There were a number of blowout wins Friday night as region races continue to come into focus near the midpoint of the season.
Here are five things we learned from Week 5 of high school football:
North Hall may have found an offensive identity in blowout of East Hall
There were plenty of growing pains in the first three games of the Sean Pender era at North Hall, especially on the offensive side of the ball. After changing styles from decades of wing-T offense to a spread attack, the Trojans struggled early in the season, averaging just 15 points per game during their 0-3 start. On Friday night, they finally turned things around, both on offense and on the scoreboard. The new-look North Hall unit exploded for a 69-0 road blowout of rival East Hall. They ran away with the game in the second quarter when junior quarterback Tanner Marsh accounted for four touchdowns, two passing and two rushing, to put the game out of reach before the halftime buzzer sounded. Overall, the Trojans (1-3, 1-1 8-4A) racked up 470 yards of total offense on the night with running backs Tate Ruth and Ajay Jones both making a number of highlight-reel plays as well. With still six games left to go in the Region 8-4A slate, this is a good time for North Hall to be finding itself offensively. They'll need it for this week as well, as a red-hot Cherokee Bluff team comes into The Brickyard on the heels of back-to-back region wins of their own.
Speaking of Cherokee Bluff, they're starting to look like their old selves again
Cherokee Bluff graduated plenty of talent off their region championship teams of 2020 and 2021. It would've been reasonable to expect a drop-off as head coach Tommy Jones looked to retool the lineup and the early returns this season seemed to vindicate those expectations. The Bears started 0-2 for the first time since 2019 after a heartbreaking overtime loss at Adairsville. In the last two weeks, however, they've started to round back into the form that helped deliver them those two region championships. After holding off a rally to beat Madison County in Danielsville two weeks ago, the Bears played in front of their home crowd at Yonah Field for the first time this season and put on a show for their fans. They ran past Chestatee 42-21 in a game that was more lopsided than the final score indicated, as Cherokee Bluff (2-2, 2-0 8-4A) led 42-7 in the second quarter. It was a complete performance against a War Eagles team that had won by a similar margin for their first win of the year just one week before. Running back Jaylon Carroll led a ground game that racked up over 300 yards rushing and quarterback Asher Wilson threw a pair of long touchdown passes to Max Eubanks and Jhace Justice. As important as the upcoming matchup with North Hall will be for the Trojans, it will be just as big for the Bears, as they look to reassert their position as one of the top teams in the new 8-4A.
Commerce's Jaiden Daniels is turning into a true superstar
Commerce has had one of the toughest non-region schedules in the area this season. They've battled out-of-state powerhouses in Southside Christian of South Carolina and Murphy of North Carolina as well as a high-powered Hebron Christian team and historical power Lincoln County. Their record relects that tough competition, as the Tigers have started 2-2. One thing that has been constant throughout those four games has been the play of sophomore running back Jaiden Daniels. After a strong freshman season, he appears to have taken the next step and has become a steady force, averaging over 100 yards per game and ripping off plenty of highlight-reel runs in the process. He already has over 800 yards not even halfway into the season. If he can continue that production, he will create headaches for plenty of defenses in what looks to be a stout Region 8-1A Division 1 that features second-ranked Rabun County and unbeaten Elbert County. His next test will be a surprising Banks County team, which is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1991.
Union County is finding its stride with region play around the corner
Year two of the Michael Perry era at Union County is starting to look promising. After a 3-7 campaign in his first year in Blairsville and a 1-1 start to the 2022 season, the Panthers are starting to look like one of the hottest teams in the area. They've won their last three games, with the wins coming by an average margin of 38 points. The most recent victim was West Hall, who Union County ran past Friday night 48-7. While both Perry and Union County have been known in the past for high-powered passing games, this has been a team that uses a balanced offense and a stifling defene. The Panthers are only allowing 11 points per game on the year and even less than that in the last three wins. Friday night, they put up over 200 yards both passing and rushing. Everything is starting to come together at just the right time as Region 8-2A play starts in two weeks. Union County will have two straight BYE weeks before starting region play on October 7 at Banks County. The Leopards themselves have been one of the stories of the season in the Northeast Georgia area, starting 4-0 for the first time since 1991. The region also features private school powerhouses in Athens Academy and Fellowship Christian, but this Union County team looks to be one that could challenge even the toughest competition 8-2A has to offer.
Buford and Mill Creek could be on a collision course in 8-7A
Buford and Mill Creek have never been far apart geographically, but they've been far apart in just about every other sense over the last two decades. The Wolves have been slowly climbing the classification ladder from 1A all the way up to 7A over the last 20 years while the Hawks have been a member of the state's largest classification since opening their doors in 2004. And while Buford has racked up 13 state championships and 18 region titles since the turn of the century, the Hawks have won just two region crowns and have yet to make an appearance in a state championship game. Also, Buford is one of the oldest football programs in the state, having existed as a program since the 1940's while Mill Creek is less than 20 years old and the two programs have never met on the football field. However, the stars are finally aligning for that last stat to change and it looks like it will be one incredible matchup. The Wolves have had no problem adjusting to life as a member of 7A, as they've mostly cruised to a 4-0 start, including a 44-16 win over Class 3A Carver, Atlanta Friday night. The Hawks, meanwhile, have had a phenomenal start of their own. They're also 4-0 and opened some eyes around the state Friday night when they handily beat the unanimous top-ranked team in 3A, Cedar Grove, 52-36 in Hoschton. There are still some big games between now and the Buford-Mill Creek matchup on October 14. Buford has to travel to Marietta and Mill Creek has to host a strong Parkview team and then both teams will have to face Collins Hill. If they both get through those games unscathed, Tom Riden Stadium may be set to host one of the most packed, intense and hyped-up matches in its 32-year history.