Collins Hill 45, Mill Creek 34.
That result from the 2013 football season proved to be a pivotal point in the teams’ futures, both in and out of the series.
The Eagles haven’t defeated Mill Creek since then, losing five straight by considerable margins. Last year’s 24-0 loss was the closest. They also haven’t hosted a state playoff game since 2013.
That could change Friday when Collins Hill hosts Mill Creek in a matchup where the winner gets a home playoff game in the Class AAAAAAA first round.
“This is a big game and I think everybody knows how big this is,” said third-year Collins Hill head coach Lenny Gregory, who has taken all three of his Eagle teams to the playoffs. “For us, we haven’t hosted a playoff game, I believe the last time was 2013. So it’s a great opportunity for us. Seeding is everything in the playoffs. I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over there (at Mill Creek), it’s a chance to host a playoff game.”
The 2013 season also was a turning point for Mill Creek — it was the last time it missed the state playoffs. The Hawks have hosted nine state playoff games since the last time Collins Hill was home in the postseason.
Their five-year run of hosting a state playoff game can be extended with a road victory over Collins Hill, which locks up the second seed in Region 6-AAAAAAA behind North Gwinnett.
“We gave (the players) all the scenarios and talked about it, obviously home field advantage in the playoffs, playing in your stadium and not having to travel is huge,” first-year Mill Creek head coach Josh Lovelady said. “We talked about being in playoff mode. Let’s start it right now. You’d love to go in the playoffs on a positive note.”
All signs point to a close game this time around.
Aside from losses to North, both Mill Creek (7-2 overall, 4-1 region) and Collins Hill (6-3, 4-1) have rolled to four wins in region play. The Eagles shut out Peachtree Ridge (35-0), Discovery (42-0) and Mountain View (27-0) and routed Duluth 60-12.
“I feel like we’ve become a better football team every week,” Gregory said. “I think we’re playing as good of football as we’ve played all year. Our young kids are growing up. I couldn’t be more happy with what we’re doing right now. We’ve still got a long way to go, but the kids are doing what we’re asking them to do.”
Collins Hill’s defense doesn’t lack for playmakers. Travis Hunter has six interceptions to lead the secondary, while James Smith (47 tackles, 16 1/2 for losses, 7 1/2 sacks), Charles Steele (53 tackles, 15 for losses, six sacks) and Cameron Kinnie (48 tackles, 15 for losses, four sacks) have been disruptive forces. Others like Brysen Holden (69 tackles, nine for losses), Michael King (83 tackles) and Andrew Krajec (72 tackles, eight for losses) also have played well.
Meanwhile, the Collins Hill offense has switched from its previous wing-T to a pass-heavy attack triggered by Sam Horn (1,991 passing yards, 21 TDs, two interceptions). Jalen Johnson (62 catches, 522 yards, three TDs) and Hunter (41 catches, 807 yards, 12 TDs) have been his top targets.
“They’ve done a great job transitioning offenses,” Lovelady said. “To go from wing-T to spread, that’s not easy. If you’ve done this a long time, sometimes you’ve got to change to fit your personnel. And in the spread, the trigger man makes things go. The Horn kid is accurate. He’s a good player and they’ve got multiple playmakers that make it a struggle to stop them.”
Like Collins Hill, Mill Creek’s defense has fared well in region play outside of the North loss. Its offense has scored 58, 49, 63 and 41 points in its four region wins.
The running game, like in past seasons, is a huge part of the Hawks’ success. Chancellor Lee-Parker leads the way with 1,253 rushing yards and 16 TDs. Teammate Parker Wroble has accounted for seven TDs.
“You can’t tell (Mill Creek has a new head coach),” Gregory said. “They’re still the same football team they’ve been. They’re well-coached. They’re physical. They’re just Mill Creek still.”
Mill Creek Hawks (6-AAAAAAA)
Coach: Josh Lovelady
Record: 7-2, 4-1 region
Last week: Had a bye
Collins Hill Eagles (6-AAAAAAA)
Coach: Lenny Gregory
Record: 6-3, 4-1 region
Last week: Beat Mountain View 27-0
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Mill Creek won 24-0 last year
Location: Collins Hill High School