Photo: Karl L. Moore Brookwood running back Jamaal Cole (32) gains yardage and attempts to escape a tackly by Archer's Robbie Armstrong (52) during a game earlier this season.
CENTRAL GWINNETT AT BROOKWOOD
CENTRAL GWINNETT BLACK KNIGHTS (8-AAAAAA)
• Coach: Todd Wofford
• Record: 3-3, 1-3 region
• Last week: Lost to Archer 23-8
BROOKWOOD BRONCOS (8-AAAAAA)
• Coach: Mark Crews
• Record: 4-2, 2-1 region
• Last week: Beat Shiloh 30-24
• When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
• Last meeting: Brookwood won 56-14 last year
• Directions to Brookwood High School: From I-85, go east on Pleasant Hill Road and merge onto Ronald Reagan Parkway. Proceed to the Five Forks-Trickum Road exit. Turn right and the next left on Dogwood Road. School is on the right.
• Series history:
2011 — Brookwood 56, Central 14
2010 — Brookwood 59, Central 13
2009 — Brookwood 28, Central 21, OT
2008 — Brookwood 27, Central 14
2007 — Brookwood 45, Central 19
2006 — Brookwood 21, Central 0
2005 — Brookwood 17, Central 6
2004 — Brookwood 21, Central 9
The keys to victories for Friday night's Region 8-AAAAAA clash between Brookwood and Central Gwinnett at Brookwood Community Stadium are quite general, and quite different for each team.
The host Broncos (4-2, 3-1) want to simply stick with the trademarks that have made their program one of the best in Gwinnett County and Georgia.
Meanwhile, the visiting Black Knights (3-3, 1-3) want to get back to executing the general game plan the way they were early this season.
Whichever team can accomplish its goals will claim an important victory in terms of its postseason hopes.
Brookwood is clearly in a better position standing just one game off the lead and in firm control of a playoff spot, while Central desperately needs a win just to keep any realistic postseason aspirations alive.
"Every week has playoff implications in this region," Brookwood coach Mark Crews said. "Yes, (Central's) backs are to the wall a bit, but it's also an important game for us. We need to keep winning, too."
And again, doing so for the Broncos' main goal for getting the win Friday remains primarily in maintenance.
Over the years, the Brookwood formula has been a strong running game, balanced by effective passing and physicality that allows them to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
And the Broncos have managed to stick to the formula in most areas this season, with the passing game, led by an improving quarterback Zach Moon and N.C. State-bound receiver Ky Priester, helping to balance out the two-headed running game paced by Jamaal Cole and Josh Brown.
But Crews knows the challenge will be a little different for his defense this week with Central's pass-happy spread attack.
While it is still important for the Broncos to control the line of scrimmage by being physical, the biggest assignment will be trying to keep up with Central's athletic skill players, such as receiver Justin Brownlee.
"When you've got four or five (receivers) spread out over the field all the time (like Central does), you've got to cover everyone," Crews said. "You can't swarm to the ball like you can against a running team. And part of our history against spread teams is that we don't want to let (the quarterback) sit back and pitch to his targets."
Exactly who will be picking those targets is still an issue for Central.
While starter Eman Westmoreland has returned after missing one game and part of another with a sprained ankle, 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior was clearly still hobbled somewhat during last week's loss to Archer.
And his decreased availability and mobility have been reasons why the Black Knights have struggled in keeping opponents trying to defend their passing game honest with a balanced running attack.
Yes, sacks have skewed numbers that show Central producing negative yardage on the ground the last three weeks somewhat, but coach Todd Wofford is looking for more out of his running game to help the Black Knights be more productive, especially in the red zone.
"Eman was a big part of our running game (early in the season)," Wofford said. "Taking that away from us (after he was injured) hurts us because he was getting 50 to 60 yards per game. And we were more of a 50-50 (run-pass) team. Our running game just has to make plays, especially when we get down inside the (opponents') 5-yard line."
In addition to trying to get better production from his team's run blocking, as well as running backs Johnathan Hawkins and Jourdin Shiloh, Wofford is hoping a continued rotation between Westmoreland and backup QB Nate Hartford -- which had some limited success last week -- can not only help the former continue to mend, but also give Brookwood's defense different looks.
"It's a matter of Nate getting more comfortable because every game is a new experience for him," Wofford said. "I think once (Westmoreland and Hartford) got more comfortable (with the rotation), it worked out pretty well.
"Our running game has just got to make plays. And someone other than Brownlee has got to step up and make plays in the passing game."