THE BLITZ: Gwinnett makes mark on state playoffs
It has been three days and I'm still as giddy as a school girl.
When I made the trip to Valdosta on Friday, I hoped Gwinnett could pull off a sweep of its six remaining playoff teams.
By the time I left Title Town or Winnersville or whatever Valdosta likes to call itself, I had a big grin on my face.
They may have taken down the water towers along I-85, but the slogan still remains 'Success Lives Here.'
After last year's nightmare in the quarterfinals, Gwinnett County dominated the round on Friday. Gwinnett had five of its six teams advance. What made it even better is that all five wins were over South Georgia teams, including Class AAAAA powers Valdosta and Lowndes.
Now with 20 teams left in the state semifinals for all five classifications, 25 percent are from Gwinnett. Right now the playoffs have the high school basketball feel from earlier this year when Gwinnett won five of the 10 boys and girls titles.
The county has the chance to pull off three state championships, which might make we even more giddier. But that's getting a week ahead. Right now it's the semifinals. The county is already guaranteed at least one participant in the Class AAAAA state finals with Brookwood hosting Collins HIll. Grayson, Buford and Wesleyan could join them as well.
Here's a look at Gwinnett's remaining playoff games.
Collins Hill at Brookwood
This is a rematch of the Game 2 of the regular season that Brookwood won 45-38 in double overtime. Since then Collins Hill has learned how to play defense, so it should be a tough battle again.
This game will feature two of the county's top offensive players in Collins Hill's record setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke and the county's leading rusher Brookwood running back Nick Tompkins.
It's the seventh semifinals appearance for Brookwood and the second for Collins Hill.
Colquitt County at Grayson
Grayson got a big advantage when it won the coin flip to host Colquitt County. That shouldn't be too big of a deal for the Packers, who just played their first home playoff game in more than 10 years with a win over Mill Creek.
But Grayson doesn't lose very often at home. The Rams have won 25 of the last 26 games at home, dating back to 2006.
Colquitt's head coach is Rush Propst is in his second year at the Moultire school. If Propst's name sounds familiar, it's because he gained fame as the head coach at Alabama power Hoover High School on the MTV reality show "Two-A-days" in 2005 and 2006. Propst led the Bucs to five state championships in the early 2000s.
Colquitt has 6-foot-7, 255-pound offensive lineman Xzavier Ward, who has offers from every major SEC and ACC school.
Lovett at Buford
This game is a familiar one. Buford and Lovett have met seven times the last six seasons, including the 2007 state championship game Buford won 50-0.
The series officially became a rivalry last year when Buford lost to Lovett 28-21 to snap the Wolves' regular season and region win streak.
Buford won this year's regular season game 37-14 in Region 6-AA play.
Savannah Christian at Wesleyan
Wesleyan defeated last year's Class A state champion last week. Now the Wolves will get last season's state runner-up in Savannah Christian.
The Raiders have taken down state powers Charlton County and Lincoln County to reach the semifinals.
Wesleyan shutout defending state champ Wilcox County in the second half last week and used three touchdowns by Drew Widner to reach the semis for the second time in three years.
Heinicke adds to legend
Collins Hill quarterback Taylor Heinicke was already going to go down in Gwinnett County history as one of the county's top quarterbacks just on his passing numbers alone.
The senior added to his resume on Friday in the Eagles' overtime win over Lowndes. Heinicke guided a 94-yard touchdown drive in the game's final minutes to tie the game. Even better, he caught the game-tying pass on a trick play.
Gaudy statistics are one thing, but fourth quarter drives in the playoffs make local heroes.
In my mind, Dacula's Terry Harvey, South Gwinnett's David Greene and North Gwinnett's Mikey Tamburo are the county's greatest quarterbacks. You could argue which one of them is the best. None of them ever won a state title. Heinicke has already put his name in that company this season. Two more wins and you could say he's Gwinnett's greatest QB.
Rams' defense for real
I wasn't sure what to think of Grayson's defensive performance last week over No. 2 North Gwinnett. Don't let the 23-19 score fool you. It was 23-0 going into the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs scored a TD on the game's final play. For the previous three quarters the Rams' D dominated.
Was the Grayson defense really that good or was North just really bad that day? After watching the Brookwood game in the regular season, I knew they had a pretty good defense. After Friday's shutout of Valdosta, I'm convinced they have a great defense.
It's crazy to think how good the defense is considering the Division I talent it graduated a year ago. But I think this might be the best Grayson D the Rams have ever had. You have to give a lot of credit to defensive coordinator Robert Andrews. He's had, in my mind, one of the top defenses over the last five or six years.
A big part of the success this year is the Nkemdiche brothers — Denzel and Robert. The two have been not only emotional leaders, but have created big plays during the last three playoff games. Throw in linebacker Michael Peek and defensive lineman Namadi Ofodile and you see why the Grayson defense is so strong.
The Mill Creek community has to be pretty proud of what this team accomplished this year. Things looked bleak early in the season, but the Hawks never gave up. They went into the playoffs as a No. 4 seed and beat two teams they weren't supposed to have any business beating.
Mill Creek is losing some talented seniors, but still has a strong group of juniors and sophomores. I think this year might be the beginning of something special in Hoschton. MIll Creek as one of the county's best GFL programs, so there's going to be more talent headed to the school. So don't be surprised to see more playoff runs out of the Hawks over the next few years.
How did that happen?
How did Chattahoochee get so good all of the sudden? The Cougars are in the Class AAAA semifinals and are 13-0. I guess playing in Region 7-AAAAA the last two years got them prepared for Class AAAA.
The last time I remember Chattahoochee, they were getting blown out by three touchdowns and giving up 50-plus points a game. Now they are two wins from a state title.