Rested Hawks ready for second-half push

Shannon Jarvis said his team had the best week of practice it's had all season this week. Maybe that's because Jarvis actually had a full team for the first time in a while.

Mill Creek has been hit by injuries since the start of the season and will finally put a full lineup on the field.

"I think this is the healthiest we've been since the Central Gwinnett game in Week 2," Jarvis said.

The Hawks (2-3, 1-2) will need everyone healthy as they host defending Region 7-AAAAA champion Peachtree Ridge. The ninth-ranked Lions (4-1, 3-0) are riding a three-game winning streak and a loss for Mill Creek would put it on the outskirts of the playoff hunt.

"A win would be huge because it's a region game and because it's against one of the better teams in the state," Jarvis said.

Peachtree Ridge is in a three-way tie with Collins Hill and North Gwinnett atop the region standings. The Lions still have both teams on their schedule along with perennial title contender Norcross. It makes for a tough second half of the season after starting the year with Harrison and state power Lowndes.

"Their back is against the wall and ours is, too," Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard said. "They are trying to get into the playoffs and we are, too. It's a must-win game for both teams."

That tough second half for Peachtree Ridge begins tonight with Mill Creek. The Hawks' last game was a 30-3 defeat to North Gwinnett. By the time the game was over, Mill Creek had just three offensive starters healthy and in the game.

Jarvis is expecting receiver Casey Windom, running backs Tyler Cierski and Keshawn Bussey, quarterback John Russ, tight end Cody Rediger and defensive lineman Leon Flowers to be back. Offensive lineman Matt Pulliam will be a game-time decision.

Mill Creek reached the playoffs in 2007, but missed the playoffs last year after posting a 6-4 record. The Hawks were a region win away from making the postseason last year and can look to last year's loss to Peachtree Ridge as one of the reasons for missing the playoffs. Mill Creek had two possessions inside the Lions' 20 and never came away with any points. The Hawks lost 17-9.

"We had an opportunity last year to win," Jarvis said. "We have to have that again this year. We have to work well enough to give us a chance to win."

Russ, the younger brother of former Mill Creek standout Ed, has thrown for 646 yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Brandon Hayman has been his main target with 26 receptions, which is among the county leaders.

"They've got a young quarterback. He's a really good quarterback, has a great arm and runs really well," Ballard said. "They are a dangerous team. The Hayman kid No. 1 runs great routes and they have several guys to throw to. They have a big running back they can give the ball to. They are dangerous. They are going to be a tough team for us. We're expecting a tough match."

Since losing to perennial state title contender Lowndes in Week 2, Peachtree Ridge has reeled off three straight wins. The Lions' defense has allowed seven points during that span, which includes two shutouts.

"Their defense is one of the best in the state," Jarvis said.

The defense compliments a nice offense, which has adopted the spread option. Running back Brandon Stanley and Chris Sawdey have combined for 574 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Lombardo has passed for 527 yards with four touchdowns and two INTs. Brad Roby has been all over the field with 10 catches, three interceptions on defense and several big returns in the kicking game.

"Offensively, they've got a tremendous offensive line that blocks well, a stable of running backs and the Roby kid is having a phenomenal year," Jarvis said.

Two Gwinnett Football League standouts, Peachtree Ridge's Amari Barrett and Mill Creek's Carter Governale, have been selected to play in the Football University Youth All-American Bowl.

Barrett and Governale, who will be honored at tonight's Peachtree Ridge at Mill Creek football game, are among the nation's top eighth-grade players who were chosen for the bowl, scheduled for Jan. 10 in San Antonio, Texas. Only 75 seventh-graders and 75 eighth-graders nationally are selected for the prestigious games, which are modeled after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl for high school seniors.

Eastbay will present the local players with the All-American bowl jerseys just moments before tonight's game.

- From staff reports

SideBar: Peachtree Ridge at Mill Creek

Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAA)

Coach: Bill Ballard

Record: 4-1, 3-0 region

Last week: Had a bye

Mill Creek Hawks (7-AAAAA)

Coach: Shannon Jarvis

Record: 2-3, 1-2 region

Last week: Had a bye

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Peachtree Ridge won 17-9 last year

Directions to Mill Creek High School: From I-85, take the Hamilton Mill Road exit and go east. At the immediate light, turn left on Ga. Highway 124/Braselton Highway. School is approximately three miles ahead on the left