Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan (12) scrambles out of the pocket during the Eagles' game against Norcross earlier this month.
North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Bob Sphire
Record: 6-1, 4-1 in region
Last week: Beat Habersham Central 44-6
Collins Hill Eagles (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Kevin Reach
Record: 5-2, 4-1 in region
Last week: Beat Meadowcreek 56-10
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: North Gwinnett won 34-10 last year
Directions to Collins Hill High School: From I-85, go east on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and take a left on Taylor Road. School is on the right
After last year's game against North Gwinnett, Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach had to make a change.
The offense produced just 10 points in its game against rival North Gwinnett. That wasn't going to cut it if the Eagles were going to make the playoffs.
Reach made backup quarterback Brett Sheehan the starter the next game and the Eagles scored 35 points in the following week's victory.
Collins Hill's offense has flourished since Sheehan became the starter nearly 13 months ago. Reach hopes that continues Friday night against North in the Battle of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road.
"He's a great team leader and the kids follow him," Reach said.
Collins Hill is 9-5 with Sheehan as a starter, which includes a first-round playoff loss to eventual state champion Grayson last year. The Eagles' offense has averaged 37 points a game this season.
"Once we got him in there it was like he's been there his whole life and the kids just followed," Reach said. "We're playing well all around and it starts with the trigger man. We've been pleased with his progress. He's poised."
Sheehan will face one of the state's toughest defenses in North Gwinnett, which is allowing 18.1 points and 201 yards a game.
"They run to the ball," Reach said. "Every time we play them it seems like they reload."
North linebacker Jalen Brooks, a Maryland commitment, is coming off a big game. The senior had 10 tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown. Linebacker Carter Cross and linemen Preston Green and Dante Sawyer also have presented problems for offenses.
"Their defense, they play at a fast pace," Reach said.
Sheehan leads the county in passing with 1,801 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. Even more impressive is his 70.3 completion percentage. That was helped last week when he was 17 of 19 for 305 yards and five TDs in the first half.
The Florida International commitment has some of the county's top receivers in Julian Williams and Ohio commitment Justin Wyatt. Both are in the top five in the county in receptions and have over 400 yards receiving.
"There's a lot that stands out. They do a great job with the program and coach them up. They challenge you every week with a different set," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "They are obviously playing at a high level. Their quarterback is dialed in with the receivers. It's difficult to get to him."
North quarterback Michael Haynes has put up some big numbers this season, throwing for 1,327 yards with 15 TDs and four interceptions. He has a 67.3 completion percentage and has rushed for 535 yards.
"Their quarterback is a huge part and hard to contain," Reach said. "We'll have to be able to contain him."
The return of Jonathan Lewis, who was out with an ankle sprain, and the emergence of Cam Lewis should take the load off of Haynes running the ball.
"All three are so different and bring something different," Sphire said.
North Gwinnett is the three-time defending region champions, but appears out of the title hunt with Collins Hill. Both teams lost to Norcross this season and they are now in a tie for second place. The winner of Friday's game has the upper hand on securing the runner-up spot and home field in the first round of the playoffs.
"It pretty much guarantees a playoff spot, but we're all striving for the No. 2 spot and home field in the playoffs," Reach said. "I think it would put you in a good spot, but it certainly doesn't decide anything. We're not worried about anything else but playing North."