Gwinnett Daily Post article by David Friedlander
SUWANEE — Collins Hill coach Lenny Gregory’s postgame message to his team following Friday night’s showdown against neighborhood rival Peachtree Ridge is exactly the same message the Eagles had hoped to send to the rest of Region 6-AAAAAAA before the season.
“We’re back!” Gregory told his players.
Back in the playoffs, that is, following a 34-12 win Friday night at Peachtree Ridge, which gives the Eagles (6-4, 4-2) the region’s No. 3 seed in the tie-breaker that broke the deadlock with Mountain View and Mill Creek for second place.
“You’re dealing with high school kids, and there’s a coaching change (after last season). Everybody’s telling them to move and transfer,” Gregory said. “I was told not to take this job. There are several people in the state that thought Collins Hill was a job where talent was kind of drying up. The fact that these kids were listening to all that, but yet did not move away, they stayed together and made a commitment. And I told them Day 1 that I came in, ‘Guys, we’re going to get this thing turned around.’
“We have worked our tails off since I took over in February. To see these guys put all this in and to have it come true, that they were able to do it and be a playoff team, is such a blessing for me as a coach and such a blessing for them as young men.”
To be sure, Evan Anderson’s 225 yards and two touchdowns rushing on 17 carries, plus 335 all-purpose yards and a third score, were big factors in the victory that paved the way for Collins Hill postseason return.
However, what swung the game permanently in the Eagles was a sequence at the end of the first half and beginning of the second.
Backed up to its own 2-yard line following an ill-advised return of a late first-half punt, Peachtree Ridge (2-8, 2-4) attempted to simply take a knee to run out the clock and take what was a 6-3 lead at the time into intermission.
But Collins Hill managed to call timeout with two seconds left in the half, forcing the Lions to take one more snap and attempt to fall forward to avoid moving back to their own end zone.
And when the ensuing snap was not handled properly, Tarris Bouie was forced to hit the deck to retrieve the loose ball, and was ruled to have fallen back into the end zone in doing so, giving Collins Hill a safety as time expired and sending the Eagles into intermission down just 6-5.
“We knew Peachtree Ridge was going to give us a game,” Gregory said. “I think that safety at the end of the half was huge. We saw an opportunity. We knew they were going to take a knee, so we called the timeout and we told the D-line to surge. Told them to take the center and just blow him back. Sure enough, the kid stepped back in the end zone.”
If that didn’t turn the whole game around, what happened to start the second half did.
Anderson had to go back and initially bobbled the third quarter kickoff a bit before securing the ball on his own 1-yard line.
The senior running back then headed up the middle, found a seam to the right side, made a move on Lions kicker Albert Jang and was gone for a 99-yard TD.
Jon Michael Findlay then took a shotgun snap and dove into the end zone for a two-point conversion, and the Eagles suddenly had a 13-6 lead just 14 seconds into the third quarter.
“We know we’re always a second-half team,” Anderson said. “So all we had to do was just go in and focus and make sure everyone’s on the same level and just come out and play the rest of the game.”
Peachtree Ridge still had some fight left, even after Findlay capped a nine-play, 66-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak to extend the Collins Hill lead to 20-6 with 1:15 left in the quarter.
Bouie completed his next three pass attempts, including a 37-yard scoring strike to Payne Durham on the first play of the quarter to pull the Lions to within 20-12 following a botched snap and hold on the PAT with 11:53 remaining.
But Anderson put any thoughts of a Peachtree Ridge comeback to rest two snaps later by dashing around the right side and down the sideline 84 yards for the score that put the Eagles back up two scores at 27-12 with 10:49 left.
Anderson then added a 26-yard TD run with 8:11 left to all but put an end to the game, and a frustrating season for the Lions under first-year coach Reggie Stancil.
“We broke momentum right before halftime right there,” Stancil said. “Then they had the kickoff return. You had what you thought would be a good situation and … wind up in a worse situation.
“The kids actually played hard, I would say, pretty much the whole game. We just had a few errors where we didn’t do things we need to do. That was the difference in the ball game.”
Each team embarked on a long, time-consuming drive with its first possession of the game, with Peachtree Ridge marching 78 yards in 11 plays chewing up 6:30 off the clock, while Collins Hill went 69 yards in 11 plays over 5:22.
The Lions’ drive was aided by three Collins Hill penalties that resulted in first downs before Bouie rolled to his right and found Jaylen Johnson, who outleapt his defender to haul in a 24-yard TD pass.
The extra point was blocked, but Peachtree Ridge had a 6-0 lead with 5:24 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles answered with their long drive, which bogged down thanks to their running backs slipping on loose turf on two consecutive plays in the red zone.
Rodolfo Gonzales salvaged the drive by booting a 27-yard field goal to pull Collins Hill to within 6-3 with two seconds left in the opening frame.
That was all either team managed the rest of the half until the bizarre sequence just before the halftime buzzer.