Stephens County and Gainesville are only about 40 miles apart, and one would think the two teams would make for a natural rivalry. Recent history hasn’t worked out that way.
Up until 1988, it seemed they played each other all the time. Nine times between 1971 and 1988, they played twice in the same season, but they’ve squared off just once since then.
According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website, Gainesville and Stephens played each other twice in 1971, 1972, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1986 and 1988. Gainesville won the second meeting in six of those.
This year’s Region 8-AAA finalists last played in the state playoffs in 2002, when Gainesville took a 22-9 win on its way to the state semifinals.
“We’ve scrimmaged them a couple of times, but we were in different regions, and when we got in the same region this time, the only way were going to play was in this play-in game,” said Gainesville coach Bruce Miller.
It was happenstance that they didn’t play a regular-season cross-over game, according to Stephens County coach Travis Noland. “We drew names out of a hat,” he said.
The two north Georgi powers get a chance to make up for lost time Friday night. There are similarities. Both started with a season-opening loss and have reeled off eight straight wins since then. Both have red and black color schemes.
But the game will be a contrast in styles, featuring two of the most potent players in the class.
Behind quarterback Deshaun Watson (1,890 yards passing, 25 TDs, 5 INT), Gainesville throws it more than 20 times a game and gets big plays through the air. The Red Elephants, who have allowed just 59 points since their 49-0 loss to Buford in week 1, are gunning for their fourth straight region title.
“They’re very big and very fast,” said Stephens County coach Travis Noland. “We’re definitely going to have our hands full.”
Stephens County, which last won a region championship in 2007, has allowed the fewest points in the region and gets big offensive production from RB Chaz Thornton (1,785 yards rushing, 25 TDs), who exploded for 266 yards against North Hall last week. The Indians have only attempted 14 passes all year.
“They scare me to death,” said Miller. “They’ve got speed and talent. This ought to be a great games. Both teams are very equal.”
Coming Thursday: Region championship games galore …