Mill Creek's Will Salako (10) runs the ball into the end zone as South Gwinnett's Darius Jones-Craven (12) and Nicholas Hylton (9) try to tackle him.
Colquitt County’s football players are in a bit of unfamiliar territory.
Sure, the program has a long history of success. But not much of it has been lately for the Packers, who host their first home playoff game since 1999 tonight in Moultrie.
Mill Creek at Colquitt County
Who: Mill Creek Hawks (7-AAAAA) at Colquitt County Packers (1-AAAAA)
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Colquitt County High School (I-75 south to I-475 south, then merge back onto I-75. Take Exit 62/U.S. Hwy. 82 toward U.S. Hwy. 319/Sylvester/Moultrie. Turn right on Hwy. 82 for 0.2 miles and turn right on U.S. 319/Ga. Hwy. 35. In Moultrie, turn right on 11th Avenue and right on 5th Street, which becomes Stadium Drive)
Coaches: Shannon Jarvis, Mill Creek; Rush Propst, Colquitt
Records: Mill Creek 7-5; Colquitt 7-5
Last week: Mill Creek beat South Gwinnett 49-34; Colquitt beat M.L. King 48-47
Winner plays: Grayson-Valdosta winner
Mill Creek leaders:
Rushing: John Russ, 839 yards
Tyler Cierski, 745 yards
Passing: John Russ, 2,076 yards
Receiving: Brandon Hayman, 881 yards
Tackles: Kelsey Griffin, 91
Phillip LeConte, 76
Interceptions: Hayden Smith, 3
Colquitt County leaders:
Rushing: Tevin King, 1,658 yards
Passing: Tyler Brown, 2,639 yards
Receiving: Tommy Hudson, 1,021 yards
Tackles: Rashawn Hunt, 97
Interceptions: Stacey Blackwell, 2
Dacula L 34-31
Alpharetta W 31-12
at Cherokee L Forfeit
Mountain View W 42-6
at Norcross L 34-19
Meadowcreek W 47-0
at Collins Hill L 42-34
North Gwinnett L 28-7
at Peachtree Ridge W 14-7
at Duluth W 34-23
at Etowah W 32-7
at South Gwinnett W 49-34
Cook L 15-9
S. Panola (Miss.) L 65-35
at Thomas Co. L 35-29 (OT)
Westlake W 43-27
Warner Robins W 35-14
Carver (Ala.) W 34-31
at Tift County W 63-28
at Lowndes L 37-27
Coffee W 38-27
Valdosta L 36-29
at Jenkins W 50-21
at M.L. King W 48-47
Their opponent, Mill Creek, is even more inexperienced, though.
The Hawks didn’t have a state playoff victory until back-to-back wins the past two weeks over Etowah and South Gwinnett. Those games were with talented, metro-Atlanta teams, but this week’s challenge is entirely different — a long, road trip to South Georgia.
“It’s the first trip for any of our kids down south,” Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said. “I told our kids, it’s going to be a different atmosphere for them. Just the building up to the game is going to be like nothing they’ve ever seen, like 70-year-old men who live and die Colquitt County football.
“But we’re looking forward to it. We’re going to embrace it, enjoy the moment and play a good football game.”
And it could be a high-scoring game.
John Russ, Tyler Cierski and Devonte Lewis have put up big rushing numbers behind an offensive line led by Austin Hagan and A.J. Ruechel for Mill Creek, while Russ has thrown for more than 2,000 yards with Brandon Hayman as his main target. Will Salako also had two long scoring catches in last week’s victory over South Gwinnett.
The Hawks’ powerful offense will duel with another potent attack in Colquitt, which has averaged 39.2 points since a season-opening loss to Cook. The Packers have scored 50 and 48 in their two state playoff games, needing every point last Friday in a 48-47 shootout with M.L. King.
Colquitt’s Tevin King rushed for a school-record 376 yards in last week’s victory, pushing him to 1,658 yards on the season. But the spread offense also is capable through the air as Tyler Brown has thrown for a school-record 2,639 yards, with 1,021 going to Tommy Hudson. Hudson has a school-record 76 catches and 11 touchdowns.
“Defensively, it’s going to be like last week for us with (South running back Aaron) Wimberly,” Jarvis said. “We’ve got to have sound defense and we’ve got to have everybody stay in their gaps.”
Stopping Mill Creek also will be a challenge for an athletic Colquitt defense that has struggled at times this season. While putting up big points since the season opener, the Packers’ defense has allowed 33.4 points per game during that same span.
Meanwhile, Mill Creek’s defense has played some of its best football down the stretch. Take away a kickoff return TD and a blocked punt that set up another short scoring drive, and the Hawks held powerful South Gwinnett to 20 points last week.
They’ve done it without one of their best defensive players, linebacker Taylor Coleman, who had season-ending shoulder surgery this week. Jarvis praised Dean Rugare greatly for filling Coleman’s void, while Hayden Smith, Cody Rediger, Phillip LeConte and Dre Spearman also have played well of late on defense along with defensive lineman Kelsey Griffin, a highly touted sophomore and the unit’s leading tackler.
“It’s such a team of unselfish players and they all believe in each other,” Jarvis said. “We’ve had kids step up all across the board and play their best football for us.”