ALPHARETTA, Ga. – In the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs, teams from Gwinnett County went 7-1, sweeping the four teams from Region 5 and going 3-1 against the three Forsyth teams representing Region 6.
The lone non-Gwinnett team to advance was Alpharetta, which will face one of Gwinnett’s best in the second round of the playoffs Friday night.
The Raiders will host Collins Hill (10-1), one of three Region 7 co-champions, all of whom are ranked among the top seven teams in the state.
While Alpharetta has played only one team still alive in the AAAAAA playoffs, the Eagles have four opponents left in the bracket after opening with an impressive 41-7 victory over Walton in their first round game.
Collins Hill does not have the resume of some of the other top Gwinnett teams, but has been a consistent playoff presence since 2004. The Eagles have made the playoffs nine of the last 10 years, but this is just the third time they’ve been beyond the first round.
Alpharetta is coming off its first-ever playoff victory last Friday, Nov. 15, against South Gwinnett after three years of playoff frustration.
The Raiders (9-2) are on an eight-game winning streak, including a perfect 7-0 mark in region play, but have not faced a top caliber team since losing to Lovejoy 24-23 in mid-September.
The Raiders nearly won that game despite eight turnovers, most occurring in Lovejoy territory.
Collins Hills owns wins over Dacula, Peachtree Ridge and North Gwinnett, all playoff winners last week, with the Eagles’ lone defeat a 28-0 drubbing by Norcross midway through the season.
The Eagles took apart North Gwinnett, the state’s top-ranked team, 53-28 and are averaging 48 points per game in their last eight victories.
After an initial look at the Eagles on film, Alpharetta coach Jason Dukes said the Raiders “have our work cut out for us.”
Collins Hill has a quarterback “with a strong arm,” Dukes said, but his bigger concern is running back Tyler Henderson, who scored four touchdowns against Walton, including a 60-yarder.
“He’s as fast as any running back we’ve played,” Dukes said of Henderson. “He is a very explosive player.”
While the Eagles have been successful offensively against every team they’ve played other than Norcross, their defense yielded at least 28 points in four of their last six games.
“I think we will have some opportunities,” Dukes said, with the Raiders relying on the arm of Austin King and the team’s deep group of receivers.
The Raiders’ offensive and defensive units will be fully tested by the Eagles, and Dukes said his players “welcome that challenge. If you can’t get up for Collins Hill, you don’t have a pulse.”
Alpharetta played against pass-oriented South Gwinnett with a defense that included a freshman forced into a start at cornerback, and Dukes is hoping his standout linebacker will not be hampered by a kneecap injury that briefly sent him to the sidelines last Friday.
“Bryce [Grauss] is a special, special player,” Dukes said. “You can’t get him off the field. He’s a tackling machine and a playmaker, and he’s the spirit of our team and a great kid.”