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Playoffs break toward home for Gwinnett teams

Photo: David McGregor  Grayson's Wayne Gallman (4) and David Kamara (3) tackle Collins Hill running back Jordan Parker (21) during the first quarter of Friday's game.

Photo: David McGregor Grayson's Wayne Gallman (4) and David Kamara (3) tackle Collins Hill running back Jordan Parker (21) during the first quarter of Friday's game.

As far as road trips go, Brookwood's isn't too bad.

The lone Gwinnett playoff team hitting the road this week, the Broncos travel to DeKalb County to face M.L. King at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston. And in many ways, that game is on a neutral field.

"We might be closer to Hallford Stadium than M.L. King is. It's right down the road," Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said.

Traffic-free, Snellville to the stadium takes about 30 minutes. From M.L. King's home in Lithonia, it takes about 20 minutes. That trip sure beats others Crews and the Broncos have made, including one where the bus had a flat tire.

"I've always said is not about where you play or who you play, it's about how you play, Crews said. "I am of the position it's the more you disrupt their routine."

At least this makes the road trip seem like any other regular season away game. No hotels, no missing school. Just load up for the bus ride.

Brookwood will keep the same routine it uses for regular-season road trips. The players will stick around after school, eat and relax and they'll hit the road.

"We just have to get ourselves ready," Crews said.

For the rest of Gwinnett's playoff contingent, the buses can save the gas and those home concessions can get cooking.

No. 1 seeds Grayson, North Gwinnett and Buford all won their first-round games and knew they would host another round by last Friday's final guns. For Dacula, the home game is a bonus. It took an upset by Newnan over Valdosta to save the Falcons from the endless drive to the south Georgia town. And it's not just the drive, it's another chance to play at home.

"Just based off seedings, I had never seen Valdosta or Newnan play, but a No. 1 (seed) playing a No. 4, we just built last week that it would be the last time for those seniors to get to play a home game," Dacula coach Jared Zito said. "We get to do that again this week. If we were lucky enough to win, we'd need another upset (to play at home)."

Zito learned of Newnan's upset standing on the field after the Falcons took down Norcross on Friday. He had a coach check the score on his phone.

"I used it as motivation. I told them the bad news was they didn't have to make the trip down to Valdosta, the good news was they got to play another home game," Zito said.

Zito spent Monday working with school administrators on plans to promote Friday's game in the schools and around all of Dacula. After all, this is a bonus home game.

"We kind of challenged our student body and our whole school and are trying to get the word out in the community," Zito said. "Our principal, Mr. (Donnie) Nutt, really spearheaded the vision this morning to rally the troops of Dacula to come support us."

The Falcons are 5-1 at Barron Field. The lone home blemish came in a Week 2 loss to Mill Creek and it's the one home loss for all Gwinnett's playoff teams. Brookwood and North Gwinnett are both 6-0, Grayson is 5-0 and Buford hasn't lost a home game since the state championship game in 2006. Combined, the five teams are 30-1 at home this season. But things are a bit tougher in the playoffs. Grayson hosts the always strong Lowndes Vikings from Region 1-AAAAA, North welcomes 9-2 Colquitt County and Buford plays 8-3 Jefferson County.

As things get tougher, it's always nice to play in front of a friendly crowd.

"You certainly feel like you have that home field advantage," Zito said. "One, you are just more comfortable. Two, our kids love playing in front of their student body and parents and just that hometown feel. Our kids feed off the student body and they love playing in front of them."