Game: North Gwinnett (11-1) at McEachern (12-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: North Gwinnett 38, McEachern 17
All-time series: North Gwinnett leads 3-1
Prediction: McEachern 28, North Gwinnett 24
McEachern continues to roll through its first undefeated season since 2009 after downing North Forsyth 42-14 last week.
Next up for the second-ranked Indians is a matchup against fourthranked North Gwinnett in a Class AAAAAAA state playoffs quarterfinal contest tonight at Walter Cantrell Stadium.
Tonight marks McEachern’s fifth state quarterfinal appearance in the last seven years.
The Indians haven’t shown many weaknesses so far this season in any phase of the game with an offense averaging 37.8 points per game and a defense holding opponents to 11.9 per contest.
In his first season at the helm of the Indians, coach Franklin Stephens isn’t impressed or surprised by what he’s seen from any particular unit this year. From the way he sees it, what’s happening on the field is the result of hard work during practice and players enjoying what they do.
“It’s just performing and high expectations from a group of guys that want to be good,” he said. “It’s happening on both sides of the ball and with special teams. There are a lot of proud guys in the locker room, and no matter what unit they’re in, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams, they take pride in what they do and how they prepare.
“Right now, they’re looking pretty good, but they know they can always improve. So, that’s been the focus. Taking pride in what you do, how you do it, how you prepare and how you can improve and the results bare that out on the field.”
McEachern hosts North Gwinnett, which is in the quarterfinals for the third straight year and is two years removed from winning the Class AAAAAAA state title.
The Indians haven’t fared well against the Bulldogs in recent years, losing three straight playoff matchups. They knocked the Indians out of the 2017 Class AAAAAAA state playoffs, winning 38-17 in the semifinals.
North Gwinnett enters the contest having won 11 in a row, averaging 41.5 points per game and holding opponents to 11.1. The Bulldogs topped Walton 60-10 in the second round
“We’ll certainly going to have our hands full,” Stephens said about facing North Gwinnett. “North Gwinnett has some weapons on offense with a very good offensive line and some explosive skill kids. You can’t forget their quarterback who throws a good ball, and they have a big running back and a wide receiver, Josh Downs, who’s a D-I commit.
“Their defensive backs dare you to throw the ball, and their linebackers really get after you. (North Gwinnett coach Bill Stewart) has done a great job taking over that program and it shows each week.”
McEachern hasn’t had to travel at all this postseason, which is one of the benefits being a region champion and winning the GHSA “universal” coin toss for the quarterfinal round.
“We preach to the kids to win the region,” Stephens said. “It’s for times like this. There are a lot of things going on, and to get up and play at home and not have to worry about travel helps to keep the focus on what you need to do on the field and not off it.”