Saturday July 20th, 2024 7:49AM

Week 9 notebook: Region winners (maybe?), clutch kickers, and Buford an underdog at home (wow)

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Week 8 saw some interesting developments, and movement, among the eight regions that house the 26 Northeast Georgia-area teams covered by AccessWDUN.

You can check out our Region Recap story here.

Suffice it to say, Week 9 could be make-or-make for several area teams as far as their playoff chances go. Habersham Central, Flowery Branch, North Hall, Cherokee Bluff, Chestatee, West Hall, and White County all are in dire need of wins this week to stay alive.

Buford, Gainesville, Jefferson, East Forsyth, Dawson County, Union County, Rabun County, and Commerce all can help cement playoff spots with wins.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS...(uh, not yet)

The Georgia High School Football Daily released an interesting look at all the regions in the state this week. With just four weeks left in the regular season, playoff positioning and just fighting for spots in general begins to get serious, as we talked about above.

The Maxwell Ratings, a computer system, which takes things into account like strength of schedule, common opponents, plus many, many other factors, projected every region champion along with their numerical chances of winning the title. 

Three Northeast Georgia area teams were projected to win their regions, and none of them were No. 1 Buford. Interesting.

Looking at just the regions where area teams are located:

In Region 8-7A, Mill Creek, not Buford, was given an 81.9% chance to win the region. I’m guessing that explains the Hawks being an 11-point favorite over the Wolves ON THE ROAD tonight at Tom Riden Stadium? We’ll discuss that below.

In Region 8-6A, No. 5 Gainesville, which has rolled over everyone in its path so far, was a 95% favorite to win the region. Region-unbeaten North Forsyth, however, figures to be in the mix when the two meet in two weeks at City Park.

Dawson County was the pick in a wide-open Region 7-3A but was slotted with just a 45.7% chance of success -- the lowest of any team in any classification in the state. That could have something to do with the region-unbeaten Tigers having to finish against the other three top four teams down the stretch. Lumpkin County is one of those teams so it will be a fun ride to the end in this region.

In Class A Division I, unbeaten and third-ranked Rabun County was given a 74.7% to win the region. They have a huge game tonight in the Granite Bowl against No. 6 Elbert County to kick things off. But even if the Wildcats win tonight, they still have Commerce left so it will go down to the final week.

SHE’S CLUTCH! How many times have coaches preached about special teams with games on the line? Just ask East Forsyth and Cherokee Bluff, who both lost games in the final moments on missed field goals. 

Commerce has been on the other end of that spectrum. Junior kicker Ivy Tolbert, standing all 5-foot-7 of her, may be the most clutch kicker in North Georgia. Last week she kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime to give the Tigers a 24-21 victory over Social Circle. It was her second game-winning field goal of the season. She booted a 27-yarder to beat Banks County earlier in the year.

Tolbert is no stranger to pressure. She helped lead the Lady Tigers soccer team to the Class A Public state finals last season, pouring in over 100 goals on the season.

So far in 2022, she is 3-for-3 on field goals and it may not be the last time she is called on to save the day.


As always, there are more than a few interesting lines this week involving Northeast Georgia area teams.

No way! Really?

Make no mistake, Class 6A No. 5 Gainesville (6-0, 2-0, Region 8-6A) has been as dominating as any team in the area to this point. The Red Elephants come into Friday’s showdown with Habersham Central as a 47-point favorite. Wow..No way!

I guess I get it. The Raiders (2-4, 0-2 Region 8-6A) have lost two straight and seem on a downward trend. But that seems like a ton of points against a Raiders team that can score when it is clicking. It REALLY does.

Despite the unblemished record, Gainesville has only beaten one team by more than 28 points -- Apalachee, 55-7. The Wildcats were severely handicapped with a plethora of key injuries when the two teams’ met.

The Raiders are much better than their record, having led in five of their six games in the fourth quarter. They also will be fighting for their playoff lives.

Those last two factors make us think this will be much closer than most expect

Shocking line of the week

No. 2 Mill Creek (-11) at No. 1 Buford AT TOM RIDEN STADIUM!

My computer was so shocked it resisted just typing that out!

I can almost see why, but not really. Mill Creek (6-0, 1-0 Region 8-7A) leads Class 7A in scoring. The Hawks have played, and beaten, three ranked Class 7A teams already this season.

But Buford (6-0, 1-0 Region 8-7A) is still Buford. The Wolves have the third-best defense in Class 7A and still know how to run the ball down most teams throats.

The thing that makes this shocking, in our opinion, is that Buford has won 90.3 percent of its home games overall since moving to Tom Riden Stadium in 1990. (If you want to read that again for effect, we'll give you a moment). .. The Wolves have won 23 straight games at home against Georgia opponents, all classifications.

The last Georgia team to beat them at home was Bainbridge in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Class 5A playoffs. The last team to beat at home in the regular season was Deshaun Watson and Gainesville back in 2012. They are 71-1 in their last 72 games against Georgia opponents at Tom Riden going back to that Gainesville loss.

Mill Creek certainly has the talent to win the game. But 11-point favorites against arguably the hardest team to beat at home in the state?

Someone needs to check if that computer has been updated lately. 

“Just shocking, Cotton!”

Scattered, smothered...and will cover!

We went 3-1 in our COVER picks last week moving us to 8-3 overall for the season. We are well above .500 and with another solid week like that one we could be .750 for the season. Not bad...

This week also was challenging with several mismatches on the schedule. However, we braved to take on the Buford-Mill Creek matchup in a battle of top-two teams in the state’s largest classification. Here goes...

Buford (+11) vs. Mill Creek at home: It’s probably the biggest game in the state, maybe even in the Southeast so why not start with this one. There are so many on-field storylines you could pick with this one as to why both teams can or will win this game.

But basically that’s just an eye-popping line. The computer that put that one together obviously has never seen Buford play at home.

Just go back and read above to reexamine the particulars. But the one that stands out the most is Tom Riden Stadium. 

Buford is 71-1 at Tom Riden against Georgia opponents over the past decade. That’s all we needed to know. It’s a toss-up game all around so TAKE THE POINTS! Buford will COVER!

Rabun County (-7) at Elbert County: The Wildcats are back again in our cover section. We like them and they have been good to us so far. 

Rabun County has never lost to the Blue Devils (6-0) and has won every game by an average of 37.1 ppg. So this seems on the surface to be an easy one. It isn’t.

This Blue Devils team is solid and is led by RB Quan Moss, who is 2nd in rushing in Class A D1 and 7th overall in the state with 1,170 yards and 15 TDs. Power rushing attacks have been an issue for Rabun over the years.

But with QB Keegan Stover and WR Jaden Gibson (see below) and a defense that is underrated (9th in Class A D1 14.7 ppg), the Wildcats should have enough to hold off the Blue Devils, even in the Granite Bowl. It should be an outstanding game but Rabun’s firepower will prevail. Take Rabun County to COVER the 7 points.

Habersham Central (+47) vs. Gainesville: As I mentioned above, the Raiders are much, much better than their record and they are fighting for their playoff lives at this point.

This just seems like too many points given the stakes for Habersham Central. Yes, Gainesville has been especially tough at home this season and should win.

But we’ll take the points for Habersham Central to COVER in a game that could be closer than many expect.

Union County (-13) vs. Providence Christian: The Union County offense is back to its old ways, and that’s going to be tough for The Storm. After scoring 20 points in their first two games, the Panthers have exploded for 181 points in their last 4 games (45.2 ppg). Junior QB Caiden Tanner has been the catalyst. He is 4th in Class 2A (1,211 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT) and accounted for 5 total TDs last week. Providence Christian is giving up 30.8 ppg on the season.

It looks like a mismatch on paper and it should be on the field as well. Take Union County and don’t worry about the points, which are way too few in our opinion. Union County will COVER.

AREA TOP PERFORMERS: Rabun County Sr. WR Jaden Gibson extended his lead atop the state receiving stats to nearly 300 yards after a 120-yard performance last week in a win over St. Francis. Gibson now has 1,078 yards on the season, which puts him just 229 yards from Stan Rome’s all-time state record of 4,477 yards.

Gibson’s teammate, Keegan Stover, remains second in the state overall in passing with 2,034 yards. He is just 92 yards behind state leader Tate Morris of  McIntosh (Class 5A) who has 2,126 yards.

On the rushing list, Banks County’s Andrew Shockley moved up to third in Class 2A with 1,065 yards despite the Leopards loss last week. He is 15th overall in the state. Commerce’s Jaiden Daniels is 24th overall and has moved up to 3rd in Class A D1 with 939 yards. Buford’s Justice Haynes has climbed to 33rd overall and seventh in Class 7A with 870 yards. He is only 239 yards behind classification-leader Josiah Allen of Wheeler.

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