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|SPORTS SECTION - NOVEMBER 10, 1999|
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|1999 Local Football Schedules|
BCHS stuns playoff-minded
BY ADAM FOUCHE
Should Banks County head coach Rance Gillespie ever decide to try another career, he would have to consider being a film director. Gillespie coached his team to a 21-20 overtime win over Jefferson last Friday night that couldn't have been more exciting even if scripted in Hollywood.
The Leopards forced four turnovers in the game for eight points. Banks County also utilized an effective passive attack in overtime to pick up the win off penetration.
"That was a huge win for us," Gillespie said. "We beat a good football team that had a winning record and everything to play for. That was a tough game, neither side was willing to give in. Down 20-6, Jefferson could have rolled over. When we were getting killed by penetration with 1:20 to go, we could have quit."
Gillespie said his team had nothing to look past, focusing all the Leopards' energy on the task at hand.
"We have treated these last two games as our playoff games," he said.
With only 1:17 left in overtime play, the Leopards, behind in penetration, took over possession on their own 14-yard line. Banks County quarterback Drew Gowder caught fire, hitting receiver Mike Ivey on four straight passes to push the ball to Jefferson's 37 yard line. Jefferson coach Bob Gurley called timeout to see just how many yards Banks County needed to win. The referees said four, and Gillespie said Hank Jones.
"They told us we needed four yards," Gillespie said. "There was no doubt whose hands I was going to put the ball. Hank Jones did not miss a workout all summer long. He had made an investment in the season and earned the right to be in that situation."
Jones found a hole up the middle and ran the ball down to Jefferson's 25-yard line. Gowder took a knee on the next play to end the game.
Buford Visits Tigers To Settle 8-A Race
BY DREW BRANTLEY
Strap 'em on. It's time to go.
No one thought last year's 4-6 record by Buford was going to send the Wolves on a losing trend. At 9-0, Buford is ready to make the turnaround complete with perfect regular season.
After a 10-0 regular season campaign in 1997, Commerce is poised for its second region title in three years by way of a perfect regular season.
But they both can't happen. One team will be the champion and the other will be a very good 9-1 second seed.
"I know we feel fortunate, and I'm sure they do to," Commerce coach Steve Savage said. "Not many times do you reach the 10th game to decide the region champion. But this is the 10th game and this is it."
Last year, Buford struggled with overcoming the loss of the seniors from the 1997 team, which also played the Tigers for the region title in Commerce. After losses to Lincoln County and North Gwinnett, the Wolves went 4-4 in Region 8-A falling to the middle of the pack.
But as their season ended with a 55-33 loss to Commerce, the Tiger coach could see the Wolves coming back to form.
"You could tell when we played them last year that they had enough tools," Savage said. "They had more skill athletes than anybody else. We had to score 50-some points to win. We couldn't stop them, and they couldn't stop us."
Buford continued that improvement this year, starting the season with a 24-19 win over Lincoln County, last year's Class A runner-up. They continued with a 26-7 win over Class AAAA rival North Gwinnett.
Then the Wolves really put it on. A 21-3 win over Rabun County in the opening week of Region 8-A play proved Buford's only real challenge, such as it was. The Wolves held the defending region champs to less than 100 yards of total offense.
As the two teams are an identical 9-0, the rest of their seasons followed similar paths. Buford and Commerce each had 40 points or more in five of their games this season.
Buford has averaged a 37-9 victory so far this season. Commerce's typical win in 1999 has been 38-14.
Hurting Panthers take another hit
BY TIM THOMAS
With some things, you simply have to ask yourself what else can go wrong. Friday night in Watkinsville, coach Greg Lowe found out.
Lowe, already missing standout players Casey Berryman and Ryan Glass, and Terriss Hale due to injury, suffered the loss of yet another key player last week in Watkinsville.
Panther fullback Ski Harris, the team's top rusher, left Friday's game against Oconee County with a dislocated shoulder. With 5:22 remaining in the game, Harris rambled to an impressive 57-yard touchdown against the Warriors for his team's final score. His injury came on the ensuing kickoff.
Minutes later, on the sideline, Harris was undergoing what looked to be an excrutiating procedure to correct the dislocation.
"It's a good thing we got him out here," said one of the trainers working with Harris. "If we'd seen him two hours later at the hospital, it would have been a lot more difficult." Harris will join the wounded corps on the sideline this week at West Hall.
Jackson County started the game well enough, holding the top-ranked Warriors to only six points in the first quarter, thanks to a defensive stop and a missed field goal. The two teams struggled with three fumbles in four plays early in the second quarter before Oconee was off to the races.
The Warriors scored five times in the second quarter, while Jackson County's five possessions ended with three turnovers, two punts, and a loss on downs. Oconee's three touchdowns over a 63-second span put the Warriors up 40-0 at halftime.
The Panther offense woke up in the second half against Oconee's substitutes, scoring 27 points to the Warriors' 21. Jackson County scored on four consecutive possessions in the second half.
Brandon Shields got the Panthers on the board with a 34-yard touchdown run late in the third period. Sam Veal followed with a short scoring run on the first play of the fourth. Three minutes later, Rodrick Gresham scored on a pass from Quen Usher.
Only this week's contest at West Hall remains as an opportunity for the Panthers to break their 18-game losing streak. The Spartans are 3-6 on the year, and played well last week in a losing effort at Stephens County, 14-7.
JHS all but eliminated from playoff contention
BY ADAM FOUCHE
After a heartbreaking overtime loss to Banks County last week, the Jefferson Dragons (3-4 region, 5-4 overall) need a win over Wesleyan (3-4 region, 4-5 overall) Friday night and whole lot of luck to even have a chance of earning a playoff berth.
"We are just going to try to get everyone healthy for Friday night with the idea that we probably won't make the playoffs," head coach Bob Gurley said. "We want to do good enough to finish the season with a winning record to build on next year."
A win over Wesleyan Friday night isn't the only factor in the Dragons' playoff hopes. Both Dawson County and Rabun County have to lose Friday for the Dragons to have a shot at postseason play.
Dawson County will be taking on Riverside Military Academy. Riverside will need nothing short of a miracle to defeat the Tigers.
Rabun County is scheduled play Greater Atlanta Christian in Clayton. The Spartans have already secured a playoff berth with a 42-3 win over Wesleyan last week.
Senior tailback Stephen Sims, who has missed two games with an injury, will not play Friday.
Victor Tate is also questionable, having received a hip pointer against the Leopards.
"We have just been massacred by injuries all this year," Gurley said.
taste of victory
Raiders coast to second win of the year, thrash N. Hall 26-6
BY BEN MUNRO
After tangling with top-ranked Oconee last week, Madison County deserved a little breather - and they got it Friday night.
While last year's match-up with North Hall presented Madison County with a nail-biting, defensive war, Friday night's contest with the Trojans provided few worries for the Red Raiders as the squad thumped North Hall by a score of 26-6 on the road.
Madison County head coach Tom Hybl said he was pleased with the win, though he added that his team could have played better.
"We didn't play very well," said Hybl. "But when you're struggling, any victory is good. We did a lot of work to get here. But there's still a long ways to go."
Madison County, who moved to 2-7 with the win, stuck to what they do best as they ripped the Trojan defense apart with their ground attack, rolling up 369 yards in the 20-point route, the team's second consecutive victory over North Hall.
But it was the long runs that proved to be the most potent as running backs Brad Kirk and Preston Fortson provided the highlights for the Raiders, stunning the Trojans with key touchdown runs of 65 and 47 yards during the contest.
It didn't take Kirk very long to introduce himself to the Trojan defense as the junior took the ball at the Raider 35 on the squad's first possession of the game and sparked the Raider crowd, rumbling down the right sideline for Madison County's first score of the evening with 5:00 left in the opening quarter.
The score from Kirk capped off a seven-play, 90-yard drive for the revved-up Raider squad.
Kirk, who ran wild with 127 yards on nine carries was quick to praise the offensive line for their role in the opening touchdown in the ballgame.
"It felt great to score," said Kirk of the run. "The offensive line did a great job. It was awesome to see it all come together - the line executed perfectly."
North Hall didn't stay dazed for very long after Kirk's run as they took the ball at their own 40 and engineered an eight-play, 60 yard drive, capped off by a four-yard surge into the end zone from tailback Thomas Coffman. The Trojans extra point attempt missed, keeping Madison County up by a point, 7-6, with just 43 seconds left in the first quarter.
However, the Trojan score would be the lone points of the evening for North Hall, who had been having problems finding the end zone all season long.
After Madison County missed a big scoring opportunity in the second quarter, driving down to the Trojan four only to come up empty handed, the Raiders got their second score of the first half with only 33 ticks left in the half as Drew Sparks, who rushed for 106 yards on 31 carries, crashed in from a few inches out to up the score to 13-6.
On the six-play drive, which started on the Raider 43, Kirk picked up more big runs, getting gains of 20 and 11 yards to push the squad deep into North Hall territory to help set up the score.
The second half was no brighter for North Hall, as the squad could do little to slow the Madison County running attack. The Raiders wore down the Trojan defensive front and picked up two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The first came at the beginning of the final quarter as Fortson broke the game open for the Raiders, exploding through a huge hole and racing 47 yards to the end zone to put Madison County up by a count of 20-6 with 10:33 left in the game.
The Raiders' final touchdown of the game came in the middle of the quarter as Sparks pounded the ball in from a yard out with 5:15 left to play for his second score of the evening. The Raiders' extra-point attempt was blocked, keeping it a 20-point game.
Junior Donny Stamper, who followed up his 77-yard performance against Oconee with 50 yards on three carries against the Trojans, set up this Raider touchdown three plays earlier as he took a hand-off near midfield and swung around the left side for 46 yards before being pushed out at the two-yard line.
Stamper got another chance to run again before the night was over, but this time on the Trojans' final attempt to put points on the scoreboard.
On a strange play, North Hall attempted a 31-yard field goal with under four minutes to play in the contest. However, the attempt went nowhere near the uprights but directly toward Stamper. Stamper caught the line drive attempt on the left side of the field at the Madison County 10 and sprinted all the way down to the North Hall 30.
Travis Moore led the Madison County defense with seven tackles, five assists and an interception. Scotty Robinson had two tackles and five assists and Sparks finished with four tackles and five assists. Paul Collins had an interception, his second of the year, and Kirk had a fumble recovery.
Other Raiders running the ball in the win included Billy Huntsinger, one run for four yards; Steve Austin, one carry for two yards; Steve Austin, one rush for two yards; Tony Tittle, two carries for four yards; and Joey Hatala, who came back from a lengthy injury with one run for three yards.
Banks, Jefferson come full circle
By Drew Brantley
A funny thing happened to the Jefferson Dragons on their way to the playoffs this year.
The Banks County Leopards weren't ready to rubber-stamp Jefferson's ticket to the postseason just yet. So in their most significant win since downing Athens Academy in the seventh week of the 1997 season to claim the subregion title, Banks County wins a big game.
I'm usually not superstitious. But I do think there is a balance to the universe. If you look at the recent history of Jefferson's and Banks County's football teams, I think you'll agree.
Back in 1997, when Banks County was in the midst of its second straight 8-2 season and trip to the postseason, Jefferson was coming off a 1-9 season that saw the Dragons beat only Riverside Military Academy.
Going into the final game of the 1997 season, Banks County was 8-1. A potential 9-1 season would be the best mark the team had managed since Terry Allen roamed in Homer. The playoffs were locked up for the Leopards. Nothing would keep them from going. But that didn't mean Banks County would be invincible at Jefferson.
Jefferson was 2-7 under then first-year coach Bob Gurley. They were making steady improvement and had already doubled the win total from a year before. All that was missing was that final sign that Jefferson was no longer a doormat for Region 8-A.
A forward-looking Leopard team proved to be the Dragons' target. A Jefferson win seemed out of place, but told the story of things to come.
For Banks County, the loss to the Dragons would begin a 12-game losing streak.
While Banks County lost, Jefferson won. The Dragons reached the playoffs last season with an 8-2 record, losing in the first round to eventual state champion Darlington.
As this season began, Jefferson had its eyes set squarely on the postseason again. Banks County was looking to build slowly back to the level it had recently achieved.
Friday night, the arching travels of the two squads met again at Memorial Stadium in Jefferson.
Under first-year coach Rance Gillespie, the Leopards had no postseason future to hamper them this time. Much like the 1997 Dragons, this game would be Banks County's "playoff."
The Leopards could drastically affect who would make the postseason. And to a team with two wins, another victory is a 50 percent improvement. The mission seemed simple for the Leopards:
"If 1999 is not to be our year, let's not make it Jefferson's, either."
And so the season, the history, the future all meant nothing beyond the game. In that night, Banks County played like champions. They took a lead, lost it, got down in overtime and charged back to win on the last plays of the game.
I'm sure it would have been nice to win in regulation. It would have been more comforting to win a 20-6 game rather than have the outcome dwindle down to a missed extra point to keep the game tied.
But I think there's something more heroic about winning a game by penetration. It means your defense matched the other guy's offense. And it means that your offense has the will to gain a few yards more.
I don't know what will happen next year. But I do know that Banks County found a way to win Friday night. I also know that once found, that kind of self-respect is not easy to lose.
Drew Brantley is the sports editor for The Commerce News and The Banks County News.
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