Photo: Craig Cappy South Gwinnett's Mark Watts (1) tries to break away from a Lowndes defender after making a catch in their game in week one.
Central Gwinnett football coach Todd Wofford has been waiting for more than a year for Saturday's game.
It was two years ago that Wofford was in the Dome as an assistant on Gainesville's state runner-up team.
It was just last season that South Gwinnet hung 62 points on the Black Knights, the most points allowed in nearly 40 years.
The loss in the state finals still stings for Wofford, but not as much as the humiliating loss to rival South. Gwinnett County's oldest rivalry will meet Saturday in the Great American Football Classic at Georgia Dome.
"It's a big game and everyone is excited to be on that field, but they have a bigger goal than that," Wofford said. "I've told them this is something they will always remember. It's the biggest stage you'll be on, but if you don't get ready it will be the biggest stage you'll get embarrassed on."
Embarrassment can only begin to describe how Central felt after its third straight loss to South last season. It was was Wofford's first year after helping Gainesville to the Class AAA state title game. The offense was a work in progress, but the defense needed a major overhaul. The Black Knights lost 62-27.
"That was probably the ugliest we had last year," Wofford said. "Everybody in the building remembers that game."
Central allowed 37 points a game last season. Through three games this season it has surrendered less than 13 points a game. First-time football player Francis Kallon has emerged as a force on the defensive line and special teams (three blocked kicks), while Auburn commitment Tray Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the state.
"Last year our Achilles heel was our defense. People exploited that," Wofford said. "We had a lot of guys out there that were new to the system. We played a lot of young guys and they made plays. Those guys that were in the fire, they remember."
The Central-South rivalry, which began in 1957, has had a drastic change in just one year. The Black Knights (3-0, 1-0 Region 8) are off to a fast start this year, while South Gwinnett (0-3, 0-1) is still struggling to get its first win. South is 0-3 for the first time since 1997 when it went winless that season.
"We're still making too many mistakes and shooting ourselves in the foot," South head coach John Small said. "We've got to learn to close out a game."
South had five turnovers against Shiloh and a punt return to set up another touchdown in its first loss to the Generals since 2000 last week.
"When I read and heard that they lost, I was like no," Wofford said. "Because you don't want to go against a team that's 0-3 and looking for its first win and you're the next team because you know they are going to give you everything they've got."
First-year South quarterback Mason Hart had his best game of the season last week. The junior threw for 265 yards and was 24 for 39 passing, breaking Michael Polascik's school record for completions in a game.
"I think he's played exceptionally well," Small said. "The supporting cast around him has to do their job."
South is expecting to get receiver Coray Keel back in the lineup, but the Comets are not ready to get in a shootout with Central.
"They've got a good football team. They've got a lot of different weapons," Small said. "We're going to have our hands full."
The Black Knights have an explosive offense, which has averaged 48 points a game this season. Quarterback Eman Westmoreland has thrown for 599 yards and eight TDs, while running back/receiver George Morris has 447 total yards with 10 scores.
"Hopefully, it will be a chance to show everybody who hasn't seen us play these first three games what we're doing and what we're about," Wofford said. "Offense is not like what it was before. The offense has turned the page to where it is and what it is. It's pretty fast. When it's clicking it's pretty fun to watch."