Collins Hill’s C.J. Davis makes a catch during the game against Dacula earlier this season. (Photo: Craig Cappy)
SUWANEE — When Kevin Reach talks about the run his Collins Hill team is enjoying, the head coach consistently returns to the season-low mark.
“The Norcross game was a big wake-up call for us,” Reach said. “We had to change a lot of things, mentally moreso. The team that is mentally tough is going to be the team that succeeds.”
Based on the results, the Eagles received the message. Rather than sliding after the loss, Collins Hill climbed out of its depths to improve every week. It became co-champion of Region 7-AAAAAA and two weeks ago won its first playoff game since 2010.
“They promised me (a game like Norcross) wouldn’t happen again,” Reach said his players told him following the loss.
To force the mental toughness, the Eagles’ staff never let up on the players. They work out almost every day. They practice in pads and stress playing more physical than their opponents not just in words but in actions.
“We’ve been hard on them,” Reach said. “We’ve stayed on them. Even though we won 48-0 against Alpharetta, we still made a potload of mistakes. The kids, they know that. Our main goal is to try to be perfect. They know that that is what we are shooting for. Our kids have gotten better each week, our fundamentals have gotten better.”
It’s earned them a berth in tonight’s Class AAAAAA state quarterfinals against McEachern and another home game. The Indians, the No. 3 seed from Region 4-AAAAAA, upset Langston-Hughes last week 22-21 and have found a leader, according to Reach, in freshman quarterback Bailey Hockman. Combined with the other quarterback Ty Clemons, McEachern has thrown for 1,935 yards and 21 touchdowns. And Collins Hill doesn’t know which quarterback it will face.
“I don’t know who is playing,” Reach said. “It doesn’t really matter to us.”
It changes the Indians’ attack. Clemons is also the team’s leading rusher with 1,157 yards on 86 carries with a team-high 16 touchdowns. Taj Griffin is second with 996 yards on the ground and eight touchdowns.
“(Griffin) is probably as good as anybody in the state,” Reach said.
Four different backs have more than five touchdowns on the year for two-loss McEachern, a product of a sizable line.
“They are a big football team,” Reach said. “They kind of remind me of Mill Creek on the offensive and defensive front.”
Along with a big defensive line, which has three players with more than 10 sacks, the Indians’ secondary has picked off 17 passes this season, led by Rahmoi Parsons with six.
“They might be as good of a secondary as we’ve seen,” Reach said.
But this is the playoffs and every team left will bring plenty of talent. At Collins Hill, the stress is on staying in the same routine as the past six weeks; keep riding the momentum following the Norcross loss. In the past two weeks, Collins Hill played as well as it has all year, dominating Walton and then Alpharetta.
In the first two weeks, the defense allowed just seven total points and the offense, led by quarterback Tyler Herman, running back Tyler Henderson and receivers Rhyan England and Grant McDonald put up 44.5 points.
“If we don’t worry about who we are playing and just worry about doing our game plan, I like our chances,” Reach said.
McEachern at Collins Hill
Coach: Kyle Hockman
Last week: Beat Langston-Hughes 22-21
Collins Hill (7-AAAAAA)
Coach: Kevin Reach
Last week: Beat Alpharetta 48-0
Last meeting: First meeting
Directions to Collins Hill High School: From I-85, go east on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and take a left on Taylor Road. School is on the right.