Sunday September 24th, 2023 10:41AM

Week 5 previews: Region 8-6A opens region play to highlight 18 area games

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Region 8-6A will join Region 8-4A and open its road to the playoffs with two huge region contests in Week 5 on Friday.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the 8-6A games will have Jackson County traveling to North Forsyth, with both teams expected to challenge not only for a playoff spot but a home playoff game and maybe a region title. The winner of this one will have the inside track to the latter two.

Gainesville will play host to a struggling Apalachee squad while Habersham Central, Lanier, and Shiloh all open region play next week.

A pair of important games involving Hall County teams in 8-4A will have Cherokee Bluff and Chestatee looking for their first region wins at War Eagle Stadium and North Hall playing host to East Hall at The Brickyard.

A few interesting games will involve Region 8-3A vs. Region 7-3A matchups. Region 8-3A swept 7-3A out of last year's playoffs in the first round.

Lumpkin County takes on Hart County at The Burial Grounds. The Indians are second Class 3A in scoring. Meanwhile, Stephens County travels to White County, which is third in 3A in scoring, which could give us a glimpse of the playoff futures of all four teams.

(Dawson County, Jefferson, and Lakeview Academy are all off this week.)

For a look at all of the weekend's contests involving area teams, scroll down. And be sure to check back with AccessWDUN's Friday Game Night throughout the night for score updates, game stories and video highlights. You can also check for scores and highlights on our Twitter feed: @FridayGameNight

(Games listed in alphabetical order of visiting team)
Records: Wildcats (0-4, 0-0 Region 8-6A); Red Elephants, ranked 2nd in Class 6A (4-0, 0-0 Region 8-6A)
Last week: Apalachee lost 49-31 to Loganville; Gainesville beat Clarke Central, 24-7
Where: City Park Stadium, Gainesville 
Radio: 94.5 FM The Lake
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Gainesville leads series 9-0. The Red Elephants won 55-6 in 2022. All 10 meetings have been since 2012. It has been a lopsided series on the scoreboard as well. Only one game, a 7-6 win in 2018, was decided by fewer than 23 points. The 2023 version should be any different. GHS is averaging 30-5 ppg, and the Wildcats have given up 150 points (37.5 ppg) on the season. GHS RB Gavin Hall is averaging over 1550 yards/game rushing.
What to watch for: The Gainesville defense. The Big Red defense was dominant last week. After giving up an 84-yard TD drive on the Gladiators' opening possession, they held the Gladiators to 8 total yards over their final 12 drives and just 92 total yards for the game. The Wildcats have scored just 55 points (13.75 ppg) but put up a season-high last week.

Records: Panthers, ranked 6th in Class 3A (1-2, Region 5-3A); Wolves, ranked No. 1 in Class 7A (3-0, Region 8-7A)
Last week: Carver lost 29-14 to Stephenson; Buford was off
Where: Tom Riden Stadium, Buford
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Buford leads series 2-0. The Wolves won 44-16 in 2022. All three meetings have been since 2020, and all three have been at Tom Riden. The Panthers may be in a slight rebuild mode. They beat Stephenson last season but were down 29-0 last week before a pair of late touchdowns made it respectable. QB Dylan Raiola had his best game of the young season two weeks ago, throwing for 279 yards and 3 TDs on 12-for-16 passing. 
What to watch for: The Buford defense vs. the Panthers offense. The Wolves sit 5th in Class 7A (35 points, 11.6 ppg), while Carver (60, 20.0 ppg) is in the bottom third in Class 3A in scoring. They were averaging 33 ppg at the same point last season.

Records: Bears (0-3, 0-1 Region 8-4A); War Eagles (0-3, 0-1 Region 8-4A)
Last week: Cherokee Bluff lost 27-26 in OT to Madison County; Chestatee lost 14-10 to East Hall
Where: War Eagle Stadium, Gainesville
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Cherokee Bluff leads series 3-0. The Bears won 42-21 in 2022. Both teams struggled in the early going but looked improved last week. Bluff rallied to send the game to OT last week before dropping a heartbreaker. The Bears' defense held the Red Raiders to half their average during regulation and more than 100 yards less rushing. But special teams let them down with two missed PATs. The War Eagles defense, which had allowed 122 points in their first two games, held down a pretty good East Hall offense.
What to watch for: The Bears offense vs. the Chestatee defense. The War Eagles have given up the 8th-most points in Class 4A and have had trouble with the Bears over the years, allowing 151 points (50.1 ppg) in their three meetings. Last week, Bluff got three rushing touchdowns from Sr. RB Connor Hulsey, including TD runs of 39, 7 and 85 yards, as part of a 201-yard, career-high effort.

Records: Tigers (2-1, Region 8-A Division 1); Red Devils (2-1, Region 8-A Division 2)
Last week: Commerce was off; Lincoln County was off
Where: Buddy Bufford Field, Lincolnton
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Lincoln County leads series 15-6. Commerce won 28-12 in 2022 in Commerce. The two teams have split four games since the series resumed in 2019, with the home team winning all four games. In the last two seasons, neither team was ranked coming into their meeting, just the third time in their long history that has happened.
What to watch for: The Commerce triple-option vs. the Red Devils defense. The Red Devils have allowed just six total points during a two-game win streak but have yet to force a fumble in 2023. The Tigers' Jaiden Daniels and Tysean Wiggins are averaging nearly 250 yards/game combined. Commerce is averaging 32.6 ppg despite a loss to Hebron Christian two weeks ago.

Records: Eagles (2-1, Region 7-A Division 1); Indians (0-3, Region 8-A Division 1)
Last week: Towns County was off; Coosa was off
Where: Frank McClure Stadium, Hiawassee
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Coosa leads series 1-0. The Eagles won 31-14 in 2022. The Indians are battling injuries, with 6 starters having gone down in the first month of the season. It doesn't get any easier against an Eagles team that already has beaten Class 4A Southeast Whitfield and Class 2A Gordon Central. The injuries have been a huge factor in the Indians, having scored just 9 points and only one touchdown in 2023.
What to watch for: The Towns County defense vs. the Coosa offense. The injuries also are hurting on the defensive side, as the Indians have given up 37 ppg. The Eagles are averaging 22 ppg. But take out a shutout loss to Class 5A Woodland-Cartersville, and they're averaging 30 ppg.

Records: Vikings (2-1, 1-0 Region 8-4A); Trojans (3-0, 1-0 Region 8-4A)
Last week: East Hall beat Chestatee, 14-10; North Hall beat Walnut Grove, 28-6
Where: The Brickyard, Gainesville
Radio: 102.9 FM WDUN
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: East Hall leads series 33-23-1. The Trojans won 69-0 in 2022 and have won 13 straight in the series going back to 2002. The last Vikings win in the series came in 2001, 10-7 at Valhalla. North Hall has won 6 straight in the series at The Brickyard. The North Hall defense has been stingy of late, allowing just 13 total points and just two TDs over its last eight quarters. North Hall has averaged 59.7 ppg against the Vikings over the past 8 meetings.
What to watch for: The North Hall offense vs. the East Hall defense. The Vikings' defense played its best game under coach Matt Turner last week, holding a pretty good Chestatee offense to just one touchdown. This week, they will have a tougher assignment against the Trojans, who are 6th in Class 4A in scoring average 117, 39.0 ppg). QB Tanner Marsh already has thrown for 641 yards and 7 TDs and just 1 INT on the season. He also has added 209 yards and 4 TDs rushing. Despite playing with an injury, RB Tate Ruth has 222 yards and 4 TDs rushing.

Records: Eagles (3-0, Region 8-2A); Lions (1-3, Region 8-3A)
Last week: East Jackson was off; Franklin County lost 34-16 to Banks County
Where: Ed Bryant Stadium, Carnesville 
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Franklin County leads series 9-2. East Jackson won 35-7 in 2022 and has won two straight in the series, both at home. The Eagles have never won in Carnesville (0-5). East Jackson is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2009. It looks like a mismatch on the stat sheet. The Lions are averaging 14.5 ppg on offense, while the Eagles yield just 9.3 ppg on defense.
What to watch for: The East Jackson offense vs. the Franklin defense. The Eagles have scored 84 points in their past two games and are averaging 32.6 ppg on the season. So. QB Drew Richardson is already having a breakout season, averaging 154 yards/game with 3 TDs and completing 70 percent of his passes. The Lions are giving up 33.25 ppg and have surrendered 34 or more three times in four games in 2023.

Records: Falcons (2-1, Region 8-5A); Longhorns (3-0, Region 6-7A)
Last week: Flowery Branch was off; Lambert was off
Where: Longhorn Stadium, Suwanee
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Lambert leads series 1-0. The Longhorns won 43-20 in 2022. The Longhorns have not played a difficult schedule, with their three opponents going a combined 4-8 so far. Branch has had a week off to regroup after its loss to Stephens County. The Falcons' defense gave up several big plays to the Indians and will have to find a way to slow down the Longhorns offense, which is averaging 40.3 ppg.
What to watch for: The Lambert defense vs. the Branch offense. The Falcons have a balanced attack that starts with RB Malik Dryden. They will have to get the ground game going to open things up for Josh Oliver and the passing game. However, the Longhorns shut down the running game of Dawson County and picked off three Mountain View passes two weeks ago.

Records: Bulldogs (1-2, Region 6-7A); Raiders (1-2, Region 8-6A)
Last week: Forsyth Central was off; Habersham beat Central Gwinnett, 17-10
Where: Raider Stadium, Mt. Airy
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Hab Central leads series 6-1. The Raiders won 28-21 in 2022. Hab Central got its first shutout victory since a 20-0 win over Central Gwinnett in 2021. It was a welcome sign for a defense that had been battered for 32.5 ppg in their first two games. 
What to watch for: The Hab Central offense vs. the Central defense. The Raiders are still struggling to find that explosiveness they are known for under coach Benji Harrison. This could be the week they break out. The Bulldogs are in the bottom 5 in Class 7A in defense, allowing 104 points (34.6 ppg) so far.

Records: Bulldogs (2-2, GIAA District 4-AAAA-AAA); Leopards (3-0, Region 8-2A)
Last week: George Walton lost 34-7 to John Milledge Academy; Banks County beat Franklin County, 34-16
Where: Leopards Stadium, Homer
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Series is tied 1-1. The Leopards won 33-0 in 2022. All three meetings have been since 2020, and the road team has won the first two games in the series. Banks County is looking for a second straight 4-0 start. The Leopards have been doing it with defense so far, allowing just 14.3 ppg with 7 takeaways, all INTs. Despite the record, the Bulldogs are averaging just 12.25 ppg and have not scored more than 14 in any game this season.
What to watch for: The Banks County offense vs. the Bulldogs defense. In GWA's two wins, they have allowed just 7 total points. In their two losses, they have yielded 64. The Leopards are averaging 35 ppg behind a balanced attack.

Records: Bulldogs (0-4, Region 5-A Division 2); Eagles (0-3, GIAA District 4-AAAA-AAA)
Last week: GMC lost 47-14 to Washington-Wilkes; Riverside lost 51-13 to Providence Christian
Where: Maginnis Field, Gainesville
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Riverside leads series 17-12-3. The GMC won 54-12 in 2022 and has won two straight in the series. At 32 games played, GMP is Riverside's longest-standing rival, which dates back to 1911. Both teams come into this one really struggling on defense. The Bulldogs have given up the most points in Class A D2 (164, 41.0 ppg), while the Eagles have allowed 165 points (46.0 ppg).
What to watch for: The offenses. Neither offense has had much success. Riverside is averaging 9.0 ppg, while the Bulldogs have been even worse, scoring just 8.5 ppg on the season. This should be the week both offenses break out, and whichever one can find the most traction should carry their team to the win.

Records: Bulldogs (1-2, 0-0 Region 8-3A); Indians (3-0, 0-0 Region 7-3A)
Last week: Hart County lost 52-21 to Daniel (SC); Lumpkin County was off
Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: First-ever meeting between the two teams. Two programs headed in opposite directions. The Indians are in the midst of perhaps their best run in program history, having won 11 of their last 14 overall, including playoffs, under 2nd-year coach Heath Webb. The Bulldogs suffered their worst defeat last week since losing 49-0 to Cedar Grove in the 2018 playoffs. They have lost 9 of their last 15 going back to the 2021 season and did not make the playoffs last year for the first time since 2016.
What to watch for: The Lumpkin County offense vs. the Bulldogs defense. The Indians are 2nd Class 3A in scoring average at 41.1 ppg while Hart County is giving up 28.6 ppg, which is a touchdown more than they gave up on average in 2022. RB Mason Sullens has 619 yards and 9 TDs for the Indians, and QB Cal Faulkner has thrown for 367 yards and rushed for 171 yards with 7 total TDs.

Records: Braves (0-3, Region 4-A Division 1); Wildcats (2-1, Region 8-A Division 1)
Last week: Heard County lost 38-6 to Callaway; Rabun County was off
Where: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: The series is tied 1-1. The Wildcats won 42-13 in 2022, and the Braves won 56-29 in the 2012 playoffs. The Braves are in a rebuilding mode after advancing to the 2nd round of the playoffs in 2022. Heard County has played a very tough schedule, with Rabun being the 4th straight playoff team from 2022. The Braves have scored the fewest points (27, 9.0 ppg) in Class A Division 1. Rabun County improved 7-0 following regular losses since the 2011 season with its 35-20 win over Adairsville two weeks ago.
What to watch for: The Rabun offense vs. the Braves defense. Heard County is allowing 28.6 ppg against a tough schedule and faces another potent offense in the Wildcats. Despite a shutout loss to Stephens County earlier, Rabun County is still averaging 26.6 ppg. QB Ty Truelove is averaging 178 yards/game in the air while the ground game is averaging 145 yards, with Reid Giles, Noah English, and Truelove all with over 100 yards rushing so far.

Records: Panthers (2-2, 0-0 Region 8-6A); Raiders (1-3, 0-0 Region 8-6A)
Last week: Jackson County lost 56-14 to Mountain View; North Forsyth lost 24-21 to Creekview
Where: Raider Valley, Coal Mountain
Radio: WDUN AM 550
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: North Forsyth leads series 1-0. The Raiders won 14-3 in Hoschton in 2022. Both teams could use a solid start to region play. The Raiders have struggled on offense most of the season, averaging just 19.5 ppg, and are still without RB Karson McBrayer. The Panthers will have the best overall player in RB/LB MJ Spurlin and will need him to have a big game on both sides of the ball.
What to watch for: The Raiders defense vs. the Jackson County offense. The Panthers have shown some explosiveness at times behind Spurlin. But first-year QB starter Zack Scott has thrown 7 INTs. It was a defensive slugfest last season and could be again, and North Forsyth has forced 7 turnovers, including 5 INTs, on the season.

Records: Knights (1-2, Region 8-4A, non-region); Broncos (2-0, 1-0 Region 8-4A)
Last week: Johnson was off, East Forsyth was off
Where: Broncos Stadium, Gainesville
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: East Forsyth leads series 1-0. The Broncos won 37-3 in 2022. Both teams were off after big wins two weeks ago. The Knights snapped their long losing streak and now will try to put together their first win streak since 2019. This will be the Broncos' final non-region game of the season. 
What to watch for: The Johnson offense vs. the Broncos defense. The Knights run game has been pretty good all season behind QB Demitri Moon, who has 411 yards, 5 TDs, and two 100-yard games so far. The Knights are averaging over 200 yards/game on the ground. The Broncos allow only 16.5 ppg and held Cedar Shoals to less than 100 yards rushing two weeks ago.

Records: Lightning (2-1, GAPPS Region 1-AA); Knights (2-2, GAPPS Region 2-AA)
Last week: Lanier Christian beat Rock Springs Christian, 56-13; Calvary Christian lost 42-0 to Flint River Academy
Where: Columbus, Ga.
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Calvary Christian leads series 1-0. The Knights won 52-44 in 2022. LCA is 2nd in scoring in GAPPS 11-man, averaging 50 ppg. The Knights beat Cherokee Christian to open the season, a team LCA lost to twice in 2022. After opening 2022 at 4-1, the Knights are just 4-7 since and have lost two straight coming into Friday. 
What to watch for: The LCA offense vs. the Knights defense. So. LCA QB CJ Britt continues to shine, throwing for 1,047 yards, 15 TDs, 1 INT, which leads GAPPS in every category. His favorite targets are Sr. Shepard Acton (21 rec., 458 yards, 4 TD) and So. Will Martin (8 rec., 226 yards, 28.3 ypc, 3 TD. Britt has thrown TD passes to 6 different receivers so far. The Knights yield 23.75 ppg and have given up 63 points (31.5 ppg) during the losing streak.

Records: Nickname (4-0, Region 8-3A); Warriors (2-1, Region 7-3A)
Last week: Stephens County beat Dawson County, 35-0; White County was off
Where: White County Stadium, Cleveland
Radio: WRWH 93.9 FM & AM 1350;
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: Stephens County leads series 5-2. All 8 meetings have been since 2010. The Indians won 43-14 in 2022 and have won two straight in the series, both at The Reservation. White County is 2-1 all-time vs. Stephens County at White County Stadium. White County is 3rd in Class 3A in scoring average at 40.0 ppg. Stephens County is 8th (133, 35.75 ppg) in scoring. The Indians have won 7 straight over 7-3A teams going back to the 2020 season. The last 7-3A team to beat Stephens County was White County, 44-6 in Cleveland to open the 2020 campaign.
What to watch for: The White County offense vs. the Stephens County defense. On paper, this could be one of the area's best matchups of the night. The Indians dismantled Rabun County earlier in a 35-0 shutout and held Flowery Branch to less than 100 yards of offense as well. The Indians' defense, with two shutouts in their first four games, has 34 TFL, 11 sacks, and has forced 11 turnovers, including 7 INTs. White County QB Tripp Nix is 34-for-59 (57.6 %) for 579 and 6 TDs to 9 different receivers. More importantly, zero (0) INTs so far. Vondre Nelson has 8 catches for 189 yards and 2 TD, and Cam Wilson has 9 catches for 173 yards and 1 TD. Ryan Fowler has 21 rushes for 280 yards and 2 TD to lead a solid ground attack as well.

Records: Panthers (3-1, Region 8-2A); Spartans (1-2, Region 7-3A)
Last week: Union County beat Armuchee, 50-3; West Hall was off
Where: Spartans Stadium, Oakwood
Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Statisticals: West Hall leads the series 2-1. Union County won 48-7 in 2022 in the first meeting between the two teams since 1991. The Panthers are 3-3 vs. Region 7-3A teams since the 2021 season, but two of those losses have come against Lumpkin County the past two seasons. West Hall is 0-3 vs. Region 8-2A teams since the beginning of the 2022 season. This is the last non-region game for both teams, who are looking to take momentum into region play.
What to watch for: The Union offense vs. the Spartans defense. The Panthers are rolling on offense, sitting 2nd in Class 2A (176, 44.0 ppg) behind QB Caiden Tanner (870 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT) and a slew of receivers, as 9 different receivers have caught passes, 6 different receivers have TD catches, led by Jensen Goble (27 rec., 434 yards, 3 TD). However, a renewed ground game behind Braylen Rader (53 car., 364 yards), who leads Class 2A with 11 touchdowns. The Spartans have struggled against the run and are giving up 28.6 ppg so far.

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