Peachtree Ridge’s Davis Lackey (10) and Walton’s Ben Hood collide as Lackey runs for yardage during the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta Saturday. Peachtree Ridge defeated Walton 23-17. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
ATLANTA — Gwinnett County’s four representatives at the 2013 Corky Kell Classic on Saturday had results that left fans at the Georgia Dome feeling like they had just come from a screening of a particularly famous Spaghetti Western.
There was plenty of good, bad and ugly.
The good came from impressive performances from North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge. The No. 3 state-ranked Bulldogs scoring a convincing 34-13 win over No. 7 Camden County, while the 10th-ranked Lions rallied from an early 11-point deficit to down ninth-ranked Walton 23-17.
The bad may have been losses by Grayson (21-6 to No. 2 Colquitt County) and Brookwood (31-10 to sixth-ranked McEachern).
The ugly? Well, Brookwood coaches are hoping it won’t be quite so ugly, but injuries to starting running backs Josh Brown (knee) and Joshua Collins (possible concussion) could leave the Broncos with some serious questions in the backfield. Both were expected to be re-evaluated Monday.
Being the openers for both teams, and non-region games to boot, neither North coach Bob Sphire nor Peachtree Ridge coach Mark Fleetwood wanted to read too much into their respective wins, though they were pleased with what they saw.
“It’s a momentum game,” Sphire said. “It doesn’t mean anything as far as qualifying for playoffs but you ought to be able to build some momentum off this. And there are obviously going to be things we will want to correct after this one.”
Perhaps the biggest positive for both the Bulldogs and Lions may be both teams’ running games.
North saw plenty of production from move-in senior C.J. Leggett, who ran for 138 yards and a touchdown, while Wesley Edwards added 48 yards on seven carries.
The ground game provided a solid complement for the Bulldog aerial attack, led by Hayden Sphire’s 206 yards on 15 of 27 passing with three TDs, plus four catches for 74 yards and two TDs from Nate Brown.
Peachtree Ridge, meanwhile, got a boost from Jordan Ellis, who got comfortable behind his large offensive line and ran for the bulk of his 125 yards on 27 carries in the second half, including a 6-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that proved to be the game-winner.
“We were running it pretty good in the first half, but we kind of busted it open in the second half,” Ellis said. “We had a little jitters (early on) and to get that out. We were thinking too much.”
Both Grayson and Brookwood have plenty to think about after their opening losses, but even they had some silver linings to point to that could pay dividends later in the season.
For Grayson, it was a solid defensive effort that allowed the Rams to stay in the game after falling into an early hole when Michael Sutton game Colquitt a lead with his interception return on the third play of the game.
The Rams also began to see encouraging signs from its wing-T running game in the second half, with Aares McCall and Cameryn Brent combining for 180 yards on the ground.
But as coach Mickey Conn pointed out, there is still plenty for his team to improve upon, particularly cutting down on turnovers — four in all — that haunted them throughout the game.
“I knew (the players) were nervous, but I was hoping we’d handle the ball a little better than that,” Conn said. “But, that being said, they’re young, and I think they understand the importance now of taking care of the football.
“We just didn’t make plays, and these guys have got to understand that they’re capable of making plays. They just have to go out and do it.”
Even Brookwood, which struggled with giving up big plays on defense — McEachern had seven plays of 14 yards of more among its 323 yards on the ground — and penalties — 10 infractions for 74 yards — took some positives out of its game.
After a slow start, quarterback Joey McLane began to get the Broncos moving in the air, throwing for 163 yards and a score, including hooking up with Mike Allen five times for 75 yards.
Still, the injuries to Brown and Collins, plus the miscues made in several areas of the game, are cause for concern, though coach Mark Crews is still upbeat about the possibilities for the rest of the season.
“I don’t think we’ll play against a whole lot better defensive front than we did (Saturday) night,” Crews said. “I think our kids kept battling back. We knew we were limited a little bit with our backs (injured), but I’m proud of the way our kids kept fighting back and playing hard.
“We’ve got a foundation we can build on. We’ve just got to keep on getting better and keep on working. The bottom line is, it ain’t where you start. It’s where you finish. So, we’ll keep working hard, and our kids are made of the right stuff. We’ll be all right.”
TALKIN' FOOTBALL: Looking back at the Corky Kell Classic
Todd Cline and Will Hammock look back at the Corky Kell Classic and discuss who stood out in each game.