Friday December 9th, 2022 3:05PM

1st round previews: Dozen teams begin quest for state titles

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

A dozen Northeast Georgia-area teams in the Georgia High School Association, GIAA, and GAPPS will get their quests for state titles under way this weekend.

However, for the first the GHSA will hold scheduled first round games on Saturday to help alleviate a referee shortage around the state. Classes 7A, 5A, and 3A will play on Saturday. The rest of the classifications will kickoff on Friday, as will the GIAA and GAPPS leagues.

Buford, which has won three state titles in Classes 5A and 6A, is now in Class 7A and will play host to Peachtree Ridge on Saturday at 1 p.m. trying to add to their record of winning state titles in every classification.

Jefferson also will at home on Saturday playing host to Cass at Memorial Stadium in Class 5A.

Dawson County and Lumpkin County in Class 3A also will at home on Saturday. The Tigers play host to Monroe Area and the Indians take on Oconee County in an Intriguing matchup at The Burial Grounds.

Gainesville and North Forsyth both will be at home on Friday in Class 6A. The Red Elephants take on Sprayberry at City Park while the Raiders will entertain Blessed Trinity at Raider Valley.

East Jackson is making its first playoff appearance since 2009 but faces a tough road trip to Rockmart while Union County hits the road against Model in Class 2A.

In Class A Division 1, Rabun County has Dade County calling onto Frank Snyder Stadium while Commerce travels to Trion.

Lakeview Academy moved over to the GIAA and is the No. 8 seed taking on No. 9 seed Heritage-Newnan on the road. Lanier Christian in GAPPS 11-man heads to McDonough to play Creekside 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

(Games listed by classification, highest to lowest, in alphabetical order of visiting team)
Records: Titans (7-3, No. 3 seed Region 7-6A); Raiders (7-3, No. 2 seed Region 8-6A)
Last week: Blessed Trinity beat Lassiter, 49-0; North Forsyth beat Apalachee, 44-0.
Where: Raider Valley, Coal Mountain
Radio: WDUN AM 550
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The Titans started strong with 3 straight wins, including a pair over ranked teams, but went just 4-3 the rest of the way. They went 2-3 on the road, including last week’s win over a not-so-good Lassiter squad, but were outscored 90-41 in their 3 road losses. The Raiders were a perfect 4-0 at home, including wins over West Forsyth and Shiloh.
What to watch for: Turnovers. Both defenses are ballhawks. The Raiders have forced 19 turnovers while the Titans forced 18 turnovers. The key matchup is probably the North Forsyth offense vs. the Titans defense. The Raiders have averaged 30.4 ppg over their last 5 games while the Titans have given up just 41 points (10.25 ppg) over their last 4 games. But North Forsyth has committed 18 turnovers on the season, including 12 INTs.

Records: Yellow Jackets (4-6, No. 4 seed Region 7-6A); Red Elephants (10-0, No. 1 seed Region 8-6A)
Last week: Sprayberry beat Pope, 56-0; Gainesville beat Jackson County, 51-0.
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
Radio: 94.5 FM The Lake
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Gainesville leads series 2-0. This will be the first meeting between the two teams since 1965. GHS just completed its first perfect regular season since 2009 and the 10th in program history. The Red Elephants are looking for their first home playoff win since beating Alexander in 2015. Gainesville is 8th in offense in 6A (38.0 ppg). Naim Cheeks is 6th in 6A in rushing (1,020 yards, 13 TD). Sprayberry is just 31st in defense (24.0 ppg) but is +4 in turnover ratio, including 9 INTs. They are better than their record. The Jackets dropped three games by 9 total points and won 3 of their last 4 to get into the playoffs. However, they are just 1-4 on the road and 0-3 vs. ranked teams in 2022.
What to watch for: The Sprayberry offense vs. the Red Elephants defense. Gainesville is 4th in 6A defense (11.0 ppg) while Sprayberry is 15th in offense averaging 31.6 ppg. Jackets’ Jr. RB Kemari Nix is 8th in rushing (1,013 yards) and is 2nd in Class 6A with 19 rushing TDs. Gainesville has not allowed more than 23 in any game this season and just 9.6 ppg on average at home.


Records: Eagles (5-5, No. 4 seed Region 8-2A); Yellow Jackets (8-2, No. 1 seed Region 7-2A)
Last week: East Jackson lost 34-7 to Athens Academy; Rockmart beat North Murray, 66-34.
Where: The Rock, Rockmart
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. Region 7-2A was just 9-19 in non-region play during the season. Meanwhile, 8-2A was 19-11 in non-region action, the 2nd-best in the classification only to 3-2A (19-8). Rockmart rushed for 465 yards and 7 TDs last week. They had two rushers, Jojo Haynes (141 yards) and Cam Ferguson (173 yards) go over 100 last week. This should be a ground battle as the Eagles, behind Gary Maddox III, are averaging over 200 yards/game on the ground as well.
What to watch for: The Rockmart offense vs. the Eagles defense. The Jackets are 3rd in 2A in scoring (42.4 ppg) behind a rushing attack that is averaging 280 yards/game, with 5 players with 250 yards or more on the season. They have scored 40 rushing TDs. East Jackson is 23rd in defense giving up 20.1 ppg but the Eagles have forced 20 turnovers, including 12 fumbles, and are +12 in turnover ratio on the season.

Records: Panthers (7-3, No. 3 seed Region 8-2A); Blue Devils (6-4, No. 2 seed Region 7-2A)
Last week: Union County lost 35-14 to Fellowship Christian; Model was off.
Where: Woodard-Tuggle Stadium, Rome
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Model leads the series 1-0. The Blue Devils won the only meeting, 50-36, in the first round of the 2014 playoffs in Blairsville. Region 7-2A was just 9-19 in non-region play during the season but the Jackets had 2 of the wins. Meanwhile, 8-2A was 19-11 in non-region action, the 2nd-best in the classification only to 3-2A (19-8). The Blue Devils are just 2-9 in their last 11 playoff games going back to 1997. They are just 2-3 at home in 2022. The last home playoff win for Model came in the 1979 Class 2A championship game, a 24-21 win over Lincoln County. Union County is 0-6 all-time in road playoff games but is 3-1 on the road this season.
What to watch for: The Union County offense vs. the Blue devils defense. The Panthers, who are averaging 29.9 ppg, have the No. 1 passing attack in Class 2A behind QB Caiden Tanner (2,362 yards, 20 TD, 7 INT) who leads the classification in yards and is 2nd in TD passes. Union’s Jensen Goble leads 2A in catches (71) and receiving yards (905) and teammate Griff Young is 5th with 689 yards and 4th in catches (47). The duo has combined for 14 TD catches on the season. Model is giving up 17.5 ppg on defense.


Records: Tigers (6-4, No. 3 seed Region 8-A D1); Bulldogs (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 7-A D1)
Last week: Commerce was off; Trion lost 44-13 to Darlington in the 7-A D1 championship game
Where: Memorial Stadium, Trion
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Commerce leads the series 8-0. The Tigers won the last meeting at home, 23-6, in 2019 in the first round of the Class A Public playoffs. The two programs traditionally have been no strangers, meeting 7 times between 2000-07 and four of the previous 8 meetings were in the playoffs. Six of the 8 meetings were decided by 9 points or less. This game will feature two of the classification’s best rushing attacks and three of the top 12 rushers. Commerce's Jaiden Daniels is 3rd in Class A D1 with 1,465 yards. Trion's Logan Eller is 5th with 1,155 yards and 16 TDs. Toby Maddux is 12th with 794 yards and 13 TDs. The Tigers are one of the toughest road teams in the state going 5-1 with their only loss coming to No. 3 Rabun County, 27-22.
What to watch for: The Commerce defense vs. the Bulldogs offense. Trion is 2nd in the classification averaging 36.5 ppg and is averaging 360 yards/game (146 passing, 214 rushing). But despite giving up 24.5 ppg on defense, the Tigers have shown an ability to shut down good offenses. They held six of their 10 opponents below their season averages.

Records: Wolverines (6-4, No. 4 seed Region 7-A D1); Wildcats (10-0, No. 1 seed Region 8-A D1)
Last week: Dade County beat Armuchee, 43-7; Rabun County was off.
Where: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. A tale of two different programs. Dade County has not advanced past the first round since 2010. Rabun County is looking for its 9th straight first round win. The Rabun County offense is 4th (36.3 ppg) and the defense is 12th (15.3) in Class 2A. Dade County is 18th (27.4 ppg) in offense and 15th (17.4 ppg) in defense.
What to watch for: The Rabun County offense vs. the Wolverines defense. The Wildcats have the state’s No. 2 passer in Keegan Stover (2,942 yards with 34 TDs and just 1 INT) and the state’s all-time leading receiver in Jaden Gibson (89 rec., 1,576 yards, 24 TD) as well as RB Lang Windham (130 car., 711 yards, 6 TD rushing; 15 rec., 127 yards receiving). Dade County is yielding just 17.4 ppg but has given up 13 or less in six games this season.


Records: Lightning (7-3, No. 3 seed Region 1-2A); Cougars (5-6, No. 2 seed Region 2-2A)
Last week: Lanier Christian lost 21-7 to Cherokee Christian; Creekside lost 35-7 to King’s Academy.
Where: McDonough
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. Both teams have struggled down the stretch. The Cougars have dropped 2 straight while the Lightning have lost 2 of their last 3 coming into the playoffs. But LCA still leads GAPPS in scoring (46.1 ppg) while Creekside is allowing 27.7 ppg on defense.
What to watch for: The LCA defense vs. the Creekside offense. The Cougars have been up and down all season. During a 4-game win streak, they averaged 39.25 ppg. In their 6 losses, they have scored just 37 points (6.1 ppg). The Lightning defense has given up just 15.1 ppg on the season.


Records: Lions (6-4, No. 9 seed in Class 3A GIAA); Hawks (7-3, No. 9 seed in Class 3A GIAA)
Last week: Lakeview beat Loganville Christian, 52-34; Heritage lost 38-7 to Brookstone.
Where: Newnan
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The two teams have been headed in opposite directions over the final month. The Lions have won 3 of their last 4 while the Hawks have dropped 3 of their last 4 coming into the playoffs. The winner will advance to the quarterfinals against No. 1 seed John Milledge Academy.
What to watch for: The Lakeview offense vs. the Hawks defense. The Lions have scored 193 points over their final 4 games (48.25 ppg) while Heritage has given up just 16.2 ppg but over its past 4 games they have allowed 141 points (35.25 ppg). 

(Games listed by classification, highest to lowest, in alphabetical order of visiting team)

Records: Lions (6-4, No. 4 seed Region 7-7A); Wolves (10-0, No. 1 seed Region 8-7A)
Last week: Peachtree Ridge beat Duluth, 48-47; Buford beat Central Gwinnett, 49-7.
Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford 
Time: 1 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. Buford Sr. RB Justice Haynes is now 4th in 7A in rushing (1,369 yards) and is tied for the lead in TDs with 17. K.J. Bolden showed his big-play ability last week with 2 catches for 94 yards and a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD to open the game. The Lions are only averaging 230 yards/game on offense and will find the going even tougher vs. the Wolves No. 2 defense, which is giving up just 9.5 ppg and less than 80 yards on the ground. Peachtree Ridge is 4-1 on the road. Buford has won 8 straight home playoff games and is 61-4 at home in the playoffs this century. Their last home playoff loss came in 2018 to Bainbridge, 23-20, in the quarterfinals of the Class 5A playoffs.
What to watch for: The Buford offense vs. the Lions defense. The Wolves are 4th in 7A averaging 39.0 ppg behind a rushing attack that is averaging 225 yards/game. The Lions are 30th out of 46 7A teams in defense allowing 23.9 ppg but they have been hawkish forcing 16 fumbles on the season. The Wolves are heavy favorites but if the Lions can force some turnovers they could make things interesting.


Records: Colonels (4-6, No. 4 seed Region 7-5A); Dragons (8-2, No. 1 seed Region 8-5A)
Last week: Cass was off; Jefferson beat Eastside, 35-7.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
Time: 7 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The Colonels are making just their 5th-ever GHSA playoff appearance and have never won a GHSA playoff game in their history. The Dragons have been as dominant as any team in the classification during their 6-game win streak outscoring their opponents 198-26 in that span. Jr. RB Sammy Brown has climbed to 4th in 5A in rushing (1,348 yards) and is 2nd in TDs with 20. He has come on strong of late with 517 yards and 11 TDs over his past 3 games. Cass has lost 3 of its last last 4 and is giving up 29.25 ppg in that span. 
What to watch for: The Jefferson defense vs. the Colonels offense. Cass has scored 21 or more 7 times this season and is 15th in 5A in scoring. But the Dragons have yielded just 35 points over their past 8 games (4.3 ppg) allowing just 5 total TDs with three shutouts in that span. They are 4th overall in 5A giving up just 11.0 ppg.


Records: Purple Hurricanes (5-5, No. 4 seed Region 8-3A); Tigers (8-2, No. 1 seed Region 7-3A)
Last week: Monroe Area beat Hart County, 49-14; Dawson County was off.
Where: Tiger Stadium, Dawsonville
Radio: www.northgeorgiasportslink.com
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Monroe Area leads the series 1-0. The Hurricanes won the only meeting in 2018, 49-17, in Monroe in the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. The Hurricanes have advanced to a program-best 7th straight playoffs. However, they are just 3-3 in first round games during that span. Dawson County has won 5 straight first round games. Monroe Area had one of the toughest schedules in the state with 7 playoff teams on the schedule. They went just 2-5 in those games but only Gainesville (23-13) beat them by more than 9 points and they lost one in overtime and another by just a field goal. The sexy matchup is the Hurricanes’ 9th-ranked offense (35.5 ppg) vs. the Tigers 10th-ranked defense (16.9 ppg). Dawson County DT Cade Adams is 2nd in Class 3A in sacks with 13 and LB Will Kurtz is 9th with 9 sacks. 
What to watch for: The Dawson County offense vs. the Hurricanes defense. And while defense has been the key for the Tigers, this matchup may decide the game. Dawson County is 8-0 when scoring 17 or more but 0-2 when scoring less than 17. The Tigers are averaging 27.4 ppg while Monroe Area is giving up 19.9 ppg on defense.

Records: Warriors (6-4, No. 3 seed Region 8-3A); Indians (8-2, No. 2 seed Region 7-3A)
Last week: Oconee County beat Franklin County, 49-0; Lumpkin County beat West Hall, 48-7.
Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega 
Radio: www.northgeorgiasportslink.com
Time: 1 p.m.
The Statisticals: The series is tied 1-1. This is the first meeting between the two teams since 1973. The Indians face one of the toughest opening round games of any team in the state in any classification. This is the first playoff game for Lumpkin since 2014. The current Oconee County seniors are 9-3 in the playoffs since 2019. The Warriors are only two years removed from back-to-back state title game appearances and played one of the hardest schedules in the state with 8 playoffs teams this season. The huge matchup will be the 6th-ranked Oconee defense (15.6 ppg) vs. the 6th-ranked Lumpkin offense (36.5 ppg). The Indians are led by QB Cooper Scott, who is 8th in 3A in passing (1,480 yards, 12 TD, 7 INT) and WR Cal Faulkner, who is 7th in receiving with 645 yards and 9 TDs. Lumpkin is tough to beat at home going 4-1 this season and averaging 39.3 ppg.  Oconee’s C.J. Jones rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. 
What to watch for: Despite that huge matchup, the key to the game may lie in the Warriors offense vs. the Indians defense. Lumpkin County is 12th in defense (17.6 ppg) while the Warriors are just 31st in offense (25.9 ppg) in 3A. The Indians have forced 20 turnovers on the season. After averaging just 18 ppg in its first 4 games while learning Coach Ben Hall’s new system, Oconee is averaging 30.6 ppg over its past 6 games.

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