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Raiders to face new-look Hancock Central team Friday
Hancock Central head coach Wilbert Simmons isn’t just sand-bagging when he says his program is getting its feet wet Friday night when it opens its season against Madison County.
To start with, Simmons is in his first-ever head coaching position after a previous stop as an offensive coordiator at Wilkinson County.
Then, there’s a wholesale change in personnel as the Bulldogs have the chore of replacing 18 starters this year.
And finally, Hancock Central has been on the practice field trying to implement new schemes on both sides of the ball in time for Friday night’s contest.
Despite all the change, Simmons said that the transition hasn’t been overally choatic in Sparta.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “Practice has been smooth. We’re trying to put in a new offense and defense so that’s been a little challenging but we’ve got devoted players and a great group of kids. It’s going as good as can be expected.”
Madison County head coach Tom Hybl said his team will have its hands full with what could be a very dangerous Hancock Central team.
“They’re very athletic, very big,” he said. “ ... We saw them in two scrimmages and they played two good football teams and they played very well. They threw it on the ground in our game last year three or four times which helped us to win.”
The Bulldogs will sport roughly the same amount of numbers as the Raiders with 42 players on their roster, most of them playing both ways.
Simmons listed his key players as quarterback Brandon Griffin, quarterback; brother Kevin Griffin, who plays wide receiver and defensive back; offensive and defensive lineman Aaron Willis, fullback and linebacker Josh McClain; and receiver, linebacker and pretty much jack-of-all trades Cordero Foster.
“Those guys are doing a good job with leadership and everything,” Simmons said of the group.
Offensively, Simmons said his scheme will be one that encompasses the entire playbook, featuring a wide-open style of play that will utilize the shotgun formation and three and four wide receiver sets.
“They’ve got a good left handed quarterback and they like to get in the shotgun and hose it all-around and scramble around,” Hybl said.
On the other side of the ball, Hancock Central will employ a base four-man front set up which should feature some pretty impressive athletes according to Hybl.
“Defensively, they’re big and physical,” he said.
Hybl said the keys to a win over the Bulldogs will be the same as those in the Raiders’ 14-7 win over Franklin County this past Friday.
“We’ll have to stay deciplined and plug away and hopefully we can get to the fourth quarter and make something happen — which was exactly what happened Friday night,” he said.
Simmons said his group is excited about the opportunity to open against a team like Madison County.
“They’re a good program. We saw some film of them in scrimmages. They’re big and well-experienced. It will be a good battle. The coach does a good job of coaching them. We just hope we can hang in there.”

Lady Leopards top Athens Christian
Banks picks up third win of season
In only their eighth game of the season, the Lady Leopards matched their win total from all of last season with a 7-6 victory over Athens Christian early last week.
Now the team turns its focus to two region games this week. In a game moved from last week, Banks was slated to take on Union County Wednesday afternoon.
On Thursday, the Lady Leopards will travel to Wesleyan for a 5 p.m. game. And on Monday, they’ll get Athens Christian in Athens at 4:30 p.m. for a re-match of last week’s contest.
Softball coach Kevin Gaines said the team should compete with Union. The Lady Leopards picked up a win against Wesleyan last season and could do the same this year.
But the team’s leading hitter, Kayla Parks, could be nursing a knee injury sustained in last week’s Athens Christian game. Gaines listed her as day to day but said he does not expect her to miss any games.
The 7-6 win over Athens Christian was Banks County’s third of the season, coming against a team competing in the sport for the first time on the varsity level.
“Like most first-year programs, they struggle with pitching,” Gaines said. “They hit the ball real well against us and in turn we hit the ball as well.”
Freshman pitcher Gabbie Fleming lasted the entire contest on the mound for Banks, bagging six strikeouts.
Athens Christian jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first off a double, two singles and two hit batters. Banks only picked up a Hope Autry single in the bottom half of the inning.
In the bottom of the second, the Lady Leopards were able to take the lead.
K. Parks reached on an error and Brittany Harris got to first on a single. Brooke Whitmire then put down an RBI single to cut the lead to 3-2.
Ashley Denton drew a walk and Jessi Freeman hit into a fielder’s choice to score B. Whitmire to tie the game. Brandy Stapp also hit into a fielder’s choice but Rachel Walker followed with a single.
H. Autry drew another walk and Nicole Powell picked up an RBI single to give the Lady Leopards a 4-3 lead. K. Parks came back up to bat in the inning and picked up an RBI single to add another run.
In the fourth, B. Stapp and R. Walker lead with back-to-back singles. K. Parks followed with a single to score both runners and take a 7-4. But K. Parks came out of the game on the play after injuring her knee trying to beat out the single.
Athens Christian tried cutting into the lead in the top of the sixth. The Lady Eagles picked up four straight singles to score two runs and cut the lead to 7-6. Banks held on in the seventh to take the win.

The Wait Is Over
Tigers Looking For Fast Start, Lions Looking To Get Back On Track Friday
Expect Commerce and Franklin County to be two teams eager to get back on the playing field when they meet Friday night — albeit, for much different reasons.
The 7:30 p.m. matchup in Carnesville finally gives the Tigers the chance to put an end to seven grueling weeks of preseason preparations and use it towards something that counts after sitting out this past Friday with an open date while the majority of the teams in the state started their seasons.
Fifteenth-year Commerce head coach Steve Savage said his team has become a bit restless after a month-and-a-half on the practice field.
“We’re ready to play — win, lose or draw,” he said. “We might start getting worse if we keep on practicing.”
Meanwhile, the Lions will be a club with redemption on its mind after being topped 14-7 in the closing moments Friday night by rival Madison County in which the Raiders’ grind-it-out offense maneuvered 65 yards down the field to score the game-winning touchdown with just six seconds left.
Though his team fell in dramatic fashion, second-year Lions’ coach Danny Durham said his team isn’t one that’s feeling sorry for itself this week.
“They’re OK,” Durham said of his team. “We practiced yesterday (Monday) and everybody came ready to work. We just can’t make the same mistakes that we made. And we made a lot of them. But we still had a chance to win. We probably shouldn’t have had that.”
Savage wasn’t sure how the Lions’ close loss would affect them for Friday.
“It thought it was a hard-fought, good high school football game between two teams that played hard and it was as hot as 400,” he said. “It went down to the wire. It was a great game. I don’t know whether it’s good to play a team after a loss or not. I’m sure they found out a lot about themselves in that game.”
Commerce enters the contest enjoying a six-game winning streak in the series and a 14-3 edge overall. But if last year’s game is any indication, Savage said his team can expect a barn-burner. Franklin County’s double-slot option attack racked up 310 yards, including 188 on the ground as Commerce hung on to win 23-15.
Despite featuring a scheme that is similar to what Commerce employs, stopping Franklin County’s offense this year will be a tall order for the Tiger defense.
The Lions’s offense is led by a dangerous and experienced signal caller in Tyler Eavenson, who rushed for over 100 yards this past Friday, including a 37-yard touchdown in which he broke loose from a host of Raiders tacklers. Franklin County also features a pair of solid fullbacks — Daniel Smith and Matt Hewitt — and a speester at tailback, Cordero Davis.
“We felt going into last year’s game that we had a good chance to defend that because it’s that’s something we see everyday,” he said. “And they ran up and down the field on us. I feel like it’s the best offense made for high school football.”
Durham doesn’t think that his team having already played a game to be an overwhelming factor in Friday night’s contest.
“Sometimes it’s just getting there on Friday night when the lights come on,” he said. “I know those young men at Commerce when the light’s come on, they’ll be ready to play.
Durham said his players understands that it has “a very, very big game ahead of it” and knows what to expect from Commerce.
“The usual — and by saying that, that says a lot,” Durham said of the Tigers. “They’ll be very, very good at what they do. They’re a program that can compete on any level. They’ll be tough with what they do offensively and defensively. We’ll have to hope that we can make the right adjustments and execute our offense.”
Commerce does come into the game in solid shape with its personnel. Savage said the team has seen few injuries in the preseason and has it’s starting lineup all but set, save for a few adjustments that might be made this week.
“We’re pretty much healthy,” he said. “We’ve been two-platooning as much as we can because of the heat and playing as many guys as possible. That’s our main concern.”

Headed for the mountains
Dragons to face Union Co. on Fri.
With their first-game jitters and question marks now behind them the Jefferson football team heads north to Union County this Friday night to face a Panther squad that will have to deal with many of the season-opening issues that the Dragons have already seen.
That in itself gives Jefferson an edge according to Union County head coach Kent Green.
“I definitely think it’s a disadvantage for us,” Green said Tuesday. “(Jefferson’s) gotten all of the nervousness and jitters out already, but we haven’t had a chance to step on the field yet.”
When they do walk out between the hashmarks Friday, fans can expect a decidedly different squad on the field for Union County than the one that suited up last season for the Class AA school.
An overhaul on offense has seen the club lose a variety of players from last season and they have had to retool their philosophy on that side of the ball, according to Green.
“We’re probably not as balanced as we were last season, we’re going to be more of a running oriented team this year,” Green explained.
During the two team’s last meeting on Sept. 6 of last year the Panthers were able to even out the play distribution en route to 158 yards passing and 154 yards rushing in the losing effort.
With eight seniors returning from a 4-6 team last season, Union County will be looking at Friday’s game as a new beginning, Green said.
One advantage the Panthers will have this time around is the home field edge, something that has proven to be an obstacle tough to overcome for the Dragons since the arrival of head coach Bill Navas in 2002.
The Dragons are 1-6 under Navas in road contests, but with the monkey apparently off their backs after last week’s win at Apalachee things could be turning around for the squad. “I think that (the home field advantage) will be somewhat of an advantage for us, a little one but still an advantage,” said Green.

Lady Panthers prowling rival Winder on Thursday
TWO OF the top teams in Region 8-AAAA North, Jackson County and Winder-Barrow, will square off Thursday in Winder in what has become one of the area’s fiercest rivalries.
“Winder is always Winder,” Jackson County head coach Mark Mahoney said last week. “It’s always a big game for us.”
Last season the Lady Bulldoggs finished behind North co-champions Jackson County (6-3) and Madison County thanks in large part to the Lady Panthers’ win over Winder. While Jackson County went unbeaten at home last season it was the squad’s close road win against Winder-Barrow that helped guide them to the title.
Rain limited Jackson County from opening at home last week against Habersham Central, that game has been rescheduled for Oct. 7 at 5 p.m.
Thursday’s game begins an important stretch of contests for the Lady Bulldoggs. Friday and Saturday the squad plays in the Lake Lanier Invitational in Gainesville followed by important area games next week against Cedar Shoals and perhaps the biggest rival of all, Madison County, which comes to town Thursday.

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