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Jeremy Hecklinski threw for 275 yards to lead Walton to a win over Archer last week, and will now try to do the same against Brookwood to earn a spot in the Class AAAAAAA state semifinals.

Game: Walton (8-3) at Brookwood (10-2), 7:30 p.m.

Last year: Brookwood 43, Walton 32

Overall series: Brookwood leads 5-3

Prediction: Walton 31, Brookwood 28

Coach Daniel Brunner had a simple message to his team after beating Archer in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs last week.

“We can’t live on Cloud 9,” he said. “We’ve got to get back to Ground Zero.”

His Raiders have moved into the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2011, and Brunner knows they cannot afford to be overconfident in gearing up for its matchup at Brookwood on Friday for a spot in the final four. They were supposed to meet early in the season, but the Broncos had COVID complications.

Beating Archer was arguably Walton’s biggest win of Brunner’s five-year tenure after coming up short in the second round the previous four years, but there is still work to be done.

Brookwood was undefeated in Region 4AAAAAAA before routing Newnan 56-7 in the opening round. Last week, they survived a low scoring 17-14 decision over North Gwinnett.

Following a disappointing loss at home to Marietta to end the regular season, the Raiders overcame the odds of a possible early playoff exit with a 45-17 road victory over perennial postseason power Colquitt County.

The team looked just as dominant in its second round win over Archer.

So what has changed for Walton since the postseason began?

“I think we’re playing more of a complete ball game,” Brunner said. “Our defense has stepped up the last couple of weeks. Our special teams has stepped up and played well, and our offense continues to progress. The kids are hungry, excited and willing to work and put the time in for us.”

Walton’s defense has played well against the run in both postseason wins, making opposing offenses more one-dimensional. The Raiders have also applied more pressure in the backfield with nine sacks in the last three games after posting just nine in their first nine games.

Offensively, Walton has made strides as well. The Raiders scored 34 points against an Archer defense that has had yielded just 14 points in its last seven games.

Jeremy Hecklinski, who normally rotates with starter Zak Rozsman at quarterback, played the majority of the Archer game for the injured Rozsman, threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns.

Brunner said Rozsman is on track to play against Brookwood and share duties with Hecklinski.

“I think we have two special kids,” Brunner said. “Zak and Jeremy are tremendous teammates and very unselfish. We need both of those guys if we’re going to make a run. It showed Friday night (against Archer) that we needed both of them.”

One of Walton’s bigger tasks in going up against Brookwood is slowing down its quarterback Dylan Lonergan, who has 2,834 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

He also has 586 rushing yards on the season with six touchdowns.

“It’s all about their quarterback,” Brunner said. “You bring pressure on him, he can get the ball out of his hands quick or slide out of the pocket. He’s a big strong kid and his arm talent is phenomenal.”

Walton has had success in getting to the quarterback over the last three weeks, but Brunner said his defense will also have to move around in coverage.

The Broncos also feature running back Alexander Diggs. The senior leads the team in rushing with 703 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he is also the leading receiver with 52 receptions for 853 yards and six touchdowns.


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