Photo: Karl L. Moore Dacula's Rocky Capobianco runs away from Central's Darious Latimore (16) for one of his touchdowns during Friday night's game at Dacula.
Some of Dacula's opponents are completely new to first-year head coach Jared Zito.
He's never sifted through game footage of them or spent hours scheming against them. It's part of learning on the fly in a new job.
That isn't the case this week.
Zito and the three coaches he brought from his previous job at North Forsyth know Grayson very well. Less than a year ago, in the Class AAAAA playoff opener, they were tasked with playing the Rams, then a No. 3 seed out of Region 8-AAAAA.
Grayson showed why it was considered a strong No. 3 seed that night, whipping Zito's turnover-plagued North Forsyth squad 31-0 as the first step in a march that went to the AAAAA semifinals.
Though the result was negative, the familiarity helped the coaches at Dacula (3-2, 3-0 region) in their game preparation for Friday's matchup with Grayson (5-0, 3-0).
"From a defensive standpoint, certainly (coaching against Grayson last year) helped us," Zito said. "Offensively, we're different from what we ran at North Forsyth. ... But from a defensive standpoint, we know what they do offensively in terms of formations, unbalanced stuff, things you don't see a lot. You can get yourself in a lot of trouble if you're not ready for that."
Last year's meeting also helped Grayson somewhat, too. But one game tape offers limited information.
"We have an idea of what they're going to try to do (defensively) against us, but as I'm finding out, nobody runs the wing-T anymore," Grayson head coach Mickey Conn said. "I can't get any wing-T film on how they defend it. Because we have that film from last year, we have some idea of how they'll play us.
"But by the same token, they have a better idea on how to defend us and they did a pretty good job defending us last year."
Of more importance is that Zito isn't coaching North Forsyth players in the matchup of 8-AAAAA co-leaders. He's in charge of a Dacula program that is laden with seniors and knows its opponent very well.
When longtime Dacula coach Kevin Maloof retired after last season, he knew he was leaving his successor with a strong senior class. That was no secret to Conn, either.
"We knew coming into the year how good (Dacula) could be," Conn said. "It was just a matter of them learning a completely new offense and defense, and getting used to the personality change with a new coach early (in losses to Norcross and Mill Creek). They've definitely hit their stride right now. A lot of these senior kids they have were starting in the 10th grade, so we know how good they are."
Dacula's offense is coming off by far its best game of the season, rolling up a 49-0 halftime lead (on just 18 offensive snaps) last week against Central Gwinnett. Quarterback Brandon Goodson is doing a nice job in the new offense, while holdovers Rocky Capobianco and Marcus Cox have become even bigger playmakers.
It's on the other side of the ball, however, where the Falcons have really stepped it up.
After giving up 35 points in back-to-back losses to open the season, Dacula turned in a better effort in a 20-6, region-opening win over defending state champion Brookwood. That was followed by a 25-0 shutout of Shiloh and then the starting defense held Central's powerful offense scoreless in building a 49-0 halftime lead. The Central starters scored 21 points against the Dacula reserves as the Falcon starters all got the second half off.
"To be honest, we've just been playing good team defense," Zito said. "Everybody's doing their job. One guy's not making all the tackles. At the end of the night, the tackle stats are balanced. It's just good, old-fashioned team defense."
It's going to take another great effort to slow down the powerful offense of nationally ranked Grayson. Since a sluggish effort in the Corky Kell Classic (a 7-0 win over Kell), the Rams have reeled off 49, 34, 56 and 42 points in the past four games.
A pack of running backs have churned up big yardage, but Conn has been just as pleased with quarterback Nick Schuessler. The senior is 10 of 13 passing for 229 yards in his past two games, throwing four touchdown passes and rushing for one.
"Nick is really hitting his straight right now and leading the team offensively," Conn said. "He's really throwing the ball well and he's been very efficient. ... A lot of different guys are carrying the ball for us and Callen Hightower has made a lot of plays for us, too."
The stakes are high for both teams, who share the 8-AAAAA lead with Parkview.
It's the toughest matchup of the season for Grayson, which hasn't had a close game since the opener with Kell. But Conn said Dacula is better on both sides of the ball than Kell.
The test is equally tough for Dacula. Zito knows just how tough from last year's playoff loss.
"It's a big region game," Zito said. "Grayson, they are what they are. They're a very good football team. They're well-coached. They're disciplined. We'll have to play our best to go into Grayson and beat them."