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Saturday January 28th, 2023 12:27PM

5 Things: What we learned from Week 11 of high school football

By Caleb Hutchins Reporter

Region championships were won and some great games made for arguably the best week yet of the high school football season.

Here are five things we learned in Week 11:

1. Gainesville shows resilience in capturing region title

It would have been hard to imagine what exactly Gainesville had to prove in their Region 8-6A title showdown against North Forsyth Friday night. The Red Elephants were heavily favored after running through the region slate with little-to-no trouble and they had beaten teams rated higher than the Raiders earlier in the year. However, there was one thing they had not shown yet this year that they ended up needing Friday: the ability to come back from adversity. North Forsyth tried their best to spoil the party at City Park Stadium, jumping out to a 21-7 lead in the third quarter. It was the largest deficit Gainesville (9-0, 5-0) had faced all season, presenting for the first time all year the question of how they would respond. They answered the bell, scoring 27 unanswered points to run to a 34-21 win and their first region crown since 2013. Much of the thanks from Red Elephants fans can be directed to Darius Cannon who sparked the run with a kickoff return for a touchdown and then gave Gainesville the lead on a  There will no doubt be more challenges to come in the state playoffs, but Gainesville has put together as complete a resume as possible during this renaissance season.

2. Dawson County's defense looks dominant heading into playoffs

There may not have been a unit anywhere in North Georgia that looked more impressive Friday night than Dawson County's defense. In a de facto Region 7-3A championship game against arch-rival Lumpkin County, the Tigers were tasked with slowing down arguably the region's best offense with explosive playmakers like Cooper Scott and Mason Sullens. Not only did Dawson slow them down, but they completely dominated the game, turning the much-anticipated showdown into a 38-10 Tigers romp that delivered them just their second region championship in program history. Lumpkin County was only able to tally 136 yards of total offense, with only 32 of those coming on the ground. As if that wasn't enough, the Dawson County (8-2, 6-0) defense score more points themselves than they gave up to the Indians as Kade Moledor and Tucker Caine each returned interceptions for touchdowns. Considering that Lumpkin's lone touchdown of the night came on a pick-six of their own, that means the Tigers' defense outscored the Indians' offense 14-3. If they can play that kind of defense in the postseason, there could be big things in store for this Dawson County team.

3. Pettus, East Jackson prove patience pays off in year four of build

You can't call Cameron Pettus' build at East Jackson over the last four years quick or flashy, but one thing you can call it is successful. The Eagles beat Providence Christian on the road 41-34 Friday night in a game that probably didn't light up many people's phones around North Georgia, but meant the world to a program that has struggled as much as any over the last 15 years. The win clinched a playoff spot for East Jackson, sending them to the postseason for the first time since 2009 and also securing their highest win total (5) since that '09 season. It's been a long wander through the desert since that 10-2 campaign in what was just the school's third year of existence. In the nine years between 2009 and Pettus' first year in Nicholson in 2019, the program tallied just 15 total wins. Pettus has sought to change the direction of the program and it has been a slow and steady process, but it's now paying off. The Eagles aren't backing their way into the postseason. They've won 5 of their last 6 games and were it not for a heartbreaking loss at Union County two weeks ago, they'd be vying for a home playoff seed when they host Athens Academy to close the regular season. In an era where most believe a coach has to turn a program around quickly if he's going to do it at all, Cameron Pettus and East Jackson are showing that sometimes the long game can still work.

4. Commerce will be a road seed, but they won't be a fun one to play

Commerce is going to enter the state playoffs as the number-three seed out of Region 8-1A Division 1. They'll have to go on the road to either Bowdon or more likely Mt. Zion of Carrollton to open their postseason. However, this is not the kind of three seed that you would want to have to face in the first round of the playoffs. Just ask Rabun County. The third-ranked Wildcats were heavily favored over the Tigers as they looked to seal up a perfect regular season and the region championship, but Commerce gave them all they could handle. Rabun escaped with a 27-22 win, but Commerce left the mountains with another example of what they're capable of when they play well. Of course, the first round matchup will be tough, but tough competition is nothing new for this Tigers team. They've played playoff-level competition in virtually every game this season. While their record is just 6-4, they've reached that record with no real weak points in their schedule. They can be stingy on defense and have a three-headed monster in head coach Mark Hollars' option offense with Jaiden Daniels, Jakari Huff and Ty'Sean Wiggins. They will also have a BYE in the final week of the regular season to rest up for whoever their first-round opponent is. That opponent had better be ready for a fight.

5. Buford runs to region title, shows no problem moving to 7A

There was nothing dramatic or worrisome about Buford's closeout of the Region 8-7A championship Friday night. The Wolves drove down to Lawrenceville and dismantled Mountain View early, cruising to a 56-7 win in the game they needed to lock up the title. That lack of drama, however, is telling as to how easy the Wolves have made the transition to the state's highest classification look. Outside of a marquee showdown with third-ranked Mill Creek earlier in the year, Buford (9-0, 4-0) has run through their new 7A region in a manner not dissimilar to what they used to do in their days in lower classifications. They've beaten Collins Hill, Dacula and Mountain View by a combined score of 129-17. While the Central Gwinnett game in the final week of the regular season will not have any postseason implications for the Wolves, it's hard to imagine a scenario where that game plays out much differently to those other three. The state playoffs will be likely the toughest Buford has ever had to navigate, but they have established themselves as one of the clear favorites in the 7A field, and that is something that was far from a certainty entering the season.

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Buford football, Commerce football, East Jackson football, Dawson County football, Gainesville football
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