South Gwinnett’s Daivon Harris (47) runs the ball during the game against Archer earlier this season. (Photo: Kyle Hess)
After 21 seasons and 263 games, the Cecil Flowe era comes full circle Friday night at Parkview.
With Flowe having announced two weeks ago his retirement effective at the end of the season, the Panthers hope to send him out the same way he came in — with a win over South Gwinnett.
But there’s plenty more at stake when the Panthers welcome the Comets for the regular season finale.
South (4-5, 3-4) is looking to secure a state playoff berth with a win, while Parkview (3-6, 3-4) is hoping to end those hopes, in addition to giving one last salute to Flowe, whose career was launched with a 28-14 win over the Comets at the Big Orange Jungle on Sept. 10, 1993.
But as has been the case since announcing his retirement following the Panthers’ 21-13 win over Central Gwinnett on Oct. 25, Flowe wants Friday’s focus to be on the team, rather than himself.
“I’m approaching it like every other game,” Flowe said. “There will be some emotion, sure, but am I prepared for it? Yes.
“I think they all realize it’s my last game, so they want to play extra hard, and that’s fine. But I told them (in practice this week), play for your school and the program and the community. … I told the seniors this week, this is your last time practicing on this field. This is your last high school game, and it’s the game you’ll probably remember the most.”
Both teams enter Friday’s game with much better recent memories than those from earlier in the season.
South has won three of its last four games to put itself in a position to control its own destiny for a playoff spot.
It’s a long way from where the Comets were when they started the season 1-4, and a long way from where coach John Small and his staff and players dreamed they could be at this point in the season.
“We had to do some scoreboard watching last week (during a 30-28 win over Brookwood),” Small said. “But it’s great. You want to control your own destiny. We took ourselves out of that (position) earlier in the year, but (the team) stayed the course and now I can tell them, ‘You’re in control again.’
“The kids have been outstanding the way they’ve handled the whole season. We didn’t execute very well early in the season, but the kids have gotten better and decided to rise up and grow up a little.”
Likewise, Parkview has won three of its last four games to overcome an 0-5 start.
While the Panthers do not have any playoff aspirations like South does, Flowe is hopeful they can finish strong and finish what they’ve started.
“Well, No. 1, we changed some players around on the offensive line around Week 5,” Flowe said. “And we changed some of the way we do some things on offense. We went back to some tried and true stuff. We’re still having our share of concentration problems, but we’re getting better and better each week.”
After seeing Parkview on video, Small agrees, and is looking for a strong effort, particularly from a defense led by linebacker Chace Reid (68 tackles) and defensive end Donavan Kelly (45 tackles, 3 sacks) in helping shut down the Panther running game — especially leading rusher Justis Rosser (157-740, 7 TDs).
“We’ve got to be able to stop their running game,” Small said. “They like to run out of a lot of formations, and I think Rosser is one of the unsung heroes of Gwinnett County.
“We know they’ll be wanting to send Cecil out with a win and dash our hopes, but all we can worry about is what we do. It’s another Region 8 game, and it’s going to be a great ball game. It always is.”
From Flowe’s perspective, the Panthers’ biggest challenge will be dealing with a Comets offense that gives opponents a variety of looks, such as when Malik Brown or Josh Shim is under center, as well as being able to get the ball to athletes like Coray Keel in space to make plays.
“They’re playing well right now, and they do have a lot on the line,” Flowe said of South. “John’s going to take four shots down the field, and if he gets two of them, he’s happy. So, you can expect that we’re going to have to play all the field.”
South Gwinnett Comets (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: John Small
Record: 4-5, 3-4 region
Last week: Beat Brookwood 30-28
Parkview Panthers (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: Cecil Flowe
Record: 3-6, 3-4 region
Last week: Beat Berkmar 14-7
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: South won 16-14 last year
Directions to Parkview High School: From I-85, go east on Indian Trail Road until it becomes Killian Hill Road. Turn right on Arcado Road and then left on Cole Drive. School is on the left.