GHSA First-Round Playoffs
Alexander (6-4) at Dalton (8-2)
Northwest Whitfield (9-1) at Carrollton (9-1)
North Hall (8-2) at Ringgold (8-2)
Sonoraville (4-6) at Buford (10-0)
Manchester (7-3) at Calhoun (9-1)
Kendrick (6-4) at Dade County (7-3)
The high school football postseason is expected to be challenging, but for three area northwest Georgia teams beginning play tonight, those challenges are extreme.
No team has a bigger obstacle to clear than Sonoraville (4-6), which gets to celebrate its first playoff berth by playing at Class AAA top-ranked Buford, a team many believe is the best in any class in Georgia. Phoenix coach Roger Gentry understands the reality of the situation, but that hasn't put a damper on the team's excitement.
"We took a huge step forward this season, and to be able to practice this week and to feel the excitement in our community is something we can use to build on," Gentry said. "I only know one thing about Friday, that our kids will play hard until the final whistle. We know we're going to play a team with nine [NCAA] Division I recruits, so, yes, it's a big challenge."
The cream of the Buford crop is senior linebacker Korie Rogers, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound tackling machine with 4.5 speed who is headed to Clemson, while running back Thomas Wilson is even faster (4.4) and is headed to Missouri. The 10-0 Wolves have outscored their opponents by an average of 51-6.
Sonoraville has its own speedster in senior tailback Andrew Slaton, who helped seal the team's playoff berth last week with a 407-yard, five-touchdown performance against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. The reigning Class AAA 100-meter dash and 110-hurdle champion has more than 1,300 rushing yards in his first year of varsity football.
"Andrew has been amazing for us," said Gentry, whose team starts 12 sophomores and freshmen. "He still doesn't know all the terminology, but when he gets the ball it's all natural ability."
Sonoraville may be happy to be there, but for Northwest Whitfield it's a strong case of what-if. The Bruins ended 9-1, their only loss to Region 7-AAAA champion Dalton, and for that best-ever regular season they have to travel to Carrollton, a 9-1 team ranked either first or second before losing to Sandy Creek.
"It's a tremendous challenge for us, but we truly believe we can compete with them," said Northwest coach Josh Robinson, whose team, thanks to the region being subdivided, could earn only the No. 3 seed after losing to Dalton. "We've got a good football team, too, and I believe our kids will prove that Friday. There's not a person outside our program that thinks we can win, but that's OK."
Dalton's Catamounts (8-2) don't exactly have it easy, either. In first-round foe Alexander (6-4), they face a team that gave Sandy Creek its best game of the season, losing 52-42. The Cougars have a 1,700-yard rusher in Mikell Lands-Davis running behind an offensive line with five three-year starters.
"Well, they aren't a typical four seed, but we don't ever seem to get anything typical," joked Dalton coach Matt Land. "They play in the best region in the state and they will be, without a doubt, the best team we have faced. We're counting on playing at Harmon Field being a big factor."
The Class A playoffs begin next Friday, with Christian Heritage getting a rematch at Region 6 rival Darlington and Trion traveling to south Georgia to face Irwin County, which the Bulldogs upset in last season's first round.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...