Second half surge leads Collins Hill past Mill Creek 35-32

HOSCHTON -- After letting a fourth-quarter lead slip away last week and two other close games get out of hand earlier in the season, Collins Hill coach Kevin Reach's mantra to his team all week was "finish."

The Eagles took that message to heart with a dramatic 77-yard drive in the final 1:31 of their Region 7-AAAAA game against Mill Creek.

The combination of quarterback Brett Sheehan and receiver Nick England hooked up one last time on the night on a 21-yard touchdown pass with 8.7 seconds remaining to lift Collins Hill to a 35-32 victory Friday night at Mill Creek Community Stadium.

"We had to fight through adversity," said England, who finished the night with 12 receptions for 183 yards and the score and added 42 yards on the ground, including a 24-yard TD. "We've been down before like this against Roswell the first game of the season and we had to do it again, and that's exactly what we did."

Indeed, the Eagles (3-4, 2-2), who remain tied with Duluth for the No. 4 seed in the region standings and own the tiebreaker over the Wildcats, looked more like the team that rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to beat Roswell in the season opener than the team that let a 14-point lead slip away in a one-point loss to Peachtree Ridge last week.

This time, Collins Hill faced a 19-7 halftime deficit, which Mill Creek (4-3, 1-3) rolled up by amassing 245 rushing yards in the first 24 minutes.

Jacorey Lewis ran for 105 of his game-high 168 yards and a touchdown, while John Russ had 86 of his 124 yards and the first of three scores as the Hawks seemed to take control, prompting Reach and the Eagles to face a moment of truth.

"I challenged them in the second half," Reach said. "I said, 'Whatever happens, ... just do me a favor and just give me your best effort. If you give us your best effort, good things are going to happen.'"

And in the third quarter, the Collins Hill defense responded, holding Mill Creek to just 36 yards of total offense in the period, while the Eagles' offense took advantage of good field position to vault into the lead.

England's 24-yard run just 2:41 into the second half cut the Mill Creek lead to 19-14, while Jordan Parker, who finished the night with 113 yards on 11 carries, pulled off his second big touchdown run of the game, 37-yarder in which he broke free from much of the Hawks' front seven that give the Eagles a 21-19 lead with 6:42 left in the third quarter.

And in the fourth quarter, the game turned into the shootout it was billed to be, with each team capitalizing on miscues by the other.

Mill Creek was the first beneficiary, taking over at the Collins Hill 33-yard line when a fake punt came up short and scoring four plays later on Russ' 8-yard keeper to regain the lead at 26-21 with 10:48 remaining.

Collins Hill answered by cashing in after a personal foul penalty on third and short near midfield extended a drive, and Sheehan hit Parker on a 21-yard scoring strike out of the backfield to put the Eagles back in front 27-26 with 5:17 left.

It was part of a huge night for the Collins Hill quarterback, who finished 21 of 39 with an interception for 259 yards and two TDs.

But Mill Creek fought back with the running game regaining its form, marching 70 yards in nine plays, with Russ sneaking in from a yard out to leapfrog the Hawks back in front at 32-27 with just 1:40 left.

And with 77 yards separating them from a win and just 1:31 to play, the Eagles answered the bell.

In addition to converting on two fourth-down plays -- the first on a 22-yard completion from Sheehan to England and the second on a 12-yard completion to Tevin Holliday -- Collins Hill also got a break on a 15-yard personal foul penalty that changed a third-and-10 situation at the Mill Creek 36 with 16 seconds left into a first down at the Hawks' 21.

And after one incomplete pass, Sheehan spied England gaining a step crossing the middle at the 10, and the senior receiver battled his way with a defender draped all over him to gain the end zone with 8.7 seconds left.

Parker then added the two-point conversion to make the Collins Hill lead 35-32, and Russ' heave fell incomplete on the game's final play, leaving the Eagles as sole survivors.