With only two games left in the regular season, the high school football playoff picture is finally coming into focus.
Despite its loss to Chattahoochee last Friday, No. 7-ranked West Forsyth still controls its own destiny and can move within a victory of the Region 6-AAAAAA title with a win against county rival South Forsyth tonight.
Forsyth Central will be involved in a winner-take-all play-in game in Region 7-AAAAA during the final week of the regular season, but who the Bulldogs face will be determined by the outcome of their game against Northview tonight.
Pinecrest Academy is still in the thick of the Region 8-A race, while Lambert faces long odds to keep its string of postseason appearances alive in Region 6-AAAAAA. North Forsyth and South Forsyth have been eliminated from playoff contention.
No. 7-ranked West Forsyth (7-1, 4-1 Region 6-AAAAAA) vs. South Forsyth (3-5, 0-5)
The popular theory in sports is that you learn more about a team from a loss than a win.
No. 7-ranked West Forsyth saw its hopes of an undefeated season vanish in a 29-28 loss against Chattahoochee last Friday, but the Wolverines’ eyes were also opened to some of their own weaknesses.
Chattahoochee quarterback Travis Marshall, who is committed to Navy, repeatedly moved the chains by rolling right and finding open receivers along the sideline, including on the two-point conversion play that gave the Cougars the victory.
"They schemed a little bit to where they pinned our contain guy in a few times and found out where our dropper was and rolled toward him," West coach Frank Hepler said.
"When people watch you a little bit, you have to recognize that. ... We’ve come back and changed a little bit and did some self-scouting and said, ‘OK, I see now what they were seeing.’
"As we’ve kind of shown certain kids as go-to guys, now other kids are starting to step up on our offense and our defense. I know this week we’re going to mix things up and balance things out on both sides of the ball."
The loss dropped West into a three-way tie with Johns Creek (7-1, 4-1) and Alpharetta (5-3, 4-1) at the top of the region standings, but the Wolverines own the head-to-head tiebreakers over both those teams and will still win the region with a victory against South Forsyth tonight and a win in the regular season finale next week at Lambert.
West is a 34-point favorite over South tonight in the Maxwell Projections.
The War Eagles have dropped their last five games and are expected to be playing their fourth game without injured quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey. South coach Jeff Arnette said Eddie Mirynowski will likely get the start under center.
"West has the best talent in the region," South coach Jeff Arnette said. "They’ve got a great quarterback and a lot of kids that can play.
"We’ve got to just play as hard as we can and not let one play effect the next play, because they’re going to make some plays on you. We’ve got to match their emotion in that first half."
South’s defense has been its biggest asset this season and pound for pound, may have performed as well as any in the region. Although the unit has allowed 22 points per game, that number has been somewhat skewed by the offense’s struggles to sustain drives without Jeffrey and keep the defense off the field.
The War Eagles have allowed more than 28 points in a game only once this season and held Alpharetta — which has averaged 33 points per game this season — to a season-low 21 points.
"You’ve got to emphasize to the kids that you’re going to get everybody’s best game," Hepler said. "North was so excited about playing us, Chattahoochee was up and ready to go and made us homecoming, and I know South will be ready."
Hepler said the Wolverines’ coaching staff continues to preach the importance of finishing games on all sides of the ball, and he hopes the loss to Chattahoochee will stick with his players the rest of the season.
"I was telling the kids here at the end of practice, ‘I’ve noticed throughout the week when we had a little tough time in practice, I heard a couple of guys go, ‘Remember Friday night,’ so I think it’s good for the kids to have that feeling," the coach said.
"I don’t think we’ve reached our full potential yet. That’s what we’re trying to do, reach our full potential."
Lambert (5-3, 2-3 Region 6-AAAAAA) at Chattahoochee (5-3, 3-2)
After starting the season 5-0 and looking like a playoff team, the Longhorns are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since they began playing on the varsity level in 2010.
With a 35-7 loss at home against Alpharetta last week, Lambert has been outscored 96-42 in its previous three games and the schedule doesn’t get much better. The Longhorns must travel to Chattahoochee tonight — a team that knocked off then-unbeaten and No. 5-ranked West Forsyth — before closing the regular season at home against the Wolverines.
Both games are must-wins for Lambert to have a chance to make the playoffs.
"We have to go out and compete," Lambert head coach Sid Maxwell said. "We know we have to have some help for everything to line up correctly. It’s a must-win."
To make matters worse, the Longhorns could be without starting quarterback Brock Maxwell. Maxwell suffered a broken wrist in Week 3, but fought through the injury and continued playing until he was replaced midway through the third quarter last week. With the wrist still bothering Maxwell, Chandler Register and Hayden McCloud may share snaps under center.
Register completed 3 of 4 passes for 15 yards last week against Alpharetta, while McCloud finished 3 of 9 for 39 passing yards and one interception, meaning the workload may increase for bruising tailback Daniel Myers.
Myers tallied 84 rushing yards on 19 carries last week.
"Daniel was a 1,000-yard rusher last season and has been a workhorse," Maxwell said. "He has the strength to carry the pile two or three yards before getting brought down."
Lambert knocked off the Cougars last season 24-7, so Maxwell expects Chattahoochee to come out fired up and seek revenge.
"The [Chattahoochee] staff will have [the team] motivated for us. They are going to be a tough team. Beating West was a big game for them."
Pinecrest Academy (4-3, 2-2 Region 8-A) vs. Prince Avenue Christian (7-1, 3-1)
Pinecrest is within reach of its first playoff berth since joining the GHSA in 2010. The Paladins are tied with George Walton for the final playoff spot and likely need to win both of their final two games to qualify for the playoffs without the help of any tiebreakers.
"We’re in uncharted waters," Pinecrest head coach Todd Winter said. "We’re playing for a lot. These games matter and I know it’s going to be a battle for the playoffs. Our focus is to win the next two games."
The Paladins will have their hands full when they host a well-rested No. 4-ranked Prince Avenue Christian team.
The Wolverines knocked off their last two region opponents by a combined score of 78-6 before their bye last week.
"They’re a good team, there’s a reason why they’re ranked fourth in the state," Winter said. "They’re not extremely big, but they’re quick and athletic."
Prince Avenue boasts a stingy defense that allows only 8.1 points per game, and an offense that is scores 37 ppg.
"In this region, you can’t afford to make mistakes," Winter said. "This is one of the toughest regions in the state for 1-A. These teams have top defenses that are disciplined.
"We’re upbeat and excited. This [game] is a measuring stick for where we are."
Forsyth Central (2-6, 2-2 Region 7A-AAAAA) vs. Northview (2-6, 2-2)
It’s simple for Forsyth Central and Northview. Win and claim the three seed or lose and get the fourth seed.
The Bulldogs square off at home against the Titans in the final game before next week’s region play-in game, where they would play either No. 7 Kell or Pope next Friday night.
"This [game] is very big for us," Central head coach Chris Bennett said. "Playing for something late in the season is exciting. We’ve had to play for pride the past couple of season, so we’re looking forward to it."
If Central defeats Northview, it will be the most wins in a season for the program, without victory by forfeit, since 2008.
For the Bulldogs to knock off Northview, they will have to contain senior running back Terrence Upshaw.
Upshaw, who holds an offer from Vanderbilt, ran for a gaudy 276 yards and five touchdowns on 26 carries in a 58-48 loss to Sequoyah last week.
"That offense scores a lot of points," Bennett said. "We can’t let [Upshaw] outscore us. He’s a great player. We’re going to have to steal a possession and slow them down."
North Forsyth (3-5, 0-5 Region 6-AAAAAA) vs. Johns Creek (7-1, 4-1)
Although North Forsyth is eliminated from playoff contention, the Raiders can play the role of spoiler tonight and hurt Johns Creek’s hopes of a home playoff game.
The Raiders were upended by Centennial 27-9 last week, but morale is still high with the team.
"Everyone’s in good spirits," North head coach Blair Armstrong said. "We lost a heartbreaking game [to Centennial]. I thought we could beat Centennial.
"We want to send our seniors out with success. We’re going to do our best to win the last two [games]."
It doesn’t help North that some players have the stomach virus, and running back/safety Tanner Riddle is out with a broken elbow he suffered in the last week’s game.
The Raiders’ offense has struggled in the previous two games, scoring only three points in a Week 7 loss to West before managing nine points to Centennial. For the season, North has scored 16.6 points per game.
"We’re not going to try and change our offense this late [in the season]," Armstrong said. "But, we’ll put in a few different wrinkles like usual.
"[Johns Creek] is an experienced club. We’ll have to play our best."