Central Gwinnett's Justin Brownlee (34) makes the catch for a big gain as Collins Hill's Rhyan England (7) brings him down during Friday night's game at Collins Hill.
HIGHLIGHTS: Collins Hill vs. Central Gwinnett
Highlights from the Collins Hill vs. Central Gwinnett football game in which the Black Knights defeated the Eagles 27-21.
SUWANEE -- The defense that was giving up basketball-like scores last season became a distant memory Friday night.
With its offense sputtering for most of the second half, Central Gwinnett leaned on what was a much-maligned defense in 2011 for the better part of two quarters at Collins Hill. The unit responded time after time, including a pair of fourth-down stops, as helped the Black Knights hold on for a 27-21, season-opening victory.
"The defense came up huge," said Central head coach Todd Wofford, now unbeaten in three season openers as the Black Knights' coach. "That's why we made (coaching) changes on defense. We had to make changes on defense because everybody knows we were struggling there the last two years.
"The coaches did a great job and the kids responded all night. The second half was all about our defense."
Central's offense also was impressive for a half in building a 20-7 lead, but it managed 125 yards in the second half (65 of it on a touchdown pass from Eman Westmoreland to Justin Brownlee).
Unable to move the ball or drain much clock, Central put the pressure on its defense to make stands, none bigger than two fourth-down stops on Collins Hill's first two drives of the fourth quarter. The Eagles' first possession started at the Central 21-yard line after a Black Knight fumble, but a fourth-down interception by Nate Hartford at the goal line ended the threat. After a Central three-and-out, the front line stepped up and stopped Collins Hill's Daniel Fish on a fourth-and-short play.
Tyler Henderson's 1-yard TD run with 3:40 left closed the gap to 27-21, but Central's offense ran out the clock from there.
"It meant a lot for the defense to play like that," Central linebacker Trey Johnson said. "Everybody was talking down on our defense and in the second half we came through."
Westmoreland had a big day, most of it in the first half as Central took control. He finished 17 of 27 passing for 211 yards and TD passes to Brownlee and Chris Shelling. Brownlee also had a TD run and Johnathan Hawkins had 82 yards on 23 tough carries.
They did most of their damage in a first half that saw the visitors run 47 plays (to Collins Hill's 20), gain 265 yards and tally 17 first downs. Meanwhile the Eagles had more penalty yards (82) than offensive yards (80) in the first two quarters.
"I was upset with our effort," Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said. "Our effort was bad tonight. We didn't come ready to play. Not taking anything away from Central, they outplayed us. They came ready to play and we didn't. That won't happen again."
Sheehan was Collins Hill's only consistent source of offense. He completed 17 of 34 passes for 174 yards and rushed for 72 yards, 36 on a scramble that set up the Eagles' first score, a 2-yard TD run by Henderson.
He also threw a 15-yard TD pass to Grant McDonald that briefly cut the score to 20-15 with 5:36 left in the third quarter, but Central answered immediately with its only second-half points on the long TD pass to Brownlee.
That gave the Black Knights' defense enough cushion to seal the win, their first over an established playoff team under Wofford.
"That was huge, it gives us creditability," the third-year Central head coach said. "The last two years we've been 2-0, 3-0, but beating Collins Hill is different. They've got a great program, an established program, well-coached. To beat a perennial playoff team on the road lets us know we've improved. And what we wanted to do is represent our region. We think we have the toughest region (8-AAAAAA) in the state and we wanted to hold up our end against (7-AAAAAA)."