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As in 2006, Lions getting it done with stingy 'D'

When Peachtree Ridge won a share of the Class AAAAA state championship two years ago, it did with a low scoring offense and a stingy defense.

It took the Lions' offense some time before it was able to develop, while the defense kept them in ball games.

Sound familiar?

That's the scenario that has played out for Peachtree Ridge this season. With a new quarterback, several new offensive linemen and some key injuries, the offense has struggled to move the ball.

All the while it was the defense that kept the games respectable.

With the development of the offense to go along with a tough defense, it has Peachtree Ridge back in the quarterfinals where it will host Coffee tonight.

"We match up with them if you look at it on paper," Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard said. "They are probably a little more athletic than we are. If we can score, preferably before halftime, we've got a good chance. They are explosive on offense."

When Peachtree Ridge won the state title two years ago it did it as a No. 4 seed out of Region 7-AAAAA. The tough region play prepared the Lions for the playoffs, which is why Ballard wasn't surprised to see Coffee, which is a No. 4 seed, in the quarterfinals.

"They're a good football team," Ballard said. "They lost a couple of close ball games. They were a field goal away in both games."

Coffee lost three of its last four games of the regular season to get the No. 4 spot in Region 1-AAAAA, arguably the toughest region in the state. The Trojans lost to Northside-Warner Robins, which won the Class AAAA state championship last year, to defending AAAAA state champ Lowndes and a tough Tift County team. The losses to Northside and Tift were by three points.

"That region is always good," Ballard said. "It's definitely misleading when you see they are a No. 4 seed. They are a field goal away from being a No. 2 seed. The only team that really beat them was Lowndes."

Lowndes handed Coffee a 21-0 defeat in Game 8 of the regular season, while the Vikings beat Peachtree Ridge in a non-region game 22-7 in Week 2.

The loss left the Lions at 0-2, but since then they have won 10 in a row including the first Region 7-AAAAA championship in school history.

The No. 1 seed meant Peachtree Ridge would host its first-ever playoff game. Two weeks later, the Lions are preparing for a third home game.

"It's nice to be at home and not have to travel," Ballard said. "Hopefully, we'll have a good crowd even with it being Thanksgiving."

As the No. 4 seed, Coffee has had to go on the road the last two weeks. The Trojans will make a third trip to metro Atlanta after upsetting No. 1 Stephenson in overtime and then beating Chapel Hill 35-14 to reach the quarterfinals.

The Trojans bring an offense that is averaging almost 28 points a game. Coffee has a deep threat receiver in DeMario Bennett, a South Carolina commitment, who also lines up at quarterback in the shotgun formation sometimes.

"He's a heck of a player at receiver. He'll be a heck of a matchup for us," Ballard said. "They're going to make some plays, but hopefully we can score some points early."

Peachtree Ridge has allowed three TDs in the last 16 quarters, including a shutout of Dacula in the first round of the playoffs.

Ballard was reluctant to compare this year's defense to the 2006 Peachtree Ridge D that was littered with Division I players like Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Derrick Bryant (LSU), Brandon Sanders (Ole Miss) and Philip Davis (Tulane).

Blair Armstrong was the head coach for Peachtree Ridge that season, but Ballard was still familiar with the defense when he took over as head coach last season.

While this year's defense lacks the star power it's been just as tough.

Through the regular season in 2006, the Peachtree Ridge defense allowed 1,750 yards of total offense and 8.4 points per game. This year's defense has given up 1,652 yards of offense and 11.1 points through 10 games.

Not bad for a defense where its only recognizable name is linebacker Kevin Minter, who is headed to LSU, and he missed four games with a shoulder injury.

The only real glaring stat between the two is a state championship. The '06 team won a title and the '08 squad is three wins away.

"Right now our defense is built on speed. I'm excited to be compared to them. That means our kids are playing hard," Ballard said. "This defense plays hard every week. They are a good team defense."

SideBar: COFFEE AT PEACHTREE RIDGE

Who: Coffee Trojan (1-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: Ken Eldridge, Coffee; Bill Ballard, Peachtree Ridge

Records: Coffee 9-3; Peachtree Ridge 10-2

Last week: Coffee beat Chapel Hill 35-14; Peachtree Ridge beat Harrison 17-7

Winner plays: Grayson-Lowndes winner

Peachtree Ridge Leaders:

· Rushing: Ronnie Smith, 773 yards, 5 TDs

· Passing: Nick Lombardo, 1.415 yards

· Receiving: Mitchell Williford, 670 yards

· Tackles: Tanner Botts, 92

· Interceptions: Connor Norman, 3