McEachern makes its fourth state quarterfinal appearance in the last five years when it hosts Parkview on Friday in a Class AAAAAAA matchup at Walter Cantrell Stadium.
The Region 3AAAAAAA runner-up Indians took a different path to the quarterfinals than their Region 7AAAAAAA runner-up counterparts. The Panthers held serve at home against lower-seeded teams Newton and Mountain View in the first two rounds, while the Indians easily won at home over lower-seeded Etowah before shocking Class AAAAAAA’s top-ranked team and Region 1AAAAAAA champion Lowndes on the road.
Tonight’s matchup provides a rematch for Parkview, which lost to McEachern 47-29 in the second round of last year’s state playoffs. The winner of tonight’s game will play the winner of Marietta and North Gwinnett in the semifinals.
“(Parkview) is a much better team now,” said McEachern coach Kyle Hockman, who hopes to lead the Indians into the state semifinals for the first time since going back-to-back in 2013 and 2014. “They run the ball really well, which is something they’ve really found out about themselves over the last two to four games.
“They have a very good running back and an athletic kid at quarterback who can throw the ball well, They passed a lot early in the season, but now they’ve evolved into a running team, so we have to make sure we control the line scrimmage.”
McEachern’s offense has also settled into a groove as the Indians rotate quarterbacks Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, Malik Evans and Isaiah Lee. It’s a system McEachern used early in the season before settling in on the senior Evans for much of the remainder of the regular season.
However, after Evans suffered bruised ribs against North Paulding, Hockman made sure there were more opportunities available for Lee and Del Rio-Wilson, if they were ever needed again.
“In the second half of the North Paulding game, we saw how Carlos needed some more work and late nights under the lights to make sure he understood everything,” Hockman said. “We did some extra things with him and Isaiah after practice to get them more reps and it’s worked out.”
Del Rio-Wilson has since taken over the starting job with Lee and Evans rotating in, when healthy, to give defenses different looks. Del Rio-Wilson completed 17-of-33 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s win over Lowndes.
“We’ve settled into two guys with Carlos as the starter and another package for Malik and when Isaiah gets back, we’ll use him, too,” Hockman said. “Carlos got his chance against Lowndes and it worked out. We saw glimpses of that all year. He just didn’t know enough of the offense.”
Lee and Del Rio-Wilson bring similar skill sets to the quarterback position, while Evans brings a dual-threat element. Del Rio-Wilson, however, could be the long term answer Hockman has been looking for.
“(Del Rio-Wilson) can distribute the ball so we can involve others equally,” Hockman said. “He’s so good at that and makes opponents defend more of the field.”