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Brookwood, South battle back to get in playoff race

South Gwinnett’s Trevon Vallery (18) takes the handoff from quarterback Josh Shim during the game last week against Archer. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

South Gwinnett’s Trevon Vallery (18) takes the handoff from quarterback Josh Shim during the game last week against Archer. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

At the end of September, Brookwood and South Gwinnett were a combined 2-7 for the season.

It wasn’t the kind of start they were looking for after reaching the playoffs a year ago.

The Broncos and Comets have rebounded in the month of October to get in the Region 8-AAAAAA playoff race. Now with two games left in the regular season, their postseason hopes collide on the first day of November. Both teams need to win out to secure a playoff berth. The loser will need help from other teams to make the postseason.

“No doubt. If you have a chance to get in, it starts this week,” South Gwinnett head coach John Small said. “Brookwood is in the same position. We’re both fighting for our lives.”

South started the year 1-4, but has won two of the last three to get in the playoff race.

“I think we have grown up a lot,” Small said. “We’ve learned some hard lessons early in the season. Obviously, we wish we could have some games back. Our kids have stayed committed to the course.”

Sophomore Josh Shim has emerged as one of the young leaders at quarterback for the Comets. Shim has thrown for 929 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Coray Keel, an Indiana commitment, leads the team in receiving.

“They have a good football team,” Brookwood head coach Mark Crews said. “They are explosive and are a big-play team. They force you to make plays in space. We have to put pressure on their quarterback.”

Brookwood started the year 1-3, which included losing starting running back Josh Brown for the season with an injury. Brown’s younger brother Jesse has emerged as the Broncos running back this season. The sophomore rushed for 247 yards in a win over Central Gwinnett two weeks ago, but was held to just 55 yards last week by Berkmar. That led quarterback Joey McLane to throw for more than 224 yards in the win.

“They’ve always run the ball so well. The quarterback has done a nice job throwing it when they need to,” Small said. “They are always going to have one or two great running backs and a really good offensive line. Their line is always well coached.”

The improved line has helped Jesse Brown rush for 878 yards and nine touchdowns. McLane has thrown for 1,061 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“(Brown) found his way a little bit, the offensive line has gotten better, but the biggest improvement has been on defense,” Crews said.

The unit recorded its second shutout of the season last week and is allowing an average of 8.4 points the last five games. They were allowing 33 points in the first three games.

“We’re a little bit healthier than we were before. We worked hard and got better,” Crews said.

Now Brookwood will try clinch a spot in the playoffs for the 12th year in a row. It’s a streak that seemed like it was going to end back in September.

“In really every game we’ve played since the opener it’s been a playoff game,” Crews said. “We can’t slip up. We’ve gone from 0-3 to get in the playoff mix to possibly getting a higher seed.”

BROOKWOOD at SOUTH GWINNETT

Brookwood Broncos (8-AAAAAA)

Coach: Mark Crews

Record: 4-4, 4-2 region

Last week: Beat Berkmar 14-0

South Gwinnett Comets (8-AAAAAA)

Coach: John Small

Record: 3-5, 2-4 region

Last week: Lost to Archer 48-31

Last meeting: South Gwinnett 42-38

Directions to South Gwinnett High School: From Ga. Highway 78, go south on Skyland Drive. School is on the left