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Peachtree Ridge re-hosts Harrison in search of better ending

After nine straight wins, a region championship and the school's first home playoff game, Peachtree Ridge still remembers Week 1.

It knows the score and where it happened. Every player remembers the 13-3 home loss. The last two words the most important. Home. Loss.

"Our guys are excited about the opportunity to play them again," said Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard. "They feel like they came over to our field and embarrassed us a little bit. Our guys are going to be challenged to show that we are more than what we showed in that first game."

The body of Peachtree Ridge's season shows it is more than the team that only scored three points against a Harrison team that allowed opponents nearly 18 points a game. In their final nine-game stretch, the Lions never scored less than 17 points. They even managed seven against defending state champion Lowndes. And the Lions' defense only gave up more than 10 points three times all season, matching that with as many shutouts, including in last week's playoff win over Dacula.

"We have improved over the season," Ballard said. "When you have a team that didn't have a lot of experience, you are hopeful that what you are able to do over the season is get better. They have worked hard to improve. They have taken coaching and become a better team as a whole."

With each week, Peachtree Ridge showed slight improvement, culminating in season-ending wins over region rivals Norcross and North Gwinnett, the top two teams in 7-AAAAA the past two seasons.

Against Dacula, the Lions played well enough to win and move on in the playoffs. It was a small skid for Peachtree Ridge and Ballard was happy to see it survive.

"It was a no-win situation there," he said. "If we win, we were supposed to and if we lose it is an upset. But, still, you look at the several No. 1 seeds that were upset in the first round. That can happen. You have to be careful.

"Hopefully that was our down game. We weren't as emotionally fired up."

A second shot at Harrison should help with the emotion. The Hoyas started fast, but dropped two of their final three games. But, for both, the strange familiarity of a second meeting means there will be less surprises.

"Obviously, we have a familiarity with that team and what they are going to do," Ballard said. "I don't think either one of us is going to chance what we are trying to do a whole lot. I think, for our guys we want to prove that we can compete with them."

Harrison coach David Hines agrees.

"The good thing is our kids feel like we can compete with them and we want to try to prove that the first time wasn't a fluke," Hines said. "One team knows they can win and the other has something to prove. It is a different game. The stakes are a little higher."

The Lions are again hosts and Ballard hopes a second home playoff game will help with the crowd. Friday's crowd disappointed the coach, who said he hopes the cold and the game being televised doesn't again sap the home advantage.

"We need more of our fans to come out and cheer us on," he said. "We need the support. I hope they come out and try to be seen on TV instead of watching it on TV."

But crowds and emotion and television are all just extras. The real concern for Ballard is undoing Week 1.

"We did not have a really good performance in that first game," Ballard said. "We have a lot to prove."

SideBar: HARRISON AT PEACHTREE RIDGE

Who: Harrison Hoyas (5-AAAAA) at Peacthree 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: David Hines, Harrison; Bill Ballard, Peachtree Ridge

Records: Harrison 9-2; Peachtree Ridge 9-2

Last week: Harrison beat Kell 21-18; Peachtree Ridge beat Dacula 17-0

Winner plays: Coffee-Chapel Hill winner

Peachtree Ridge Leaders:

· Rushing: Ronnie Smith, 709 yards

· Passing: Nick Lombardo, 1,327 yards

· Receiving: Mitchell Williford, 644 yards

· Tackles: Tanner Botts, 85

· Interceptions: Connor Norman, 3