The state semifinals are here and Gwinnett County is represented by three teams in two classes. North Gwinnett and Norcross in 6A, and Buford in 3A, are all nationally ranked and survived their quarterfinal contests to advance. Let’s take a look at the upcoming games for each.
NO.23 COLQUITT COUNTY (11-2) AT NO. 30 NORCROSS (11-2): 6A defending champion Norcross hosts Colquitt County for the second consecutive year in the semifinals. Norcross leads the all-time series 1-0. The teams have scrimmage each other the past two seasons, with Norcross winning both during the varsity portions. Safe to say both teams are familiar with each other.
Colquitt County is no stranger to road playoff games or winning them. The Packers defeated Dacula in the quarterfinals to improve to 12-3 road playoff games since 2009 – all under head coach Rush Propst. In the playoffs, Colquitt County is averaging 45ppg and allowing 11.3ppga. The Packers are in the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season, the first team to do that in the highest classification.
Offensively look for quarterback Gabe Mobley, running back Sihiem King, receivers Kiel Pollard and Todd Boyd, and a veteran offensive line, to continue their explosive outputs against a stout Norcross defense. Linebacker Bull Barge leads the Packers in tackles with an eye-popping 188 tackles. However, their strong defensive line is the strength of their defense anchored by Quint Hampton (19.5 sacks) and Mike Parrish (146 tackles). Jamiyus Pittman, an Ole Miss commitment, missed five games this season with a broken leg but has played in every playoff game.
Norcross has hosted all of their playoff games yet have struggled in the first half in each of them. Norcross is averaging 4.6ppg in the first half yet after halftime adjustments are averaging 22.3ppg in the second half. For the playoffs Norcross is averaging 29.3ppg and allowing 5.3ppga behind a smothering defense. Norcross has forced 12 turnovers during the playoffs including five in their quarterfinal victory over Lowndes. Kevin Mouhon, Warren McWilliams, Lorenzo Carter and JaQun Frazier all have more than 100 tackles each this season while Ridwan Issahku and Jordan Noil lead the team in interceptions. Noil has an interception returned for a touchdown in the playoffs.
Look for quarterback A.J. Bush and running back Josh Boyd to get the Norcross offense in gear quicker and maintain it throughout contest – and, lean on their veteran offensive line to keep the Colquitt County defensive line ineffective. Boyd is the leading rusher with over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bush has passed for over 1,500 yards 12 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Clinton Lynch and Chris Herndon are the top targets in the passing game.
The team that controls the line of scrimmage and protects the ball may find themselves in the Georgia Dome playing for a championship next week.
NO.25 NORTH GWINNETT (12-1) AT NO.79 MCEACHERN (11-2): North Gwinnett came from behind for the second week in a row in the playoffs to advance with a 35-31 victory over Hillgrove – reaching the semifinals for the first time since 2007. The victory was the fourth time the Bulldogs have come from behind, in the second half, to win this season, – three of them coming on the road. They trailed Norcross by seven at halftime and won by 19, trailed Mill Creek by 22 in the fourth quarter and won by three, trailed Archer by 13 at one point and won by two and trailed Hillgrove by 10 in the fourth quarter and won by three. Running back C.J. Leggett has performed the way many thought he would when he joined the Bulldogs this season. Leggett has rushed for 473 yards seven touchdowns on 106 carries in the postseason. Quarterback Hayden Sphire has performed well in the postseason returning from a knee injury throwing for 555 yards and four touchdowns.
The coaching staff, and weapons, that North Gwinnett possesses overall is why this is a very dangerous team. At any point someone somewhere is bound to make a play. That has been the case all season, whether it was a blowout, or come-from-behind victory, the Bulldogs find ways to win.
McEachern is getting healthy with starting quarterback Ty Clemons returning to action in their win over Collins Hills, and have had their share of comeback victories as well. McEachern has won its last two playoffs games when trailing with less seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Against Collins Hill it was the dynamic Taj Griffin, playing on a tender ankle, that sealed the deal for the Indians with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown. McEachern was 7-0 prior to losing Clemons and entered the playoffs 8-2 with freshman quarterback Bailey Hockman at the controls. Clemons and Hockman could split snaps again this week but there will be no question Taj Griffin will be the guy out of the backfield for the Indians. McEachern is averaging 30.0ppg while allowing 24.6ppga during the playoffs.
McEachern won the rare coin toss between number three-seed and will host North Gwinnett. The Indians lead the all-time series 1-0.
CALLAWAY (12-1) AT NO. 34 BUFORD (13-0): The Buford Wolves have won 20 consecutive home playoff games and will go for number 21 in the semifinals when they host Callaway. Buford is also looking to reach the state finals for the seventh consecutive season. Buford has scored 36 or more points in every game this season. They have not allowed more than 14 points in a game this season – winning every game by 24 or more points. In the playoffs Buford is averaging 44.6ppg and allowing only 4.3ppg. Korie Rogers is the anchor of the defense with Montgomery Van Gorder and Taylor Mitchell sharing the duties at quarterback engineering the Buford offense. Thomas Wilson, Terrance Wilson and Joshua Thomas are key players for the Wolves as well.
Callaway is in the semifinals for the first time in the schools 17-year history. Callaway is averaging 48.6ppg and allowing 23.3ppga in the playoffs. An athletic team, Callaway has playmakers in Terry Godwin, Dez Parks and Eddie Culpepper on offense, while Dre Martin is a hawk defensively. Martin returned an interception for a touchdown for Callaway last week. Callaway’s only loss this season was to 5A Harris County who was eliminated by undefeated Creekside in the second round of the 5A playoffs.
Buford leads the all-time series 1-0 and won 52-14 in their 2010 playoff meeting. Look for Callaway to come in with no fear, looking to pull the upset. They have flown very low on the radar most of the season. Buford will have to do what they have done all season if they want to play in Dome for a seventh consecutive time.