HOSCHTON -- The Peachtree Ridge coaches had preached it -- don't overlook Mill Creek with a potential showdown at North Gwinnett coming up next week.
That sermon took awhile to set in, but Peachtree Ridge finally found a way to grind out 28 points over a nine-minute span over the second and third quarters to hold off a feisty Mill Creek squad 35-20 in Region 7-AAAAA action.
"We knew coming in that this (game) was going to be tough, because (Mill Creek) is a playoff team in this region," said Peachtree Ridge head coach Mark Fleetwood. "I know their record doesn't show it because they've been unlucky and had some things go against them. But we knew they could beat us and that's what we stressed.
"But everyone wants to talk about North Gwinnett and what it's going to take to beat them. We had to worry about this game and winning it. North Gwinnett is next week and we played a good team tonight. I'm just glad we got the win."
Trailing 7-0 late in the second quarter, Peachtree Ridge (8-1 overall, 6-0 region) strung together four touchdowns in a variety of ways to take a 28-7 lead and eventually won by the 15-point margin.
Mill Creek struck first with an impressive 13-play, 80-yard on the opening drive that chewed up over six minutes and came exclusively on the ground.
Quarterback John Russ, who carried six times on the drive, did the honors by sprinting in from two yards out to give the Hawks the early lead at 7-0.
Meanwhile, the Peachtree Ridge offense was sputtering for the most part until the Lions drove to the Mill Creek 12 midway through the second quarter.
But the Hawks' defense rose to the occasion and stuffed the Lions' Raham Dixon on fourth-and-1 to take over on downs and keep it 7-0.
Peachtree Ridge finally came to life in the final three minutes of the second quarter to take a 14-7 lead into the locker room. After forcing a Mill Creek punt deep in Hawks' territory, Peachtree Ridge needed just two passing plays to go 53 yards to tie the game at 7-7. Quarterback Billy Best found Ahmaad Harris for 16 yards and then Joe Horn got loose down the middle of the field for a 37-yard scoring pass with 2:37 to go in the second quarter.
Then it was the Peachtree Ridge defense that came up big as safety Alex Gray stripped Russ near midfield and raced 55 yards into the end zone to give the Lions a 14-7 lead with just 1:10 left in the first half.
Peachtree Ridge maintained the momentum in the second half with a pair of TDs in the first six minutes.
Horn got loose again on a 10-yard scoring pass from Best to give the Lions a 21-7 advantage with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
But the back-breaker came two minutes later on a dazzling 76-yard TD run by Harris, who took a pitch from Best 15 yards downfield and outraced the Hawks' defense into the end zone for a 28-7 lead.
However, Mill Creek (4-5, 1-5) kept battling and scored a minute later on a 19-yard TD run by Carter Governale to make it 28-14.
And once Russ scored his second TD of the night from a yard out with 2:52 left in the game, Mill Creek was within 28-20.
But Peachtree Ridge recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Lions eventually moved down the field to score on Best's 1-yard plunge with just 17 seconds left.
Dixon led the Peachtree Ridge attack with 115 yards on 21 carries while Best hit on 9 of 18 passing for 128 yards and two TD passes and a rushing TD. Horn had five catches for 55 yards and two scores.
Mill Creek piled up 350 rushing yards on 47 attempts, led by Russ with 165 yards on 20 carries and Jacorey Lewis with 106 yards on 17 attempts. Governale added 64 yards on nine carries.