Thursday July 25th, 2024 9:15AM

Week 5 notebook: Region 8-4A may be wilder than we thought

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

Region 8-4A is in its second week of region play. Region 8-6A opens up tonight around the area.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Northeast Georgia-area teams we cover at AccessWDUN and Friday Game Night are in their final week, or weeks, of non-region action.

What more do we know after the opening month about our teams? For some plenty -- good and bad. For others, there’s still some mystery.

What we have been able to surmise at this point is that Region 8-4A may be even wilder than we imagined before the season began...and we thought it would be wide-open as far back as the summer.

We also feel like some teams are starting to emerge as contenders for region titles and possibly beyond.

And, several area players have broken out of the pack among the yardage leaders around the state.

Those are main topics in the football notebook this week:

IS REGION 8-4A EVEN MORE WIDE-OPEN THAN WE THOUGHT?

The prevailing prognosis coming into the 2023 season was that North Oconee was an overwhelming favorite to win its third straight Region 8-4A title. Nothing so far has gotten us to change our minds about the Titans, who are ranked second in Class 4A and have rolled to two easy victories so far.

In the early going Madison County was looking like it was ready to perhaps challenge the Titans after a pair of dominating wins to open the season. But as Lee Corso says, “Not so fast my friend!”

Last week, Cherokee Bluff gave us plenty of reasons to think otherwise. If not for a pair of missed PATs in a 27-26 overtime loss to the Red Raiders, the Bears would have knocked off Madison County in an upset, at least on paper.

Despite an 0-3 record and being 0-1 now in the region, the Bears are making vast progress and we expect them to be a force over the second half of the season. North Hall has one of the classification’s most dynamic offenses. East Forsyth is sound on both sides of the ball. East Hall has Jamarcus Harrison and a young offense and defense that is learning how to compete.

After North Oconee, that gives you five teams that could be battling for three spots. And that doesn’t include 2022 playoff teams Walnut Grove, who lost to North Hall last week, and Cedar Shoals, which lost to East Forsyth in their opener two weeks ago. That makes seven.

And, with North Oconee traveling to Madison County tonight, it could lend itself to either one, push the Red Raiders back to the pack, or two, show that the Titans also may not be as invincible as previously thought.

Either way, it’s going to be a fun ride. Buckle up!

PLAYOFF CONTENDERS OR NEED MORE GAME FILM?

So, who is already looking like they could be ready to claim region titles. There are the obvious, such as Buford in Region 7-A. The Wolves (3-0) have been ranked No. 1 all season and have gotten better each week despite a very challenging schedule. They open region play in two weeks.

Gainesville, which has climbed into a first-place ranking tie with Hughes in Class 6A, has been breaking in several new additions with a challenging schedule. The Red Elephants (4-0) appear as clear-cut favorites to repeat as region champs in Region 8-6A.

Jefferson (3-0) in Region 8-5A, which opens up region play next week, has been dominating behind Clemson-commit Sammy Brown and a defense that gets nastier by the week.

Lumpkin County (3-0) based on early returns and the struggles on Dawson County, looks to have taken on front-runner status in Region 7-3A. The Indians offense has been nearly unstoppable and the defense is bigger, faster, and stronger than a year ago.

In Region 8-2A, Union County (3-1) and East Jackson (3-0) appear on a collision course as both are hoping to lay claim to a home playoff game or even a region title. Other than the Panthers one blemish against Lumpkin County, both can be considered serious contenders at this point.

That makes six teams we feel, at this point, should have no issues qualifying for the playoffs, barring injuries or a massive upset along the way. The not-quite-as-obvious teams are just as numerous. Six more teams seem to be in the solid contender category, based on early returns.

Two area teams in Region 8-6A -- North Forsyth (1-3) and Jackson County (2-2) -- have looked good at times and not so good at times. But both have top two talent in the region and should make the playoffs. The two teams square off tonight in Coal Mountain with the winner having the early inside-track to a home playoff spot.

In Region 8-4A, East Forsyth (2-0, 1-0 in region) probably has the most experience of the area teams and has shown great balance on offense and a solid defense in its first two games. North Hall (3-0, 1-0 in region) has unleashed a devastating offense and should only get better. Cherokee Bluff (0-3, 0-1 in region) based on last week’s showing against Madison County, appears to have things figured out, and has the ability to beat anyone in the region.

In Region 7-3A, White County (2-1) like Lumpkin County, is scoring in bunches and the defense, which struggled last season, has stepped up in the early going. The Warriors have as much talent as anyone in the region and look ready to make some serious noise, if not a run at their first-ever region title.

However, there are six more teams we would like to see some more game film on before we’re ready to put them in the contender column.

Habersham Central (1-2) in Region 8-6A seemed a solid playoff pick to start the season. But a gut-wrenching loss to arch-rival Stephens County to open the season led to a stunning blowout loss to White County the following week. The Raiders righted the ship last week in a win over Central Gwinnett but we need to see two consistent defensive efforts in a row, and that typically-potent offense needs  to get cranked up in a tough region first.

Flowery Branch (2-1) in Region 8-5A started out like a house afire with impressive wins over Decatur and St. Pius. But a rough loss to Stephens County two weeks ago has put the Falcons in the same spot they were a year ago. The Stephens County loss in 2022 ignited a seven-game losing streak to knock them out of any playoff contention. How they look this week against Class 7A Lambert may help us decide whether they will be ready in 8-5A, which has the highest win percentage (.708) in Class 5A, and the third highest outside of Class 7A in the state.

East Hall (2-1, 1-0 in 8-4A) could be an X-factor. The Vikings have talent at the skill positions, including young dynamic sophomore quarterback Jamarcus Harrison. However, they have been at or near the bottom in defense in Class 4A the last few seasons. They look improved on that side of the ball but tonight’s showdown with North Hall will help tell us if they are ready to make a run at a playoff spot.

The biggest shock in Region 7-3A at the moment is winless Dawson County (0-4) the defending region champ. We knew the defense was going to be in a rebuild. But the usually explosive offense had experience coming back. So far, they’re averaging just 6.25 points/game and have been shutout twice. They have the week off to try and get things fixed. If they can’t, it could knock them off the fence.

Also in Region 7-3A, West Hall (1-2) battled some early injuries and have faced a tough schedule where their first four opponents are 9-4. If the Spartans want to make a run at their first playoff berth since 2017, improvement on defense is a must. Region 7-3A has four teams averaging over 30 points per game, which does not bode well for a Spartan unit that is allowing close to 30 ppg. 

And in Region 8-2A, Banks County (3-0) sits in the exact same spot as a year ago. They got to 4-0 before dropping five straight to fall out of playoff contention. They open region play in three weeks against East Jackson and then Union County. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see where the Leopards sit.

In Region 8-A Division 1, all four teams will make the playoffs. So where does that leave Rabun County and Commerce as far as a region title goes? Elbert County is ranked and has perhaps its best team since winning the Region 8-3A title in 2013 with former Georgia Bulldog and NFL player Mecole Hardman. The Wildcats, meanwhile,  have won nine straight region titles. Commerce’s last region title came in 2020.

AREA STAT KINGS (as of Sept. 8 games):*

For all the talk of spread offenses and how much teams like to throw the ball, the power of several Northeast Georgia teams lies in the running game, at least early in the season.

Six area runners are in the top 30 in the state, all classifications, with the first comprehensive stats released by Georgia High School Football Daily. And two of our area’s rushers are leading their classifications.

Jackson County’s MJ Spurlin leads Class 6A with 616 yards, and sits sixth overall, but is just 54 yards behind state leader Darrion Manuel of Monroe Area (Class 3A). And Commerce’s Tysean Wiggins leads Class A Division I with 552 yards and is 14th overall.

But Lumpkin County’s Mason Sullens sits fourth overall and trails Manuel by just 51 yards to lead the Northeast Georgia area.

Elijiah Hayes of West Hall sits 23rd with 498 yards and Jefferson’s is 24th with 491 yards.  Brown is not far off the pace in Class 5A, trailing Tucker’s Jordan McCoy, who leads 5A with 567 yards.

Gainesville’s Gavin Hall is 30th with 476 yards, 150 yards off the pace set by Spurlin in Class 6A

In passing, Union County’s Caiden Tanner is 2nd in Class 2A passing with 904 yards. But that is good for just 14th overall, and more than 300 yards behind state and classification leader Skyler Williams of North Murray (1,249 yards). Tanner is the only area quarterback in the top 50 in passing yards.

Tanner’s teammate, Jensen Goble, is sixth in the state overall in receiving with 463 yards. However, that is only good for second in Class 2A behind North Murray’s Judson Petty, who leads the class and the state with 687 yards.


HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE for Sept. 15
Apalachee at Gainesville* -- 94.5 FM The Lake
Carver Atlanta at Buford 
Cherokee Bluff at Chestatee*
Commerce at Lincoln County
Coosa at Towns County
East Hall at North Hall* -- 102.9 FM WDUN
East Jackson at Franklin County
Flowery Branch at Lambert
Forsyth Central at Habersham Central
George Walton Academy at Banks County
Georgia Military Academy at Riverside Prep
Hart County at Lumpkin County -- www.northgeorgiasportslink.com
Heard County at Rabun County
Jackson County at North Forsyth* -- WDUN AM 550
Johnson at East Forsyth
Lanier Christian at Calvary Christian
Stephens County at White County -- WRWH 93.9 FM & AM 1350; https://www.wrwh.com/
Union County at West Hall 

SCORES FOR FRIDAY, Sept. 8
Banks County 34, Franklin County 16
Creekview 24, North Forsyth 21
East Hall 14, Chestatee 10* 
Gainesville 24, Clarke Central 7
Habersham Central 17, Central Gwinnett 10
Jefferson 44, Oconee County 7
Lakeview Academy 52, Creekside Christian 0
Lanier Christian 56, Rock Springs Christian 13
Lumpkin County 35, Temple 0
Madison County 27, Cherokee Bluff 26 (OT)*
Mountain View 56, Jackson County 14
North Hall 28, Walnut Grove 6*
Providence Christian 51, Riverside Prep 13
Stephens County 35, Dawson County 0
Union County 50, Armuchee 3

(* -- Stats provided by Georgia High School Football Daily)

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