Collins Hill receiver Dwayne Smith (1) splits Walton defenders Chad Clay (4) and Ryan Roegge (31) after making a catch during last week’s game. (Photo: Karl L. Moore)
At first glance, Friday’s second-round Class AAAAAA state playoff game between No. 6 state-ranked Collins Hill and Alpharetta has the makings of an offensive shootout.
That’s understandable given the weapons both the Eagles (10-1) and Raiders (9-2) possess.
Collins Hill boasts one of Gwinnett County’s top rushers in Tyler Henderson (185-1,409, 21 TDs) and one of the top passers in Tyler Herman (176-279-6, 2,525 yards, 28 TDs) and trio of receivers — Grant McDonald (35-566, 6 TDs), Rhyan England (33-578, 8 TDs) and Quentin Jones (33-430, 6 TDs) — with 33 or more receptions.
Alpharetta has plenty of weapons itself, including quarterback Austin King, who threw for 216 yards and three touchdowns in the Raiders’ first-round win over South Gwinnett, as well receivers James Marbaugh, Daniel Clements and Rustin Suter.
However, when the two teams collide for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Raider Stadium, it could be the two defenses that hold the key to victory.
Certainly, the Raider defense has the respect of Eagles head coach Kevin Reach.
“They’re really good defensively,” Reach said of Alpharetta. “They’ve got a defensive end (Andrew Butcher) who may be as good as anybody we’ve played against this year. And they’ve got an inside linebacker (Bryce Grauss), who can really put some pressure on the quarterback.”
In addition, the Raiders forced South into five turnovers last week, three in the second half that helped them break open a close game.
And Reach knows it will be a challenge to keep Alpharetta from being so opportunistic this week, though he also believes the Eagles can do it simply by continuing to focus on taking care of the football.
“They’ll capitalize on mistakes,” Reach said. “It’s going to be like every week. We just need to do the things that we’ve been doing and not worry so much about who we’re playing.”
Besides, the Eagles have been pretty solid themselves in recent weeks, particularly in last week’s 41-7 first-round win over Walton.
They held a previously potent Walton offense to 164 yards, including just 51 through the air, behind a big night from Aubrey Johnson (10 tackles) and Jordan Bertrand (eight tackles). They picked off a couple of passes — one each by England and Bertrand.
In addition, both teams had a good night with their special teams’ units setting up their offenses in their respective wins last week.
Alpharetta blocked a pair of South punts, one of which was returned for a touchdown, while Collins Hill managed to start in Walton territory five times following punts in the first half, four of which the Eagles turned into scores.
So not surprisingly, Reach says special teams has received a good deal of attention during practice this week.
“It’s been one of our main focuses all week,” Reach said. “We’ve done well on special teams all year, and we’ve put a lot of emphasis on it.”
Collins Hill Eagles (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Kevin Reach
Last week: Beat Walton 41-7
Alpharetta Raiders (6-AAAAAA)
Coach: Jason Dukes
Last week: Beat South Gwinnett 41-23
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting between the two schools
Directions to Alpharetta High School: Take Pleasant Hill Road until it turns into State Bridge Road and then Old Milton Parkway; take it to North Point Parkway and turn right; school is a half a mile on the right.