Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill running back Jordan Parker (21) is tackled by Duluth linebacker Brandon Brinson (37) during the third quarter of Friday's game played in Duluth.
Last year, this game turned two seasons, one for the good, one for the worse.
Collins Hill traveled to Peachtree Ridge only half a known quantity. It was clear, by then, that the Eagles' offense was one of the best in the state. But the defense, that remained a question.
They answered it.
Collins Hill upset the Lions 14-10 with the defense coming up big to keep Peachtree Ridge out of the end zone.
From there, Peachtree Ridge floundered to a 1-3 finish, missing the playoffs, and Collins Hill charged into a state semifinals berth.
"That was a big game for us last year, defensively," Collins Hill coach Kevin Reach said. "We have to have the same thing. We still haven't played nearly our best. We just have to put together those four quarters."
Plenty has changed since last year's season-changing game. Peachtree Ridge has a new coach and Collins Hill is trying to find its quarterback. But both teams are in the mix for the top four spots and a playoff berth from Region 7-AAAAA.
"I think the kids are excited," Peachtree Ridge coach Mark Fleetwood said. "Both of these schools are neighbors, they border each other. I think it's a good, healthy thing, I really do.
"We know that Collins Hill came in and beat us (last year). That is what sours us more than anything."
Peachtree Ridge comes into Friday's game unbeaten in the region, a game ahead of 1-1 Collins Hill. But with the bulk of the 7-AAAAA schedule looming, this game kicks off the region gauntlet for both teams.
"It's just one of five, but this does set the tone for the next four games, there is no doubt," Fleetwood said.
Said Reach, "It's going to be a big game. Where we both kind of sit (in the standings) this is the big win. We both need this win."
Peachtree Ridge used the region bye week last week to return to its fundamentals and Collins Hill spent the time continuing to work in new starting quarterback Brett Sheehan, who made his first start two weeks ago at Duluth, connecting on 9 of 18 passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns.
"That's one of the best (halves) we've played since I've been here," Reach said of the Eagles' 28-point two quarters at Duluth.
Reach said he made the switch to Sheehan to spark the offense that relies plenty on running back Jordan Parker.
"We just felt like it was the right time to play Brett," Reach said. "He's confident. He's got a lot of poise and he didn't seem to rattle at all."
But the Peachtree Ridge defense will be a different challenge for Sheehan and the Eagles.
"It looks to me like they are trying to find that extra mileage at quarterback," Fleetwood said.
But with Joe Horn making plays at receiver and quarterback Billy Best managing an offense that hasn't scored less than 14 points a game and maxed out at 55 two weeks ago, the defense of the Eagles will again look to make a statement a year later.
"I feel like we are getting better and better at practice, slowly and surely getting better each week," Reach said. "It's putting four quarters together, that is the thing we struggle with. Once we do that we'll be a hard team to beat."