When the Gwinnett County Public Schools’ Fall Break dates were announced, a couple of schools moved this week’s varsity football games to Thursday night. Others soon followed until only one GCPS game remained on Friday during the break — a big one.
North Gwinnett travels to Mill Creek tonight in a matchup of teams ranked in the state’s top 10 and with hopes of a Region 6-AAAAAAA title and more. Both are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the region.
“I think we both realized this game is very important to both of us and we don’t want to make a decision based on a day off just to make it convenient,” North head coach Bill Stewart said. “I think it was more along the lines of getting a normal preparation week in.”
The normal week allows both coaching staffs time to scheme and to work in some wrinkles in hopes of fooling the other, a process that is difficult given the teams’ familiarity with one another. Not only do they play each other yearly, Stewart was Mill Creek’s defensive coordinator until Jan. 2017, when he was hired at North.
“It is cool in the sense that these kids know each other through GFL (youth football), similar to some other teams, and probably the staff knowing each other,” Mill Creek head coach Josh Lovelady said. “We’re running similar schemes offensively and defensively. They run almost an identical defense. And offensively, we’re very similar. … We know the opponent we have. We’ve seen it on film and knowing the history between us. It’s going to be a physical game. It’s not going to be finesse at all.”
The two teams have played intense games, particularly since 2012 as the young Mill Creek program became more established. North won shootouts in 2012 (47-28), 2013 (50-47) and 2014 (51-41), then Mill Creek won back-to-back games in 2015 and 2016. North has won the last two.
Between the two, they have won the last six region championships.
“There’s always a lot of pressure, but it’s also a lot of fun,” Stewart said of the rivalry. “I’ve got very good friends on both sides. It’s always a cool game. … You have that little edge to you when you play each other. When I was over there (at Mill Creek) and playing (North), it was the same. There’s a little edge to it.”
The football teams have similar talent this season, too. Both are typically strong on the lines. Both have stout defenses with highly recruited defensive ends in North’s Jared Ivey and Mill Creek’s Myles Jackson. Both have prolific running backs — North’s Devin Crosby and Mill Creek’s Chancellor Lee-Parker — and two of the county’s best wide receivers — North’s Josh Downs and Mill Creek’s Parker Wroble.
“Yeah, it’s a big one,” Stewart said. “You can’t hide the fact that both teams are capable of winning (the region) and both teams are capable of moving on in the playoffs and doing well. I think the schools kind of build this up, too, where the community knows about it.”