Early in his preparation for tonight's playoff game against Dacula, Bill Ballard took time to attend lunch to honor one of his former coaches.
Sitting with the Peachtree Ridge head coach at the Touchdown Club of Atlanta banquet was Dacula head coach Kevin Maloof. The honoree was George Maloof, Kevin's father and Ballard's former coach
"It was quite an experience," Ballard said.
"It was a neat tribute," Kevin Maloof said.
The two sat together, but avoided the topic of their playoff game against each other.
"We didn't really talk a lot about the game," Ballard said. "We talked about his dad and what he meant to us and were telling stories."
The influence of George Maloof helped steer both Ballard and Kevin (as well as his brother Norcross head coach Keith) Maloof to the positions they now hold. And to the head-to-head matchup they avoided talking about Monday.
Based on their coaching style and their personnel, tonight's game is a battle of similarly built teams. Each play aggressive defense that led to few high scoring games. Both run an option-style offense with a consistent quarterback, a hard runner and a play making wide receiver.
"They are a complete football team," Maloof said of Peachtree Ridge. "We are excited about the opportunity to play them. I think our kids love to compete. We certainly do as coaches."
Even as Region 7-AAAAA champs Peachtree Ridge got no favors with its 8-AAAAA No. 4 draw in Dacula, which like the Lions recovered from a rough start to the season to earn the playoff berth.
"They are awesome," Ballard said. "It is one of those games were we can't take them for granted at all. We have to prepare like they are a Lowndes County. They are a contender in the playoffs.
"When you win a region, you'd like to have a better matchup. You would like to have somebody that wasn't as good."
The Falcons are led on offense by quarterback Hunter Watts and running back Aashad Holloway and along with Marshall Steed led the resurgence of Dacula, even as it suffered three straight losses to open the season.
"I hope to be able to say we are a better football team," Maloof said. "I feel like we are a better football team than we were when we opened the season.
"I am proud of (this team) for not listening to all the people talking and going out and making up their mind that (the playoffs) were something that they were going to accomplish."
And like their similar styles, Peachtree Ridge, with a strong defense and an improving offense led by quarterback Nick Lombardo, also rebounded from an 0-2 start. It ended the year with wins over playoff teams in North Gwinnett and Norcross.
Dacula is the next challenge. It is a team Ballard knows will be ready.
"These games are a lot of fun," he said. "We were really excited to play the last two games we had and we are equally excited to play this week."
SideBar: DACULA AT PEACHTREE RIDGE
Who: Dacula Falcons (8-AAAAA) at Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAA)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Peachtree Ridge High School (From I-85, take the Old Peachtree Road exit and go west. School is roughly two miles ahead on the right)
Coaches: Kevin Maloof, Dacula; Bill Ballard, Peachtree Ridge
Records: Dacula 5-5; Peachtree Ridge 8-2
Last week: Dacula beat Meadowcreek 28-3; Peachtree Ridge beat North Gwinnett 19-7
Winner plays: Kell-Harrison winner
· Rushing: Aashad Holloway, 513 yards
· Passing: Hunter Watts, 840 yards
· Receiving: Marshall Steed, 418 yards
· Tackles: Malcolm Young, 61
· Interceptions: Holden Mertes, 2
Peachtree Ridge Leaders:
· Rushing: Ronnie Smith, 484 yards
· Passing: Nick Lombardo, 1,022 yards
· Receiving: Mitchell Williford, 509 yards
· Tackles: Tanner Botts, 62
· Interceptions: Connor Norman, 2