Game: Walton (3-1) at Hillgrove (1-4), 7:30 p.m.
Last year: Walton 24, Hillgrove 15
All-time series: Hillgrove leads 2-1
Prediction: Walton 21, Hillgrove 10
Walton will try to build on its strong start, while Hillgrove attempts to reboot after a disappointing beginning as the Cobb County rivals square off in the Region 3AAAAAAA opener for both teams at Cobb EMC/Hillgrove Stadium.
The No. 6 Raiders return to action after a bye week and enter their region schedule with plenty of momentum, especially coming off a 31-19 victory over No. 7 Roswell two weeks ago.
“We had a good bye week last week coming off the big win (over Roswell), so it’s nice to have a week off after a win like that,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said. “We kind of got back to working on ourselves and later in the week, started focusing on Hillgrove. So we’ve got a little extra time on (Hillgrove) this week. I feel really good about our guys, but we know that we have a tough challenge ahead of us. I don’t think there is a week off in this region. I think it’s a tough region week in and week out. Hillgrove is a team that has gotten better week in and week out and they’re going to provide some challenges for us on Friday. But we’re excited to see where we’re at as we go into region play and it’s essentially playoff time — every game matters tremendously right now.”
Running back Sutton Smith has been the engine that has made the Walton offense go with 253 yards rushing on 41 carries and three touchdowns as well as six receptions for 203 yards and two scores.
Hillgrove is in the opposite situation that Walton is in as it tries to rebound in the region section of its schedule after losing four of its first five games, including a 20-7 loss to Gainesville two weeks ago.
“Coming off the fall break, I thought we got better last week,” Hillgrove coach Justin DeShon said. “I thought we did some things really well against Gainesville, so I think we’re trending in the right direction. Obviously, we’re trying to find a little bit more from our offense and defensively, we’re trying to tighten up just a little bit — I feel like we’re doing some good things there. We’re looking forward to playing Walton. We know they are a quality team and are well-coached and they’re going to be an outstanding test. But we’ve got them at home and it’s like a brand-new season for our guys and the guys are excited.”
Running back Sean Cooper leads Hillgrove in rushing with 298 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns, while quarterback Chase McCravy has completed 44 of 89 passes for 378 yards and a touchdown and linebacker Andrew Gohlke has 42 tackles to lead the Hawk defense.