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Football: Raising the stakes
Final games loom large for local teams in playoff chase
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Lambert assistant coach Aubrey Moree gives instructions to the Longhorns during football practice on Tuesday at Lambert High School. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Much is on the line for Forsyth County’s varsity football teams this week.

A West Forsyth victory over Chattahoochee tonight would move the Wolverines within one win of a Region 6-AAAAAA championship, while Lambert and Pinecrest Academy will take the field in key games that could ultimately decide whether or not they qualify for the state playoffs.

No. 5-ranked West Forsyth (7-0, 4-0 Region 6-AAAAAA) at Chattahoochee (4-3, 2-2)

After defeating rival North Forsyth 38-3 last week, No. 5-ranked West Forsyth is now two wins away from the first region championship in program history. West quarterback A.J. Erdely completed 16 of 26 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns and added 78 rushing yards against the Raiders, further bolstering his standing as one of the state’s top player of the year candidates.

With a lot of eyes on the team, both inside and outside the halls at West, the Wolverines are trying to block out some of the noise as the regular season nears its end.

"We’re trying to stay focused," head coach Frank Hepler said. "Everywhere the kids go in school [people are saying], ‘Oh, you’re undefeated.’

"I didn’t know what to expect after beating North. I didn’t know if [our players would] be a little complacent at practice on Monday, but they had a great day and we’ve carried it through the week."

West’s challenge tonight comes at Chattahoochee against a Cougars team that doesn’t boast a flashy record, but remains dangerous two years after winning a Class 4A state championship.

All three of the Cougars’ losses have come against teams that were ranked in a top 10 poll at some point during the season, and they are outscoring opponents by an average of 12 points per game this year.

"They’re a good football team," Hepler said. "They’ve played a couple of close games and they’re very well coached."

Chattahoochee is led by 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior quarterback Travis Marshall, who is committed to Navy.

Marshall showed poise under pressure in the Cougars’ 28-24 victory over South Forsyth at War Eagle Field in Week 7, when he  engineered an 80-yard drive in less than two minutes and delivered a 19-yard game-winning touchdown pass with only 22 seconds remaining.

"You can’t be a slouch if you’re commmitted to Navy; you’ve got to be a pretty good quarterback," Hepler said.

The game will match the top two defenses in Region 6 against one another. West Forsyth has held opponents to an average of 17 points per game this season, while Chattahoochee has allowed just 16.

It’s a much different story on offense, where the Wolverines — averaging 42 ppg — have scored 32 points or more in six of their seven games, while the Cougars have only topped 28 points twice this season.

But Hepler said the Cougars remind him of another opponent that West faced this season in a game that turned into a track meet which the Wolverines won 63-42.

"They’re like Alpharetta to me, very athletic," Hepler said, "and obviously we had trouble with Alpharetta."

Lambert (5-2, 2-2 Region 6-AAAAAA) vs. Alpharetta (4-3, 3-1)

Lambert games are, as Forest Gump’s mama would say, like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.

After starting 5-0, Lambert was trounced by then-winless Centennial 26-7 on Oct. 12. Then last week, the Longhorns almost broke Johns Creek’s eight-game home winning streak with a remarkable second half comeback. Lambert trailed 21-0 in the third quarter before the offense came alive and scored 28 unanswered points until Johns Creek scored the game-tying touchdown with only 47 seconds left in the fourth quarter to force overtime and eventually win 35-28.

"We have a great bunch of young men who could have hung it up, but fought back," Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell said. "[The comeback] showed their character. We came up short and had an opportunity to win, but we have to go back to work."

Following the tough loss, Lambert hosts Alpharetta in an important Region 6-AAAAAA game that could go a long way in determining whether or not the Longhorns make the playoffs. As it stands, Alpharetta is tied for second place in the region with Johns Creek, while Lambert, Chattahoochee and Centennial are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot.

The teams have never faced one another, and both have conflicting styles on offense. Alpharetta’s spread option offense is managing 32.7 points per game, while Lambert’s ball-control, Wing-T run-oriented offense puts up 25.1 ppg. The Longhorns’ defense is allowing nearly seven points per game fewer than the Raiders.

In order to win, Lambert will have to keep the ball away from Alpharetta quarterback Josh Dobbs, an Arizona St. recruit, as much as possible.

"We can’t control our schedule, only our destiny," Maxwell said. "We have to accept the challenge and go out and compete. [Alpharetta] has a great quarterback. He’s well-rounded and a solid ballplayer. We can’t give up the big play; it can’t be a track meet. We have to control the ball."

North Forsyth (3-4, 0-4 Region 6-AAAAAA) at Centennial (2-5, 2-2)

In order to stop its own slide, North Forsyth will have to end Centennial’s recent awakening.

North has lost four consecutive games since beginning the season 3-0, while Centennial has shaken off an 0-5 start with back-to-back wins after changing from a 3-5 defensive format to a 4-3 a few weeks ago.

"[Their defense] has improved immensely," North head coach Blair Armstrong said. "They’re more sound and they’re still putting it together. ... I can definitely tell they’ve gotten better."

Although the Raiders lost to West Forsyth 38-3 last week in a rivalry matchup, Armstrong thinks the score didn’t accurately portray the game.

"We played hard," Armstrong said. "We have about six or seven guys playing both ways. We were down 7-0 to end the first quarter to a good team and gave up a score and a cheap touchdown before halftime.

"The score wasn’t really a good indication of the game. We hit them just as hard [as they hit us]."

The Raiders should have things a bit easier when they travel to Centennial on Friday. North enters the contest averaging 17.7 points per game, while Centennial is averaging 16.4 ppg. The defensive statistics favor the Raiders, too. They are allowing 29.7 points per game to the Knights’ 33.4 ppg.

South Forsyth (3-4, 0-4 Region 6-AAAAAA) at Johns Creek (6-1, 3-1)

South Forsyth will have its hands full after losing starting quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey last week with a shoulder injury. Things don’t get any easier for the War Eagles this week, as they travel to Johns Creek on Friday night.

Without Jeffrey, the War Eagles will turn to Eddie Mirynowski to manage the game. Mirynowski entered the game as the quarterback in the third quarter of last week’s game and was 4 of 7 for 41 passing yards with an interception to finish the game, as South lost 22-10.

"[Mirynowski] hardly had many reps last week and we still had a chance to win," South head coach Jeff Arnette said. "He’s a heck of a player — very valuable — that can play a lot of different positions."

Johns Creek hasn’t lost at home since South won 29-6 in 2010. Since then, the Gladiators’ offense has averaged 37 points, while opponents have managed just 17 points per game inside The Coliseum.

"They’re one of the best teams in the region," Arnette said. "They have a two-back set and some good players. They returned a lot of starters on defense that run well. [The defense] is good in all areas; it’ll be a challenge."

Although the win-loss record is vastly different, there isn’t much difference between defenses. South is allowing 21.7 points per game, while Johns Creek is giving up 19.7 ppg.

Forsyth Central (2-1, 2-5 Region 7A-AAAAA) at Creekview (3-0, 6-1)

Forsyth Central knows it will be competing for a playoff spot in the final week of the regular season, but each of the two games between now and then give the Bulldogs an opportunity to improve their chances of reaching the postseason.

The top four teams in the two subregions of Region 7-AAAAA will meet in Week 10, with the No. 1 seed on each side facing the No. 4 seed on the other and the two No. 2 seeds squaring off against the opposing No. 3 seeds. The winners of those Week 10 games, regardless of their records, will qualify for the Class 5A state playoffs.

Central, which began the Region 7-A schedule by defeating North Springs and Cambridge, can finish no worse than fourth in the six-team subregion A now that the Titans and Bears have fallen to 0-3 in subregion play.

Central suffered its first subregion loss of the season last week in a 38-13 defeat at the hands of Sequoyah. The Bulldogs could still mathematically earn any of the top four seeds going into the Week 10 playoff game, but they will face a tough task as they try to climb in the standings tonight on the road against Creekview.

The Grizzlies have won four straight after suffering a narrow 33-29 loss to No. 7 Kell and have held opponents to six points or less in three of the past four games.

Pinecrest Academy (4-2, 3-1 Region 8-A) at Athens Christian (2-1, 3-4)

On the heels of a 29-10 upset victory over No. 6-ranked George Walton Academy, Pinecrest Academy can take a big step toward its first-ever state playoff berth in the Georgia High School Association this week on the road against Athens Christian.

The two teams are among four in 8-A who have only one region loss behind undefeated, No. 5-ranked Athens Academy.