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Football: Previews of first-round playoff matchups
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South Forsyth and West Forsyth will try to improve on last year’s playoff performances, where both teams lost in the first round. Photo by Paul Ward.
West Forsyth vs. Newton

When, where: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at The Den.

Records, rankings: West is 5-5 and unranked in Class 7A; Newton is 4-6 and unranked in Class 7A.

Series history: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.

What to know: The Wolverines certainly had the most notable turnaround from the non-region schedule to region play of any county team this year, finishing on a 4-1 run after starting 1-4. But it wasn’t quite a surprise for those around West, and that latter mark looks much better upon closer examination, which single-score losses to strong programs like Roswell and Hewitt-Trussville. And now the Wolverines have an eminently winnable home game against Newton.

The Rams have been very competitive in flashes this year, like when they put up 27 points on Buford and came within three points of beating a now-ranked Westlake team, but they’ve also shown a propensity for leaky defense, and last week’s loss to a Rockdale County squad that finished 3-7 was a bad one. Plus, Newton’s head coaching situation was very recently in flux, with Camiel Grant now taking head coaching duties after Terrance Banks resigned on Monday. This is all to say that the Wolverines can definitely be looked at as the favorite in this matchup.

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Patrick Leathers and Forsyth Central, which is in the playoffs for the first time since 2000, will try to stay competitive against a loaded Archer squad. - photo by Ben Hendren
 

Forsyth Central at Archer

When, where: Friday, 7:30 p.m. in Lawrenceville.

Records, rankings: Central is 7-3 and unranked in Class 7A; Archer is 7-3 and ranked No. 8 in Class 7A.

Series history: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.

What to know: No matter how this game turns out, 2018 will be looked at as an unequivocal success for Forsyth Central. In the third year of head coach Frank Hepler’s tenure, the Bulldogs got their first win over a county opponent in 11 years, beat South Forsyth for the first time since 2001, made the playoffs for the first time since 2000, and did it all a year after going 0-10. Their methodical option offense isn’t the most thrilling to watch, but it reliably racks up yardage, and coordinator David Rooney has made Central’s defense into a very reliable unit.

Unfortunately, this breakthrough comes in a year in which Region 5 is matched with Region 8, home to two of the best overall programs in the state. Archer isn’t quite the power some expected them to be at the beginning of the season, when they were ranked No. 3 in Class 7A, but the Tigers are still very, very good. They reeled off a string of three impressive wins over Mill Creek, Norcross and Buford to close non-region play, and apart from a loss to Grayson, they rolled through the region schedule. Clemson commit Andrew Booth is one of the most dangerous athletes in the state, and fellow safety Jalyn Phillips had also pledged to the Tigers. This probably wasn’t in their game plan in the first place, but Central won’t want to throw it very much in this one.

 

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Forsyth Central's Tristen Rose reaches out to tackle South Forsyth's Jordan Brunson during the Bulldogs' game against South Forsyth on OCt. 26, 2018 at Forsyth Central High School.

South Forsyth at Grayson

When, where: Friday, 7:30 p.m. in Loganville.

Records, rankings: South is 5-5 and unranked in Class 7A; Grayson is 8-2 and ranked No. 3 in Class 7A.

Series history: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first-ever matchup.

What to know: The War Eagles’ postseason luck has been pretty rotten lately. The went undefeated in regulation through last year’s regular season and won the region title, but then they got matched up with Mountain View, perhaps the best No. 4 seed in the state, and lost.

Now the War Eagles and their region playoff counterparts are matched up with one of the most top-loaded regions in the state, and South is bearing the brunt of it. Grayson has just two losses this year, against national power Bergen Catholic (N.J.) and Colquitt County, the top-ranked team in the state. Grayson is the only team to hold the Packers to less than 38 points this year. The Rams have three seniors ranked among the top 100 recruits in this class by 247sports, including Tennessee commit Wanya Morris, the top-ranked offensive lineman in the country, and Auburn commit Owen Pappoe, the nation’s top-ranked linebacker.