SUWANEE — Collins Hill’s final offensive play Friday night was a deflected pass that Mill Creek defensive lineman Noah Allen grabbed for an interception.
It was a fitting end to a defensive masterpiece for the eighth-ranked Hawks.
Mill Creek stifled Collins Hill in a 24-7 victory, clinching the No. 2 seed in Region 6-AAAAAAA and locking up a first-round home game in the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs — their sixth straight season hosting the state opener. Only a fumbled punt that gave Collins Hill deep field position prevented a shutout for the Hawks, whose first-round opponent will be Newton.
Ronald Clarke and Caleb Downs also intercepted passes for Mill Creek (8-2, 5-1 region), which got two turnovers on fumble recoveries in its sixth straight win over Collins Hill.
“It’s huge to be home,” first-year Mill Creek head coach Josh Lovelady said. “To end with a game like this, it’s a region game No. 1. But Collins Hill, they played a tough schedule all year long. They’re great. They’ve got so many weapons and they’ve had so many shutouts on defense. We knew we had a huge task in front of us. We had to come out there and execute. Tip your hat to Collins Hill, they just kept on. It felt like a slugfest. It had the intense feel of a playoff game.”
Collins Hill (6-4, 4-2) was held to 16 rushing yards, and quarterback Sam Horn was 16 of 34 passing for 140 yards (well off his average of 222) with three interceptions. He had thrown just two interceptions in the Eagles’ first nine games.
Mill Creek only sacked Horn once, but pressured him with blitzes all night. Defensive lineman Kobe Roberts tipped three passes, leading the way.
“It was a great performance, a lot of turnovers, a lot of momentum changes in the game,” Mill Creek linebacker R.J. Smith said. “They came out really fast and they were getting us for a little bit (in the first half), popping the passes quick. We got a turnover, an interception, and after that we just ran with it. We had to keep them down. We had a lot of adversity with the flags. It was a great team win tonight. The defense did outstanding, so did the offense.”
The Mill Creek defense also was shorthanded, missing four starters — Myles Jackson, Noah Faircloth, Josh Battle and Carson Howatineck.
“Our defensive staff used the off week,” Lovelady said. “We’ve got four starters out. Multiple kids had to step up and fill some big shoes against some great competition. Usually, you ease them into it. There was no easing into it. We’ve got an offensive that can attack (in Collins Hill). Coach Tommy Gilstrap and our defensive staff did an outstanding job of preparation. And then the kids just executed, trusted the process.”
A patient Mill Creek offense slowly started to grind on the Collins Hill defense in the second half to pull away. Chancellor Lee-Parker carried 21 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns, and Parker Wroble rushed six times for 91 yards along with six catches for 31 yards. Thurman Harris completed 4 of 5 passes in the second half and rushed for a score.
“We played as bad as we could possibly draw it up,” said Collins Hill head coach Lenny Gregory, whose team now travels to Archer in the first round. “We just played bad. Five turnovers. Here’s what I told the kids, ‘Don’t hang your heads. There’s nothing to hang your heads about. You just played really, really bad.’ You play that bad, you lose. That’s the way football goes. We’ve just got to regroup. Now we’re in the playoffs, one of 32 teams, back in the playoffs for the third year in a row with young kids.”
Defenses ruled in the first half with each team forcing two turnovers. Collins Hill had a third turnover when Travis Hunter fumbled on an interception return. Hunter’s play followed a big interception by the Hawks’ Clarke at his own 11-yard line to stop an Eagles’ drive.
Mill Creek turned the good fortune of Hunter’s fumble into a 21-yard field goal from Brock Pellegrino. Another Hawks’ interception, this one from Downs, set up a short touchdown run from Lee-Parker. Lee-Parker’s run was preceded a 14-yard pass from Harris to Khamari Glover and a 20-yard run by Wroble.
Mill Creek was in good shape to carry that lead into halftime before fumbling a punt at its own 12-yard line a little more than two minutes left. The Eagles needed four plays for a 4-yard TD run from James Smith with 19 seconds left, cutting the deficit before halftime.
Collins Hill paid Mill Creek back with a muffed punt of its own early in the third quarter that Mill Creek’s Glover recovered at the Eagles’ 5-yard line. Harris’ 1-yard plunge put the visitors ahead 17-7.
Mill Creek seized control with a 75-yard drive to open the fourth quarter that included a 32-yard run by Wroble. It finished with Lee-Parker’s 13-yard TD run and a 24-7 lead.
“The defense was creating turnovers and the offense was doing their job, being patient, taking what they were giving us, being physical up front,” Lovelady said. “It had a feel of Mill Creek football. Control the ball, play great defense, don’t turn the ball over on offense. Just play physical for four quarters.”
Mill Creek now returns to Hoschton next Friday for the state playoff opener.
“The atmosphere at Mill Creek is great, a lot of people come out and give us support,” Smith said. “So it’s important to have that home field advantage.”
MILL CREEK 24, COLLINS HILL 7
Mill Creek 0 10 7 7 - 24
Collins Hill 0 7 0 0 - 7
Mill Creek: Brock Pellegrino 21 FG, 11:45
Mill Creek: Chancellor Lee-Parker 1 run (Pellegrino kick) 6:40
Collins Hill: James Smith 4 run (Isaac Bonacci kick) :19
Mill Creek: Thurman Harris 1 run (Pellegrino kick) 5:08
Mill Creek: Lee-Parker 13 run (Pellegrino kick) 8:46
First downs 12 10
Rushes-yards 35-185 12-16
Passing yards 45 140
Comp-Att-INT 7-12-1 16-34-3
Fumbles-lost 4-1 3-2
Penalties-yards 9-92 6-40
RUSHING - Mill Creek: Lee-Parker 21-115; Parker Wroble 6-91; Harris 8-9; Team 5-(minus-20). Collins Hill: Spencer Anderson 5-20; Clint Gilbert 1-8; James Smith 1-4; Jalen Johnson 3-(minus-1); Sam Horn 2-(minus-15).
PASSING - Mill Creek: Harris 7-12-1, 45; Wroble 0-1-0, 0. Collins Hill: Horn 16-34-3, 140.
RECEIVING - Mill Creek: Wroble 6-31; Khamari Glover 1-14. Collins Hill: Travis Hunter 5-78; Logan Brown 4-21; Johnson 4-20; Gilbert 2-22; Anderson 1-(minus-1).