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Saturday January 28th, 2023 12:53PM

5 Things: What we learned from the final week of the high school football regular season

By Caleb Hutchins Reporter

While very little was on the line in terms of playoff seeding or region championships, there were some interesting takeaways from Friday night's action.

Here are five things we learned from Week 12:

1. Gainesville and North Forsyth have no hangover after emotional region title game

The Region 8-6A championship showdown between Gainesville and North Forsyth was a thrilling football game and its outcome had plenty of emotional weight for both teams. For the Red Elephants (10-0, 6-0) it was elation, coming from behind to snag its first region title in nearly a decade in front of its home crowd. For the Raiders (7-3, 5-1), it was heartbreak after surrendering a 14-point second half lead in what could have been one of the biggest wins in program history. With both teams' playoff seeding already secured entering Week 12, it would have been reasonable to expect one or both teams to have some letdown in their warm-up for the playoffs. That did not happen. Gainesville romped Jackson County and North Forsyth blew past Apalachee by a combined score of 95-0. Both teams were heavily favored in those games, but the dominating scores indicate two teams that are ready to move on after their big Week 11 clash, and that is important with the playoffs now looming.

2. Just because a team has been eliminated from the playoffs, don't expect them to roll over

Some teams in North Georgia regions have come to learn over the past couple of weeks that teams who have already been knocked out of the playoffs do indeed still show up to play. If you don't believe that, ask East Forsyth and Gilmer. The Broncos learned the lesson the hard way two weeks ago when a 1-7 Chestatee team that was already eliminated in the 8-4A playoff race jumped out to a big early lead and upset them 32-28. This past Friday, it was Gilmer who had their hearts broken by a team already out of the postseason when White County (4-6, 2-4) stormed back from an 18-point halftime deficit to stun the Bobcats in Ellijay 38-35. For both East Forsyth and Gilmer, those upsets ended their chances of making the playoffs themselves. It sounds like a coach's cliche, but the games are played for a reason and even teams who already know they aren't going to the playoffs still have seniors who don't want to end their careers on a sour note. If you're not prepared, they will be more than happy to make you join them on the outside of the playoff field.

3. Region 7-3A was wild down to the final seconds of the season

In the preseason, Region 7-3A was viewed as arguably the most wide-open region in Northeast Georgia. That turned out to be true. While Dawson County rolled to the region title with a perfect region record, the rest of the playoff seeding came down to the final weeks with even 7-2 Lumpkin County not technically having their playoff spot locked up entering their regular season finale. While they ended up securing that spot with no drama (they blew out West Hall 55-7), the same could not be said for the other teams in the region. Wesleyan was knocked off at home by Pickens, giving the Dragons the third playoff spot and making the Wolves go back to the locker room checking their phones desperately hoping Gilmer would lose to a struggling White County team. The news was great for the Bobcats, considering they had an 18-point halftime lead over the Warriors. Then White County entered the chat and proceeded to storm back and upset Gilmer, knocking them out of the playoffs and giving Wesleyan the biggest favor any team in North Georgia got all night. It was an impossible-to-predict finish to an impossible-to-predict playoff race. Say what you will about Region 7-3A, but you certainly can not call it boring.

4. Seeding once again makes big differences in first-round playoff draws

Most of the hype around region races is centered around who will win the region championship and who will earn the four playoff spots. Those are certainly the most important things, but the battles for seeding often get overlooked. Despite that, they can often shape the entire landscape of a playoff bracket and have major implications on who can make it to Atlanta in December. Of course, region championship races can factor into that as well. When Gainesville came back to beat North Forsyth two weeks ago, they not only earned a region championship, but avoided a first round matchup with private school powerhouse Blessed Trinity, who the Raiders will now welcome into Coal Mountain this week. In Region 8-2A, East Jackson (5-5, 2-3) lost a close game at Union County (7-3, 3-2) a few weeks ago that could have moved them from the fourth seed up to the third. No big deal? Wrong. The Panthers now travel to take on Model while the Eagles will have to go to a Rockmart team that has been ranked in the top seven in 2A almost all season. Some teams, like Lumpkin County and Commerce, were fighting for a home playoff seed in the final weeks and home teams have won more than 70 percent of first-round playoff games in Georgia over the last several years. Like down-ballot races in an election, sometimes battles for seeding can mean as much as the top showdowns.

5. Buford and Jefferson show no signs of slowing down entering playoffs

While Gainesville and North Forsyth got right back up from an emotional region title game to look dominant in the final week of the regular season, Buford and Jefferson looked equally impressive in meaningless regular season finales Friday night. The Wolves and Dragons had both already locked up region titles the week before and knew their seeding entering this week's playoffs. Regardless, head coaches Bryant Appling and Travis Noland did not use the situation as an excuse to take it easy on the final week. Instead, Buford (10-0, 5-0 8-7A) drove down to Lawrenceville and steamrolled Central Gwinnett 49-7 while Jefferson (8-2, 6-0 8-5A) ran past a playoff-contending Eastside team at home 35-7. It was dominating regular season closeouts for teams that appear to be playing their best ball right now. Of course, the Wolves have looked elite all year, going 10-0 in their first season in Class 7A. The Dragons appear to have gotten better every week after a 2-2 start to Noland's first season in Jefferson. Nobody has come within 10 points of Jefferson since September 23. Neither team shows any signs of letting up entering this week's playoff openers. Peachtree Ridge and Cass should be ready to see both teams at their best.

SCORES FOR FRIDAY, Nov. 4

Athens Academy 34, East Jackson 7*
Banks County 40, Providence Christian 39*
Buford 49, Central Gwinnett 7*
Cherokee Christian 21, Lanier Christian 7*
East Forsyth 28, North Hall 21*
Flowery Branch 46, Heritage, Conyers 0*
Gainesville 51, Jackson County 0*
Jefferson 35, Eastside 7*
Lakeview Academy 52, Loganville Christian 34
Lincoln County 35, Towns County 8*
Lumpkin County 55, West Hall 7*
Madison County 42, East Hall 7*
Midtown 36, Johnson 7
North Forsyth 44, Apalachee 0*
North Oconee 42, Cherokee Bluff 7*
Shiloh 42, Habersham Central 9*
Walnut Grove 35, Chestatee 14*
White County 38, Gilmer 35*

SCORES FOR THURSDAY, Nov. 3

Fellowship Christian 35, Union County 14*

  • Associated Categories: Sports, High School Sports, Friday Game Night
  • Associated Tags: High school football, Lumpkin County football, Buford football, Gainesville football, North Forsyth football, Jefferson football, White County football
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