Two region championships will be determined on the field on Friday night through head-to-head matchups on the final week of the regular season.
No. 2 Buford (7-1) and No. 9 Flowery Branch (8-1), both under new head coaches this season, will meet to decide the Region 8 title. The winner will be the region champion and the loser will be the second seed. Both are guaranteed a first-round playoff spot.
Buford’s appearance comes as no surprise. First-year coach John Ford, who came from Roswell, has guided the Wolves into position to win their fifth straight region championship. Buford has won the region championship in 14 of the previous 16 seasons.
Less was certain about Flowery Branch when the season began. Ben Hall moved over from Jefferson to run the program and has watched the Falcons rebound from last year’s 3-7 season.
“If you’d told me in the spring we’d be in this position, I’d have had a hard time believing you,” Hall said. “We’re excited to be playing this game.”
Buford is led by a deep group of running backs led by Michigan commitment Christian Turner, Tennessee commitment Antony Grant and Derrian Brown. Freshman quarterback Aaron McLaughlin has developed into an excellent field leader. Buford has scored 378 points and has won its five region contests by a combined score of 269-7. The Buford defense did not allow a point in its four games in October.
“They’ve got great players and they’re very well-coached,” Hall said. “They just don’t make many mistakes.”
Flowery Branch is led by senior running backs Malik Damons (1,155 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Malik Drayton (742 yards, 13 touchdowns). Sophomore quarterback Elijah Gainey has thrown for 1,139 yards and nine touchdowns. The Falcons have scored 29 or more points in eight of their nine games.
Bainbridge at Warner Robins to determine Region 1 title: This is shaping up to be a real shootout between No. 5 Bainbridge (7-2) and No. 4 Warner Robins (9-0) at McConnell-Talbert Stadium.
Warner Robins has put 357 points on the board behind the direction of junior quarterback Dylann Fromm, who has thrown for 2,169 yards and 26 touchdowns. Julius Cobbs (40 catches, 11 touchdowns), Jaeven West (38 catches, five touchdowns) and Tyler Fromm (28 catches, three touchdowns) head a productive crew of receivers. Jarius Burnett has rushed for 774 yards and eight touchdowns.
Bainbridge has scored 327 points with a run-oriented attack. AJC Super 11 pick Dameon Pierce, a Florida commitment, has rushed for 1,709 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. He is 12th on the all-time rushing list with 6,365 yards. Quarterback Mark Loeffler has thrown for 788 yards and seven touchdowns.
New Hampstead at Ware County: The winner gets second place in Region 2. Ware (3-5) had won four of the previous five titles before losing last week to Wayne County, which earned the top seed. New Hampstead (5-3) made the playoffs for the first time last season but an upset win over Ware County would be the most significant since the school opened in 2014. Ware County won 49-14 last season.
Dutchtown at Jones County: The winner will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed from Region 4. Jones County (8-1) will be trying to bounce back from last week’s showdown loss to Stockbridge. Dutchtown (7-2) will the No. 2 seed if it wins, but will be the No. 4 seed if it loses.
Lithonia vs. Arabia Mountain (Godfrey, 5:30 p.m.): Lithonia will be guaranteed a playoff if it can upset Region 5 champion Arabia Mountain. A loss means the Bulldogs (3-6) could fall into a variety of tiebreaking situations.
Columbia vs. Southwest DeKalb (Godfrey, 8 p.m.): The winner will finish second in Region 5 and get to host a first-round playoff game. Southwest, without quarterback Justin Tomlin in last week’s loss to Arabia Mountain, is led by 1,000-yard rusher Francisco Hunter and a defense anchored by linebacker Eris Walker and tackle Garrison Cole. Columbia, fresh from a 62-0 win over Chamblee, is led by quarterback Tremaine Calloway, running back Khalon Manuel and defensive standouts Levar Gardner and Telvin Godfrey, who have combined for 200-plus tackles this year.
East Paulding at Paulding County: The winner between the two 4-5 clubs will earn the No. 4 seed from Region 7. East Paulding has dominated the series lately, winning 10 of the last 11 meetings. East Paulding won 28-27 last season. East Paulding is led by running back Tyrell Robinson, who rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns against Hiram. Paulding County features quarterback Brantley Mauldin, who passed for 251 yards and five touchdowns against Cass and has 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns this season.
The team went through a background check from Wounded Warriors and had to receive permission to wear the organization’s logo on its helmets this year.
School Superintendent Lou Byars, a veteran and graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, will present a check at the 50-yard line at the end of the first quarter to Brittany Brown, the regional director of Wounded Warriors.
Brown said the donation from Rome will enable tat last two veterans to attend a Wounded Warrior retreat.
Rome coach John Reid said, "Our football team has been blessed with a great amount of support from the citizens and businesses of Rome and Floyd County. We want to make sure that our kids understand that it is important to recognize people and organizations that make great sacrifices for them and our country.
"We thought to be a part of the Wounded Warrior Project would be a great lesson for our players. They need to know that while they are considered heroes on Friday night, we have heroes that protect us and our country every night, in distant places around the world. Some of these men and women come home injured and we want to help them in any way we can. We are honored to wear the symbol of the Wounded Warrior on our helmet.”