LAWRENCEVILLE — For the first time in a decade, Walton is headed to the state quarterfinals.

Jeremy Hecklinski threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for a third in leading the Raiders to a 34-7 victory at Archer on Friday in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.

Walton coach Daniel Brunner had steered his team into the second round of each of his first four years as coach.

This year, he finally got over the hump.

“I’m happy for the boys,” Brunner said. “They’ve done something that’s only been done three times at Walton. They made it to the finals one year and to the semifinals in two others. I’m proud of this group. They keep getting better week after week. I still think our best game is in front of us.”

Walton (8-3) will hope that “best game” comes next week at Brookwood. The Raiders were scheduled to play the Broncos on Sept. 3, but the game was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns within the Brookwood program.

The first quarter of Friday’s game was dictated by both defenses until Hecklinski connected to Nate Lyons for a 75-yard touchdown with 1:54 left in the period.

It was the spark Walton needed, and it never let up.

After Ashton Woods intercepted Caleb Peevy’s pass on the ensuing drive, Walton struck again on a 20-yard run by Hecklinski.

Lucien Michelin added to the Walton lead with a 23-yard field goal just before the half.

“He played a heck of a game, and the guys around him did a great job,” Brunner said of Hecklinski. “They are playing really good team football, which you have to be doing this time of the year.”

In the second half, Marcus Allen started making plays on both sides of the ball. The North Carolina commit scooped up a fumble and ran it in for a touchdown, but it was called back due to a blindside block. Still, he found his way to the end zone when he and Hecklinski hooked up for a 49-yard pass.

Austin Williams scored on a 2-yard run to start the fourth quarter and give Walton a 31-0 lead. He rushed for 65 yards on 10 carries, all coming in the second half.

Archer’s only score of the game came on a 35-yard pass from Peevy to Derrick Moore with 7:46 left to play in the game.

Lyons had two catches for 99 yards for Walton. Allen ended up with 67 yards on two catches, while Rawson MacNeill had four receptions for 62 yards.

The Raiders’ last trip to the quarterfinals came in 2011 under then-coach Rocky Hidalgo, when they lost to Grayson in the state championship game and went 14-1.

Archer (7-5) came into the game having allowed only 14 points in sweeping through its six-game Region 7AAAAAAA schedule and beating Alpharetta in the first round.

The Tigers, however, were winless in a challenging non-region slate.


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