Hughes’ winning streak ends at 17; Gainesville ascends to No. 1 in Class 6A

It's game time!: Langston Hughes and Gainesville met in the Class 6A championship game Friday at Center Parc Stadium. (Jamie Spaar/For the AJC)

Credit: Jamie Spaar/For the AJC

Credit: Jamie Spaar/For the AJC

It's game time!: Langston Hughes and Gainesville met in the Class 6A championship game Friday at Center Parc Stadium. (Jamie Spaar/For the AJC)

Defending Class 6A champion Hughes had its school-record 17-game winning streak come to an end Saturday night when the Panthers lost to Butler of Matthews, N.C., 30-27 in the C1N Labor Day Classic at Lakewood Stadium.

The Panthers’ winning streak had been the longest active streak in the state.

The loss was the Panthers’ first since a 21-20 loss to Buford in the 2021 Class 6A championship game. It also ended their streak of regular-season victories at 21 since a 7-6 loss to Newton in the 2021 season opener.

Air Noland passed for a season-high 196 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted three times, once in the final minutes after Hughes had rallied from a 30-14 halftime deficit. The Panthers were held to a season-low 175 yards rushing on 19 carries. Noland, who has committed to Ohio State, is 37-of-62 passing (59.7%) for 521 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Butler is the No. 11 team overall in North Carolina, according to MaxPreps

Hughes dropped to No. 2 in the AJC Class 6A rankings after the loss, opening the door for Gainesville to move up from No. 2 and claim the top spot.

Gainesville, which lost to Hughes in last year’s state championship game, improved to 3-0 with a 30-22 victory over Coconut Creek of Florida last week. The Red Elephants are ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2013, the year after they won the Class 5A championship.

Gavin Hall rushed for 180 yards and a touchdown and had 95 yards and a touchdown receiving. Gainesville led 30-14 in the fourth quarter before giving up a late touchdown on a fumble return.

“There’s no doubt this group wants to work hard and wants to get better,” Gainesville coach Josh Niblett told AccessWDUN after the Coconut Creek game Friday night. “This group wants to do the little things and, you know, they’re just learning right now. We have a lot of guys who are still learning what we’re doing in our program, but those guys are working together to put it all together.”

Gainesville opened the season with victories over Class 6A No. 9 Marist (34-26) and Class 7A Mountain View (34-21). The Red Elephants will travel to Class 5A No. 9 Clarke Central this week.

Hughes has the week off before beginning Region 5 play at New Manchester on Sept. 15.

Border wars

Class 6A’s Glynn Academy and Brunswick will be the host schools for the second annual Georgia vs. Florida Border Classic this weekend. The event will feature seven games over three days at Glynn County Stadium matching teams from primarily southeast Georgia against Florida opponents.

Charlton County will kick off the action with a 4:30 p.m. game Thursday against University Christian of Jacksonville. Glynn Academy will follow at 7:30 against Baker County of Glen St. Mary. Friday’s games match Fitzgerald against Madison County (Madison, Fla.) at 4:30 p.m. and Coffee against Bolles (Jacksonville) at 8. The Saturday schedule includes McIntosh County Academy against West Nassau (Callahan, Fla.) at 1 p.m., Richmond Hill vs. Creekside (St. Johns, Fla.) at 4 and Brunswick against St. Augustine at 7:30.

This will be West Nassau’s second consecutive game against a Georgia team. The Warriors defeated Charlton County 22-20 last weekend.

Georgia went 4-3 in the event last season, with Brunswick, Coffee, Fitzgerald and McIntosh County Academy coming away with victories.

Still unbeaten

Only 15 of the 57 teams in Class 6A remain unbeaten a quarter of the way through the regular season. Region 1 leads the classification with four unbeaten teams – No. 3 Houston County (3-0), No. 4 Lee County (3-0), No. 6 Thomas County Central and unranked Veterans (2-0). Brunswick is the only 1-0 team in the group. The Pirates were off in Week 1 and had last week’s scheduled game against Winter Park, Fla., cancelled. Brunswick’s fellow Region 2 team South Effingham is 2-0.

The other teams without a loss are Mundy’s Mill (3-0) of Region 3; North Atlanta (3-0) and Dunwoody (2-0) of Region 4; Douglas County (3-0) of Region 5; Etowah (3-0) of Region 6; No. 5 Roswell (3-0), Sprayberry (3-0) and Blessed Trinity (2-0) of Region 7; and No. 1 Gainesville (3-0) of Region 8.