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Lions measure themselves against state power

Peachtree Ridge head football coach Bill Ballard still remembers talking to Randy McPherson at midfield prior to last year's game against Lowndes.

Ballard marveled over all the talented players McPherson had on his team. Then the Lowndes head coach told him this.

"I think we're going to be even better next year," Ballard recalled him saying.

That's a scary thought considering Lowndes beat Peachtree Ridge 22-7 last year and reached the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. No. 3 ranked Peachtree Ridge travels to Valdosta again tonight to take on a Viking program that has become the measuring stick in Class AAAAA football.

"They've won three of the last five state championships," Ballard said. "They are the South Georgia program right now along with Camden. We're trying to get our program to that level."

Lowndes lost to Grayson in last year's quarterfinals, but showed it's back for another title run in its season opener. The No. 2 ranked Vikings scored a school-record 75 points and rolled up 560 yards of total offense in their win over Woodland-Stockbridge last Friday.

"I think they did what they could do to keep the score down," Ballard said. "Lowndes is that good."

Peachtree Ridge entered last year's game with a lot of question marks, while Lowndes was coming off its 2007 state championship. The Lions outgained the Vikings 279-250, but the loss dropped them to 0-2 for the season. Peachtree Ridge won its next 12 games to reach the Class AAAAA state finals.

"I definitely feel different about it this year," Ballard said. "We were just hoping to keep it close last year. This year we're hoping to compete. Most of the kids on their team are back and are pretty dang good."

Lowndes lost standout running back Greg Reid, who is now at Florida State, but have several other talented running backs. Troy Braswell scored four touchdowns in the first half of last week's win, while Khary Franklin and Tyler Hunter are also in the backfield.

But it's Lowndes offensive and defensive lines, which are led by Florida State commitment Ed Christian, that has impressed Ballard the most.

"The entire offensive line is three-year starters," Ballard side. "Their offensive line is huge and fast and as good as I've seen on film. I haven't seen anyone this year that can compare to them on the line of scrimmage except for Grayson."

Peachtree Ridge's line isn't too shabby either.

Jordan Boatright and Trevor McBurnett anchor a line that paved the way for 242 yards rushing last week in a win over Harrison.

"I felt like our offensive line got better from the scrimmage game," Ballard said. "I felt like we did better with execution. I feel like the team is coming together and gelling. But we've got a lot more to improve on."

Peachtree Ridge will travel to South Georgia again for the game because Ballard wanted his team to experience a playoff atmosphere on the road. The Vikings have won 18 straight games at home dating back to 2007.

"It's a really good tune-up game for us. It's an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the country. I would put them against anybody. It's kind of a measuring stick for us," Ballard said.

"They are going to have 12 or 13,000 in the stands with a hostile crowd. That's a great opportunity for your kids to get in that playoff-type environment. They will have a playoff-type atmosphere (tonight). Really there's nothing on the line other than North Georgia vs. South Georgia bragging rights."

SideBar: PEACHTREE RIDGE AT LOWNDES

Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAA)

Coach: Bill Ballard

Record: 1-0

Last week: Beat Harrison 35-13

Lowndes Vikings (1-AAAAA)

Coach: Randy McPherson

Record: 1-0

Last week: Beat Woodland-Stockbridge 75-14

Last meeting: Lowndes won 22-7 last year

Directions to Lowndes High School: I-75 south to exit 18; turn left and go to the third traffic light; turn right onto Norman Dr.; stadium is on the right.