South Gwinnett’s Ian Killian looks for running room after a second quarter reception against Berkmar last week. (Photo: David McGregor)
The implications for both teams in Friday's Region 8-AAAAAA clash between Archer and South Gwinnett couldn’t be any clearer.
The No. 8 state-ranked Tigers (8-0, 6-0) could make history with a win in the 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Archer Community Stadium — not only by gaining their first-ever win in their fourth meeting with South, but also by wrapping up the program’s first region championship.
For the Comets (3-4, 2-3), Friday's game is pretty much a matter of do or die, with a win keeping them in contention for one of the region’s four state playoff berths, while a loss virtually eliminates them from postseason contention.
Still, both coaches would prefer their teams keep the focus on each other, rather than the end game waiting at the end of the night.
“As a head coach, you try to explain what a great opportunity it is just to win a region title,” Archer coach Andy Dyer said. “It is a big deal for the school and a big deal for the kids. That said, (South has) gotten better (over the course of the season). Coach (John) Small has done a great job. A lot of the mistakes they were making early in the season, they’re not making anymore. So, it’s going to be a hard fight.
“Nothing really surprises me in this county. You’ve got to show up and play each every week. If you don’t, you’re going to get beat.”
Small knows that just as well, and knows his Comets will have to be at their best to meet a tough challenge against an Archer team that has shown plenty of balance in every sense of the word.
The Tigers’ offense has gotten production both on the ground, behind running back Randy Nails (113 car., 694 yards, 2 TDs), and through the air assault led by quarterback Gabe Tiller (128-187-5, 1,567 yards, 19 TDs) and receivers like K.J. Parmer (31-458, 6 TDs), Dylan Singleton (30-285, 2 TDs), Kyle Davis (23-417, 9 TDs) and Connor Redmond (22-231, 3 TDs).
But it is the Archer defense that perhaps most concerns Small, especially its ability to create turnovers.
The Tigers have created 19 takeaways this season — a little more than two per game — including 12 interceptions, with John Gillis leading the way with three and Chad Bird and Isaiah Pryor adding two apiece.
“They remind me of the 1972 (Miami) Dolphins,” Small said of the Archer defense. “They’re very opportunistic. Good teams take advantage of your mistakes.”
South is not without weapons of its own, with the likes of Indiana-committed receiver Coray Keel (21-345, 4 TDs) and quarterback Josh Shim giving the Comets the ability to strike at any moment.
And that quick-strike capability is particularly on Dyer’s mind when thinking about his team’s defensive goals Friday.
“Our No. 1 thing is we’ve got to eliminate the big play defensively,” Dyer said. “We’ve played poorly in special teams against South the last couple of years. And we want to control the ball on offense. It’s just simple football rules.”
Ultimately, both coaches want to keep things simple — again, trying to keep the focus on the here and now.
Small is particularly concerned with that given the implications for South’s playoff fate.
“To be honest, we’re focusing on (today) — one day, one practice, one rep at a time,” Small said before a practice earlier this week. “We can’t worry about that other stuff.”
South Gwinnett Comets (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: John Small
Record: 3-4, 2-3 region
Last week: Beat Grayson 28-21
Archer Tigers (8-AAAAAA)
Coach: Andy Dyer
Record: 8-0, 6-0 region
Last week: Beat Berkmar 37-7
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: South won 42-14 last year
Directions to Archer High School: From I-85 take Ga. Highway 20 exit toward Lawrenceville. Follow road through downtown Lawrenceville as it turns to Jackson then New Hope Road. School is on the right.
2012 — South 42, Archer 14
2011 — South 24, Archer 21
2010 — South 60, Archer 9