Grayson’s Jamal Haynes runs with the ball after making a catch against Marietta last month. Haynes and the fifth-ranked Rams will be looking to make big plays in their Region 8-AAAAAAA showdown at Archer on Friday night.

Even before the 2019 high school football season, most observers looking at Region 8-AAAAAAA had Friday night’s clash between Grayson and Archer circled on their calendars.

That red-letter day has arrived as the No. 5 state-ranked Rams (5-1, 1-0) travel to take on the Tigers (4-2, 1-0) for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Archer Community Stadium.

And they will arrive off a big win over previously-undefeated Shiloh that was big beyond the 45-7 score.

It was particularly welcome as a bounce back from their only loss of the season, 31-7 at Colquitt County, two weeks earlier, and coach Adam Carter is optimistic that last week’s win will help his team regain momentum heading into Friday’s big game and beyond.

“We wanted to see our kids’ response coming off the (Colquitt) week and a bye week,” Carter said,. “We didn’t start fast at all on defense, and we turned it over on offense, but we found a way to get going a little bit and our kids kind of turned it on. That was good to see.”

Indeed, Grayson got perhaps the best night of the season from the passing game led by quarterback C.J. Dixon and buoyed by the return from injury of receiver Ryan King, with Dixon throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns on 14-of-19 passing, while the defense held a potent Shiloh offense to just 151 total yards.

The Rams will face an Archer team that is coming off a similar bounce back win with a 29-13 triumph over Newton coming off an overtime loss to Class AAAAA top-ranked Buford and a bye week.

Head coach Andy Dyer knows the Tigers’ defense will face an even bigger challenge this week, and will look for a defense led by seniors Kameron O’Rourke, Tyler Roach and Jalen Mayala to help keep the Grayson offense in check.

And that will take being ready for a physical battle, something Dyer is confident his players will be.

“We do our best to make sure to get them back physically so their legs aren’t very tired,” Dyer said. “This time of year, one of our goals is (winning) a region championship and (making) the state playoffs and (competing for) a state championship. So obviously, this is a big Friday night to accomplish one of those goals, and our kids understand that. They’ve been working really hard and doing an awesome job.”

Another big key for both teams will be hanging onto the football, something Archer has been very good at throughout the season.

The Tigers have turned the ball over just twice this season, with quarterback Carter Peevy, who hasn’t thrown an interception in 103 passes, running backs Ronald Spivey Jr. and Schmari Campbell and receivers like Trey Messer being steady with possession.

Dyer knows that sure-handedness must continue in order to keep the ball away from Grayson playmakers like Dixon, King, Lafayette Gurvin Jr. and Jamal Haynes and give the Tigers their best chance to win.

“I think ball security is a huge plus or minus (category), depending on what side you’re on,” Dyer said. “Statistics say that whenever you’re plus in the turnover margin, you’ve got about an 82 percent chance of winning. So that’s a big deal in these games. You’ve got to, No. 1, defensively eliminate big plays and create some big plays on offense, and you can’t turn the ball over. That gets boring to a lot of people, but that’s the key to success. When you get into big ball games, you’ve got to take care of the football.”

The steadiness with the ball isn’t all that impresses Carter about Archer.

He also appreciates the imagination the Tigers show in their offensive and defensive schemes and know the Rams will need to be on their toes with every snap Friday night.

“It’s going to be a test for us on both sides of the ball,” Carter said. “That’s a good football team. … They’re just as good as anybody in the state.

“They’re very creative over there. They’ve been in that system for a long time, so it frees them up to do some stuff every week and be creative with what their doing.”

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.