It was a thin slate of high school football games this Friday, but what the night lacked in quantity it made up for in quality.
Here are five things we learned from Week 9:
1. Buford still knows how to come up big - in all three phases
Buford has played arguably its toughest schedule through seven games in program history this season, and if you know much about who they have scheduled over the past decade, you know what kind of a statement that is. Still, Friday night was likely their toughest competition of the season to date and could very well be the toughest they face all season, as they hosted Mill Creek in a game that set attendance records in Tom Riden Stadium. It provided the Wolves with an opportunity to prove they still possessed what has helped bring them championship after championship over the last 20 years: clutch play in all three phases of the game. The offense hit a pair of long touchdowns with Dylan Wittke connecting with Eli McElwaney in the second quarter and Justice Haynes ripping off a 56-yard scoring run in the third. The defense stepped up as well, forcing two turnovers and stopping a key two-point conversion try in the second half. The biggest plays may have come from special teams, however, as Buford blocked an early Mill Creek field goal and then electrified the sold-out crowd with an 85-yard punt return touchdown by Jordan Allen. The result: a 39-27 win over the Hawks that put Buford (7-0, 2-0) in control of Region 8-7A. Close games often come down to a handful of plays, and Buford has proven it can come up with them at the most opportune times.
2. Jefferson's team is not folding after tragic death of teammate
It had been two weeks since Jefferson's football team took the field when they traveled to Flowery Branch Friday night, but in many ways it felt much longer than that. Just nine days before the game, a tragedy struck the program and community when senior receiver and defensive back Elijah Dewitt was shot and killed outside a Lawrenceville mall. It can be impossible to predict how teenagers will respond to even the routine adversity that a normal football season provides, let alone something as unpredictable or gut-wrenching as losing a teammate. No one would have blamed the Dragons if they had struggled when they returned to the field. Instead, they responded with a strong performance, shutting out Flowery Branch 27-0. Breaking down the game like any normal performance wouldn't do justice to what the team had to fight through to put said performance together. Jefferson's coaches and players showed a mental and emotional resolve that is far more impressive than any football statistics. There are more big games to come for this team, none bigger than this week's showdown with undefeated Loganville at Memorial Stadium, but Friday night was a testament to the fortitude of the Jefferson community.
3. Dawson County has emerged as the leader in the clubhouse in 7-3A
Region 7-3A has been a four-lane pileup all season long. Now, there finally appears to be a leader emerging from the pack in the final month of the season: Dawson County. The Tigers solidified their position as the top dog in the region with a come-from-behind 31-24 win at Wesleyan that moved them to 4-0 in region play. With second-place Lumpkin County off, the night further went in Dawson County's favor when region contender Gilmer was upset by arch-rival Pickens in a 27-10 stunner. Now the Tigers know the region crown will have to go through Dawsonville. They host Gilmer this week and a win would likely set up a region championship showdown with the rival Indians in Dahlonega the following week. Neither of those games will be easy, but it's a great opportunity for a program that has only won one region championship in its history back in 2015. It could be very important for their postseason hopes as well, as Region 7-3A matches up with 8-3A in the first round of the state playoffs. 8-3A is loaded with power programs Stephens County, who beat Dawson County earlier this year, Oconee County, Monroe Area and Hebron Christian. Getting to play that first-round matchup at home and with a BYE week at the end of the regular season to rest up and prepare could make a huge difference for whoever claims the region title.
4. After some low-scoring slugfests, Rabun County's offense reminds the state of its potency
Hopefully, you didn't forget how high-powered Rabun County's offense is capable of being. If you did, you were reminded Friday night. After a month of not cracking the 30-point mark, something very rare for the Rabun County program, the Wildcats finally busted loose in the Granite Bowl against previously unbeaten and number-six ranked Elbert County putting up 41 points in a 41-21 blowout of the Blue Devils. It looked early on like it may be another low-scoring slugfest with Rabun County leading just 14-0 at halftime, but they exploded in the second half, led by senior receiver Jaden Gibson. He hauled in 13 catches for 285 yards and four touchdowns. It was a monster night statistically for Gibson, and it proved to be a historic one as well, as the final of his four scoring catches gave him the all-time Georgia high school football record for career touchdown receptions. The one throwing him the ball, Keegan Stover, had a big night as well with more than 360 yards passing and running back Lang Windham put up more than 100 yards on the ground with a touchdown as well. The Wildcats' defense has had to step up to deliver a few wins this season, but the offense showed it can still explode at any time Friday night.
5. There is going to be a mad scramble for the final two playoff spots in 8-4A
North Oconee is the clear leader in Region 8-4A right now and Walnut Grove has taken sole possession of the number two spot in the standings for the time being. The race for the other two playoff spots, however, is as wide open as it was at the beginning of the season. There are four teams sitting at either 3-2 or 3-3 in region play right now: East Forsyth, Cedar Shoals, Madison County and North Hall. The Broncos appeared to be in control of one of the playoff spots, but they were blown out by North Oconee Friday night in Bogart. The result was not overly surprising, but it did knock East Forsyth right back into the fray. North Hall revived their postseason hopes as they held off Chestatee in the annual "Battle of Highway 60" 28-21. Madison County, meanwhile, muddied up the standings with an upset win over Cedar Shoals. East Forsyth and North Hall can both say they control their own destiny for a playoff berth. The Broncos host both Madison County and North Hall in the final three weeks and the Trojans host Cedar Shoals on October 28. All of those games will be critical and any one could define the season as far as the playoff races are concerned. No matter what happens, it will provide for some dramatic football down the stretch.
OCTOBER 14 SCORES
Bethlehem Christian 41, Riverside Preparatory 7*
Buford 39, Mill Creek 27*
Commerce 49, Athens Christian 24
Dawson County 31, Wesleyan 24*
Gainesville 34, Habersham Central 0*
Jefferson 27, Flowery Branch 0*
North Hall 28, Chestatee 21*
North Oconee 48, East Forsyth 0*
Rabun County 41, Elbert County 21*
Towns County 39, Johnson 21
Union County 56, Providence Christian 49*
Walnut Grove 28, Cherokee Bluff 25*
White County 56, West Hall 14*
(Banks County, East Hall, East Jackson, Jackson County, Lakeview Academy, Lanier Christian, Lumpkin County, and North Forsyth all were off this week.)
(* -- denotes region contest)