 Region 8-7A)
Last week: Mill Creek was off; Buford was off.
Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
Radio: WDUN AM 550
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. It may be the first-ever meeting, but it’s already a rivalry of sorts as the schools border each other. This is also one that has been penciled in on both sides since the spring and there will be great matchups all over the field all night. Buford is 17th in offense (196, 32.6 ppg) while the Hawks are 16th in defense (118, 19.6 ppg). Buford’s Justice Haynes has climbed to 33rd overall and seventh in Class 7A with 870 yards rushing. He is only 239 yards behind classification-leader Josiah Allen of Wheeler. But the Wolves are averaging just 122 yards/game passing.
What to watch for: Mill Creek offense vs. the Wolves defense. This will be the marquee matchup of a pair of powerful units. The Hawks lead 7A in scoring with 279 points (46.5 ppg) behind RB Cameron Robinson, who has 716 yards and is averaging 119.3 yards/game with 9 TDs rushing. The Wolves are 2nd in defense (47, 7.8 ppg) in Class 7A and yielding just 70 yards/game on the ground. Something will have to give.

Records: Trojans (2-5, 2-3 Region 8-4A); War Eagles (1-5, 1-3 Region 8-4A)
Last week: North Hall lost 33-24 to Madison County; Chestatee was off.
Where: War Eagle Stadium, Gainesville
Radio: 102.9 FM WDUN
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: North Hall leads the series 18-2 and has won 4 straight. The last Chestatee win came in 2017. The two teams have met every year since the War Eagles began playing in 2002. This is the first time meeting as region foes since 2015 and neither team can afford another loss and stay in the playoff race. While the Trojans have dominated the series both teams come into this one struggling on both sides of the ball. North Hall is battling several key injuries on offense while the War Eagles are young and still in some growing pains. However, the bigger issues are on defense, where both are in the bottom third in Class 4A. Chestatee is giving up 40. 3 ppg while North Hall is yielding 31.1 ppg
What to watch for: The offenses. Chestatee has scored just 36 points during a 3-game losing streak (12.0 ppg) while North Hall has scored just 45 points in its last three games (15.0 ppg). But with struggling defenses look for both teams to put up some points in what could be an entertaining shootout.

Records: Nickname (2-4, 0-1 Region 8-2A); Panthers (5-1, 1-0 Region 8-2A)
Last week: Providence Christian lost 48-14 to Athens Academy; Union County beat Banks County, 42-7
Where: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. A huge trap game for the Panthers, who finish with the other top teams East Jackson, Athens Academy, and Fellowship Christian. A win would keep them tied atop the standings. The Storm have had trouble against good defenses. They’re averaging 19.6 ppg overall but have scored just 30 points (7.5 ppg) in their four losses, all to teams with a winning record. The Panthers are 5th in defense in 2A allowing just 11.0 ppg and Union has won 4 straight, its longest streak since 2019.
What to watch for: The Providence defense vs. the Union County offense. The Storm are giving up 30.8 ppg while the Panthers have worked out the bugs in Michael Perry’s spread offense. After scoring 20 points in their first two games, they have exploded for 181 points in their last 4 games (45.2 ppg). QB Caiden Tanner has been the catalyst. The junior is 4th in Class 2A (1,211 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT) and accounted for 5 total TDs last week. He is just 100 yards off the classification lead.

Records: Wildcats, ranked 3rd in Class A Division 1 (7-0, 0-0 Region 8-A Division 1); Blue Devils, ranked 6th in Class A D1 (7-0, 0-0 Region 8-A Division 1)
Last week: Rabun County beat St. Francis, 17-14; Elbert County beat Whitefield Academy, 35-24.
Where: The Granite Bowl, Elberton
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Rabun County leads series 6-0. All six meetings have been since 2016. The Wildcats have dominated winning by an average of 37.1 ppg. The closest margin was a 35-7 Wildcats’ win in 2017. It may appear as if this will be the de facto region title game. But Rabun closes out the season against Commerce, who figures to have a big say in who will win the region. Elbert County RB Quan Moss is 2nd in rushing in Class A D1 and 7th overall in the state with 1,170 yards and 15 TDs. He  had 190 yards and 3 TDs last week. The Rabun defense is 9th in Class A D1 yielding 14.7 ppg while the Elbert offense is 8th averaging 32.8 ppg.
What to watch for: The Rabun offense vs. the Blue Devils defense. The Wildcats are 2nd in scoring with 243 points (34.7 ppg) while Elbert is 19th in defense giving up 19.5 ppg. Rabun’s Keegan Stover leads Class A D1 in passing with 2,034 yards, 23 TD, and no INTs so far. Jaden Gibson leads the state in receiving with 1,078 yards and 15 TDs. Whichever unit wins this battle should prevail.

Records: Indians (1-5, Region 8-A Division 2); Knights (0-6, non-region)
Last week: Towns County lost 42-13 to Aquinas; Johnson was off.
Where: Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium, Oakwood
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. This will be the return of Towns County coach Jason Roquemore, who coached the Knights for seven seasons (2012-18). Both teams come in struggling with Johnson still trying to break a program-worst 28-game losing streak. The Indians have dropped four straight after a promising start to the season.
What to watch for: Which offense can break through? The Knights have scored just 63 points (10.5 ppg) while the Indians have scored just 75 points (12.5 ppg).

Records: Warriors (5-1, 3-1 Region 8-4A); Bears (2-5, 2-3 Region 8-4A)
Last week: Walnut Grove beat East Hall 35-8; Cherokee Bluff lost 14-7 to East Forsyth.
Where: Yonah Field, Flowery Branch
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The Warriors, like East Forsyth, are one of the surprises of 8-4A. They already have their most wins since 2014 (6) and could put themselves in line for just their second-ever postseason with a win. The Bears, meanwhile, are on a 3-game losing streak and need a win to stay alive for a playoff berth. Offense has been the issue for Bluff. After averaging 33.7 ppg in its first 4 games, Bluff has scored just 38 points (12.6 ppg) during its losing streak. The Warriors are 8th in 4A in defense (83, 13.8 ppg). The Bluff defense has not allowed more than 21 points in any of its last five games.
What to watch for: The Bluff offense vs. the Warriors defense. Can the Bears get back to their early season production? QB Asher Wilson and WR Max Eubanks were a formidable duo early on and will need to reconnect to go with a running game that is averaging nearly 200 yards/game.

Records: Warriors (2-4, 0-2 Region 7-3A); Spartans (1-5, 0-2 Region 7-3A)
Last week: White County lost 22-17 to Wesleyan; West Hall 
Where: West Hall Stadium, Oakwood
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: White County leads the series 15-9. The two teams have played every season but two since 2006 with the Warriors winning 13 of 14 times in that span, including the last five. The last West Hall win came in 2016 at home. Offense has been the issue for the Spartans against the Warriors getting shut out each of the past three games in the series. Both teams already are in playoff mode as they probably need to win out to have any chance at the playoffs. The loser may be all but eliminated. Both teams have battled injuries most of the year but the Warriors are getting healthier.
What to watch for: Both offenses.The Spartans have scored the 4th-fewest points in Class 3A (54, 9.0 ppg). White County is averaging just 21.3 ppg. But the Spartans defense has allowed 175 points (43.7 ppg) during a 4-game losing streak.

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