Sunday December 10th, 2023 8:26AM

Elite 8 round previews: GHS, Rabun County face tough challenges with semis at stake

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Just two Northeast Georgia-area teams remain in the Georgia High School Association playoffs, which has reached the quarterfinal round.

Gainesville in Class 6A and Rabun County in Class A Division 1 are all that remain of the dozen teams that began their playoff journeys two weeks ago.

Perhaps nothing was bigger in the state than Buford’s stunning upset loss to Walton, 42-35, in Class 7A at Tom Riden Stadium. Several big streaks ended along with the Wolves season.

The loss snapped Buford’s 22-game win streak going back to last season and its 16-game playoff win streak after they had won the past three state championships (one in Class 5A, two in Class 6A). Buford had a 28-game win streak against Georgia opponents at Tom Riden Stadium snapped, and their impressive 22-game win streak in second round games came to an end. The last time Buford failed to get out of the second round of the playoffs was in 1999 when the Wolves were in Class A and coached by Dexter Wood.

As for the quarterfinals, Gainesville and Rabun County both face supremely challenging matchups.

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)

NOTES: There have been few upsets in this classification. Seven of the eight region champs all advanced to the quarterfinals with lower seeds going just 4-20 in the first two rounds. However, Houston County, who travels to Gainesville, has two of the four wins. The Bears are the only No. 4 seed in the state, all classes, to advance past the 2nd round. ... Offense has been the name of the game in this classification. Eight of the top 10 offenses are still alive compared to just six of the top 10 defenses. Hughes, the No. 1 offense (659, 54.9 ppg) has scored 126 points in its first two playoff games (63.0 ppg) including a school-record 77 last week. ... However, the top 5 defenses  -- Rome, Hughes, Woodward Academy, Roswell, Gainesville -- are still kicking, allowing just 13.6 ppg collectively. Houston County is the lowest rated defense still going at 29th in 6A (279, 23.25 ppg). ... Four of the teams left have won state titles since 2006 (Roswell in a tie with Peachtree Ridge). Gainesville (2012, 3A), Rome (2017, 5A), and Marist (202, 4A) are the others. Thomas County Central last won a title in 1997 (3A) and Woodward Academy’s last championship came in 1980 (3A). Hughes and Houston County have never won a state title in football.

Records: Bears (10-2, No. 4 seed Region 1-6A); Red Elephants (12-0, No. 1 seed Region 8-6A)
Last week: Houston County beat North Atlanta, 41-21; Gainesville beat South Paulding, 42-21.
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville
Radio: WDUN AM 55/102.9 FM WDUN
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. Neither team has been past the quarterfinals in a while. Gainesville is looking for its first semifinal berth since 2013, Deshaun Watson’s final season. The Bears have their first 10-win season since 2015 but have not advanced past the Elite 8 since 1993. Both offenses are potent. The Bears are No. 2 in 6A averaging 43.4 ppg. The 521 points is 2nd in program history. And they are young and talented. So. QB Antwann Hill has thrown 3,246 yards (3rd in 6A) with 36 TDs and just 3 INTs on the season. Jr. Kale Woodburn (58 rec., 854 yards, 10 TD) and Jr. Ricky Johnson (51-830, 11 TD) are among 11 different players to catch TD passes this season. Jr. Ryan Taleb  has 1,598 yards and 19 TD rushing. Gainesville is 6th in 6A (473, 39.4 ppg). RB Naim Cheeks has broken out in the playoffs with 450 yards and 4 TDs in two games and is now 5th in 6A (1,511 yards, 18 TD). The difference once again may be on the defensive side. Gainesville is 5th allowing just 12.75 ppg while the Bears come in ranked 29th in 6A, surrendering 23.25 ppg and 29.5 ppg in the playoffs.
What to watch for: The Gainesville defense vs. the Houston County offense. The Bears are as explosive as any team in the state. They scored 20 points in the fourth quarter last week to rally for the win and have scored 41 or more 7 times this season. The Red Elephants have not allowed more than 23 in any game this season. They have forced 15 turnovers to go with 41 TFL.


NOTES: Six of the eight region champs are still alive with Mt Pisgah (No. 2 seed) and Bleckley County (No. 3 seed) breaking through as lower seeds. ... The home team has gone 21-3 in this class with Bleckley County snagging two of those road wins. ... St. Francis, which did not start playing a varsity schedule until 2014, already has set the program record in wins (9) and is into the quarterfinals for the first time. Prince Avenue is into the quarterfinals for the 11th time in 12 years while Rabun County has now made 8 straight quarterfinal appearances. ... Much like Class 6A, this has been an offensive classification. All eight of the quarterfinalists are in the top 13 in offense. Prince Avenue Christain leads the class (497 points, 45.1 ppg) while Rabun County is 2nd (450, 37.5 ppg). ... The top 3 defensive teams -- Swainsboro, Irwin County, Metter -- and seven of the top 11 defensive teams advanced. In the playoffs, Metter has allowed just 6 points while Rabun County and Irwin County have yielded just 7 points in the first two rounds. Swainsboro has surrendered just 60 points (5.45 ppg) on the season with 6 shutouts and giving up 7  or fewer in 8 of its 11 games.

Records: Wildcats (12-0, No. 1 seed Region 8-A D1); Tigers (11-0, No. 1 seed Region 2-A D1)
Last week: Rabun County beat Social Circle, 42-0; Swainsboro beat Screven County, 57-13
Where: Tiger Field, Swainsboro
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two programs. The Wildcats are into their 8th straight quarterfinals. A semifinalist in Class 2A in 2021, the Tigers are into their 2nd straight Elite 8 but just the third time since winning the Class 3A state title in 2000. It will be a huge contrast in styles. Swainsboro averages over 334 ypg rushing behind a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in Quindarius Brown and Demello Jones. Rabun County Sr. QB Keegan Stover is 2nd in the state in passing with 3,404 yards with 40 TDs and Sr. WR Jaden Gibson leads the state with 1,886 receiving yards and 28 TDs. Rabun County is 4-0 on the road and 3-0 on the road vs. playoff teams in Class A D1 that made the playoffs in 2022. However, the Wildcats are 0-3 in their last three road playoff games since advancing to the 2017 Class 2A state title game.
What to watch for: All four units are worth watching. But the matchup that may decide it will be the Rabun offense vs. the Tigers defense. Swainsboro has not allowed more than 21 in any game this season and only once in its last 21 games going back to last season. The Tigers have 57 TFL and 18 sacks but only have 3 INT on the season. Rabun County has scored 21 or more 10 times this season and has averaged 41.75 ppg over its last 5 games. Lang Windham could be a huge factor for the Wildcats. The Sr. RB has 851 yards and 8 TDs rushing and 134 yards receiving out of the backfield.

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