©Dale Zanine 2020_10_0901567.JPG

Mill Creek's Christian McIntyre (33), Jack Clayton (82) and Bryson Taylor (13) tackle Grayson's DeYon Cannon (19) during Friday nights game at Grayson High School.

Mill Creek Hawks (8-AAAAAAA)

Coach: Josh Lovelady

Record: 2-2

Last week: Lost to Grayson 20-13

North Gwinnett Bulldogs (8-AAAAAAA)

Coach: Bill Stewart

Record: 4-2

Last week: Beat North Cobb 16-0

Last Friday’s football game against nationally ranked Grayson drew attention in Georgia and beyond for Mill Creek, which took the Rams to two overtimes and nearly pulled off a stunning upset. Among those impressed was Stewart, the Hawks’ former defensive coordinator before he was hired as North’s head coach.

“Absolutely, it was an eye-opener,” Stewart said of Mill Creek’s effort last Friday. “It just shows they’re as good as anybody. I think with the way this year is and everything, you just keep working your kids and doing the right thing. And those guys do a great job. Their kids are tough and they took (Grayson) to the edge.”

Lovelady said there was no solace in a moral victory by playing Grayson close — his team wanted the win. That said, there was plenty to like from his team’s showing.

“We took a step and improved,” Lovelady said. “We didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but the improvement showed on the field. … I was very proud of us with our effort, flying to the football, playing hard, playing against someone bigger.”

The Hawks, often at a size disadvantage, stood strong against Grayson’s offense and big tailback Phil Mafah, a Clemson commit. Emon Hill (10 tackles, one pass breakup), Josiah Jordan (11 tackles, one for loss, one sack), Bryson Taylor (13 tackles), Noah Allen (four tackles, one sack), Jack Clayton (eight tackles, one for loss), Christian McIntyre (six tackles) and Prince Morgan (four tackles, two sacks) were among the Mill Creek defensive standouts last Friday. The defense held Grayson to six points — the final three on a field goal in the final minute that forced overtime — in regulation.

“Up front, being undersized at times in that game, they got the job done,” Lovelady said. “We had 10 of our 11 defenders who weighed less than their 225-pound tailback. Prince Morgan was the only one bigger than their tailback. But our front seven played big and physical and the secondary was doing a great job against their receivers.”

Another defensive battle could be in the works this week. North already owns shutouts of two top-10 teams, North Cobb and Parkview, and is stronger than ever with the recent return of linebacker Barrett Carter (a Clemson commit) from injury. Cornerback Jordan Hancock, an Ohio State commit, opted back into the season recently and got back into shape in conditioning last week — his return will make the Bulldogs’ defense even more impressive.

Kayden McDonald (eight tackles, one for loss, three sacks, caused fumble) and Justin Watson (six tackles, three sacks) were disruptive forces last week against North Cobb, as was Carter with his seven tackles (two for losses), one sack and one quarterback hurry. Kenan Holmes had an interception and a pass breakup, and Corbin Hood had eight tackles and a pass breakup for North, which enters 8-AAAAAAA play on an 18-game winning streak in region competition.

North played one of its best games last year against Mill Creek, rolling to a 45-3 victory that eventually led to the Bulldogs’ third straight region title.

“It’s always a huge game in the region with playoff implications (against Mill Creek),” Stewart said.

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: North 45-3 last year

Location: North Gwinnett High School

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