By halftime of Peachtree Ridge’s 59-20 win over Lassiter in the first-round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs Friday at Frank Fillmann Stadium, Lions running back Jordan Ellis seemed on his way to a record-setting performance.
The margin of the Lions’ lead, combined with adjustments by the Trojans’ defense, dictated that the Virginia-bound senior wasn’t able to challenge the state’s single-game rushing record of 476 yards by Miller County’s Don Calloway, which he was on a pace for with 250 first-half yards and four touchdowns.
But despite running for just 12 yards on eight second-half carries, Ellis’ two touchdowns in the third quarter did help him top a different record — his own Peachtree Ridge school single-game record for TDs.
Ellis scored five times in the Lions’ 47-0 win over Meadowcreek two weeks earlier.
As impressive as his night was, the six scores is still just one short of making the first page of the state’s all-time leaderboard, with 13 players having scored seven in a game. Kenneth Moore of Calhoun holds the state record with 10 TDs in a game against Acworth in 1948.
However, Ellis’ big night now gives him 30 touchdowns on the season, leaving him just five away from catching former Thomson High and Georgia Tech star Jerry Mays for 15th place on the state’s all-time list.
To say North Gwinnett got off to a slow start on offense against Milton would be an understatement as the Bulldogs netted minus-3 yards and no first downs in the opening quarter.
Needing a spark, head coach Bob Sphire turned to one of his defensive stars in Dante Sawyer.
Sawyer, who excels as starting defensive end, occasionally will see action on offense as fullback in short-yardage situations, but on North’s first possession in the second quarter, Sphire lined up Sawyer in the backfield on the drive’s first play.
Sawyer responded by taking the first play of the drive on a four-yard run, followed by another 8-yard gain two plays later.
On third and 1 from the Milton 14, Sawyer extended the drive with a 6-yard play to set up first-and-goal from the eight. On the next play, Sawyer went around the right end and easily scored North’s first TD of the night. The drive covered 55 yards on eight plays with Sawyer carrying the ball on half of those.
“He’s our inspirational guy,” head coach Bob Sphire said of Sawyer. “What he did for us on that drive was huge. He wants to win as bad as anyone I’ve ever coached and he’s just that kind of guy.”
Those were the only four carries Sawyer had on the night, but it jump started as North offense that scored 20 points in the second quarter.
After allowing 34 points in its final regular season game against Mill Creek, the Collins Hill defense spent last week working on its physicality. It worked. The Eagles allowed 54 total yards of offense in a scoreless first half for Walton in its first round playoff win. In the second half, Walton improved slightly as the Eagles eased up some of the pressure, but finished the game with just 164 total yards, 100 coming from standout running back K.K. Brooks. “That was we needed to motivate us for the next round,” said senior linebacker Jonathan Thomas who had a sack and a tackle for a loss in the first half domination.
Out of first
With Collins Hill’s win over Walton on Friday, the Eagles advanced into the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in head coach Kevin Reach’s tenure in Suwanee. The last time Collins Hill advanced to the second round was 2009 when Taylor Heinicke, now a standout at Old Dominion, led the Eagles to the semifinals. The next two seasons, Collins Hill was bounced in the first round by Grayson and West Forsyth.
through in the clutch
Dacula’s defense had been stout down the stretch of the regular season as the Falcons recovered from a 1-2 start to finish 7-3, including 6-2 in a tough Region 8-AAAAAA. The Falcons gave up just 12.3 points-per-game in those final seven games when they went 6-1. But on a cold and rainy night when the Dacula offense had its highest point output of the season, that same Falcons’ defense rose to the occasion in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs against a potent West Forsyth offense.
But it wasn’t primarily about points allowed. Instead, it was about making stops in the fourth quarter as Dacula (7-4) held on for the 36-31 win.
The first stop came on West Forsyth’s fake field goal attempt from the Dacula 8 that the Falcons spoiled with a two-yard loss. That set up the 13-play, 90-yard drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock and put Dacula ahead 36-24 with 2:38 to play.
The second stop came after West Forsyth recovered an onside kick at the Dacula 49 with 2:01 left following a Wolverines’ touchdown that cut the Falcons’ lead to 36-31.
West Forsyth (7-4) drove to the Dacula 27 behind backup senior quarterback John Conway, who was in after starter Hampton McConnell left with an injury late in the third quarter.
But a sack by Lawson Cook, two incompletions and a fourth-down pass breakup by C.J. Mayes with 1:08 remaining put Dacula into the second round against Peachtree Ridge on Friday.
Dacula’s offense definitely features a steady rushing attack this season, including Friday night’s 36-31 win over West Forsyth when the Falcons stayed on the ground and attempted just two passes with no completions and one interception.
Dacula also has a stable of running backs to give the ball and that was evident against West Forsyth when the Falcons used seven different backs to pile up 391 yards on 44 carries and an 8.9 yards-per-carry average.
But it wasn’t just a grind-it-out attack as the Falcons had 12 runs of 10 yards or more en route to the victory, including three by leading rusher Bijon Sirleaf and his 127 yards on 14 carries and three TDs.
— Staff Writers Ben Beitzel and David Friedlander, senior correspondent Scott Smith and staff correspondent Steve Argo contributed to this report