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Dacula, Peachtree Ridge transform in one year

Dacula’s Kelan Fraise scores a touchdown during the game against Mill Creek earlier this season. (Photo: Craig Cappy)

Dacula’s Kelan Fraise scores a touchdown during the game against Mill Creek earlier this season. (Photo: Craig Cappy)

Dacula and Peachtree Ridge have had successful histories.

But the 2012 season is one year they both want to forget.

The Falcons went 1-9 after reaching the state quarterfinals the previous year. It was the worst record in 27 years.

The Lions posted a 4-6 mark after reaching the playoffs in 2011 to have the worst record since the second year the school opened.

The two schools will meet Friday night in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. It’s been quite a turnaround for both in the last 12 months.

“The biggest thing I can see is both teams have kids playing extremely hard and believing in what they are doing,” first-year Dacula head coach Tommy Jones said.

Jones, a Brookwood grad, came from Lumpkin County, where he was 27-42 in seven years. In less than a year, he transformed the Falcons from the worst team in Region 8 to runner-up in the league.

“Coach Jones has done a great job in his first year at the school and taking them to the second round of the playoffs,” Peachtree Ridge head coach Mark Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood is in his third year at the Suwanee school, but made some changes to the staff in the offseason. Fleetwood hired a new offensive coordinator in Chuck Allen and defensive coordinator in Phillip Hale.

The offense has broken the school record for points (400) in a season and yardage (4,318).

Running back Jordan Ellis is coming off a big game in last week’s first-round 59-20 win over Lassiter. The Virginia commitment rushed for 263 yards and six touchdowns.

That may be a concern for Dacula, which allowed West Forsyth’s Trevor O’Brien to run for 188 yards last week.

The winner of Friday’s game will face the North Cobb-Colquitt County winner in the quarterfinals.

“He’s outstanding,” Jones said of Ellis. “He has a real knack for making people miss. He’s the total package.”

Ellis has rushed for 1,546 yards this season and has 30 touchdowns. He has eight 100-yard rushing games.

“I don’t think there’s an answer to slowing him down,” Jones said. “From a defensive standpoint you have to play assignment football extremely well.”

Quarterback Chance Thrasher has thrown for 2,114 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Receiver Myron Burton, an Auburn commitment, leads the team in receptions with 44 for 516 yards and four TDs. Tyler Campbell and Brandon Johnson are also among the team’s leading receivers.

“The thing about Peachtree Ridge, you take (Ellis) away and they are efficient in throwing the ball and making plays,” Jones said.

Dacula doesn’t have any one stud player it relies on each week. Quarterback Aaron Grove leads the team in rushing (616) and passing (516). Running backs C.J. Mayes and Jacque Evangelister each have more than 500 yards rushing. Then you throw in Bijan Sirleaf, who had 137 yards and three TDs last week, and Kelan Fraise, who had 105 yards and one TD in the win over West Forsyth.

“We’ve been real fortunate,” Jones said. “I don’t know if it’s by design to have different guys step up each week.”

Dacula center Dallas Hadley has missed the last two games and has been day-to-day this week.

“They are team oriented,” Fleetwood said. “They are aggressive on defense. They like the ground attack. They are very sound. It’s very obvious they are a good football team and why they are in the playoffs.”

There’s a lot more buzz around Dacula now than there was a year ago. The Falcons are a win away from reaching the quarterfinals for the second time in three years and the community has taken notice.

“When you’re in the playoffs there’s a sense of excitement,” Jones said. “Our community did a great job rallying around our team. They have made their support known.”

Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAAA)

Coach: Mark Fleetwood

Record: 8-3

Last week: Beat Lassiter 59-20

Dacula Falcons (8-AAAAAA)

Coach: Tommy Jones

Record: 7-4

Last week: Beat West Forsyth 36-31

Last meeting: Peachtree Ridge won 17-0 in 2008 state playoffs

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Directions to Dacula High School: From Highway 316, go north on Highway 8 approximately one mile and school is on the left.