If the Hawks find their way past North Gwinnett tonight, and the Indians beat Collins Hill, the “Battle Down in Powder Town” will take on a whole different meaning. That would put Hillgrove and McEachern head-to-head in the Class AAAAAA semifinals.
“That would be fun,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said.
As the higher seed, the Hawks, the No. 2 seed from Region 4AAAAAA, would host the third-seeded Indians.
It would also mean a Cobb County team would be guaranteed a spot in the Class AAAAAA state championship at the Georgia Dome in two weeks. It also gives Cobb County a shot to bring home a football championship for the first time since Marietta won in 1967.
If the teams do have a rematch it would mirror the 2011 season when east Cobb’s Walton and Lassiter played in the Class AAAAA semifinals.
“It would be exciting to be in the semifinals,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “It would be tough playing somebody twice, but in the semifinals, you don’t care. I’m just thankful that we’re playing.”
But before that can happen, both teams have some work to do.
McEachern, which is having its best playoff run since 1999, is on the road for the sixth straight week and will face Collins Hill.
The Indians have been without starting quarterback Ty Clemons, who has been out the last two weeks with an ankle injury. Freshman quarterback Bailey Hockman has filled in well (753 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions) during Clemons’ absence, and will have to have another good game to try and keep up with an Eagles offense that is averaging 50 points over their last six games.
No. 6 Collins Hill comes into the game with quarterback Tyler Herman (2,765 yards, 32 touchdowns) and running back Tyler Henderson (1,554 yards, 25 touchdowns) as the leading passer and rusher respectively, of all the teams still playing in Class AAAAAA.
No. 8 Hillgrove will be hosting No. 4 North Gwinnett. The Bulldogs also made the state quarterfinals six times in the last eight years, the most in the highest classification.
And it seems the Hawks feel right at home competing against the state powerhouses. Since moving to the highest classification in 2010, they have made the playoffs every year and are now in the state quarterfinals for the second time in four years. The Hawks also went undefeated in regular season play and won a region title in 2011.
According to Georgia High School Football Daily, Hillgrove is the only school that has beaten Camden County on the road twice since the 2000 season.
That kind of a track record is impressive for a program that opened its doors only seven years ago.
Ironside said that success at the highest level has a lot of that had to do with the weight-training and conditioning program, which helped developed big and fast athletes over the years.
“That’s a major part of what’s going on here,” he said.
It’s helped with this year’s roster. Quarterback Elijah Ironside needs one touchdown pass to become the seventh player in state history to throw 40 in a season, and receivers Justin Denton (17 TD),and Omar Black (10) along with running back Richardre Bagley (13) have all had success finding the end zone.
While Hillgrove has established its place in Class AAAAAA, McEachern has been a force in region play since the 2009 campaign, having won three region titles in the past five seasons.
Despite the Indians’ recent success, none of those McEachern teams had been unable to advance past the second round of the state playoffs until it came from behind to beat Langton Hughes 22-21 last Friday.
The Indians started off 2013 by winning its first seven games and getting ranked as high as No. 2 before losing two of their last three games, the last coming to Hillgrove, when Clemons left the game with an ankle injury.
“I think we’re handling adversity well and coming together as a team,” said running back Taj Griffin, who scored the game-winning touchdown against Langston Hughes. “If we continue to get better, I think the sky’s the limit.”
Kyle Hockman said the Indians have played well on the defensive side of the ball, and that will have to continue. The Indians pass rush behind McKenzie Billingslea and Henry Famurewa, who have combined for 30 sacks, will have to continue getting to the quarterback.