High School Sports

For this Peach County group, semifinals are something new

Scattered throughout Fort Valley are tributes to past Peach County champions.

Look on the wall of a fast food restaurant, and there might be posters celebrating past Trojans state title teams.

The hallway inside the Peach County fieldhouse? With all the photos of past greats, it could very well double as a hall of fame.

For the ninth time in program history, all within the past 25 years, Peach County will be taking part in a GHSA football semifinal. The second-ranked Trojans host top-ranked Greater Atlanta Christian at 7:30 p.m. on Friday — yes, a departure from Peach County’s traditional 8 p.m. kickoff time — with a trip to the Georgia Dome at stake.

The interesting thing? None of Peach County’s current players were in high school the last time the Trojans made it this far. It was 2011, the seventh-grade year for the current seniors, when the Trojans beat Cairo 16-7 for the right to take on Burke County in the Class 3A championship game.

“Not being this far in my high school career, I want to see what it’s actually like to go this far,” Peach County safety Kyle Nixon said.

It will be a new experience for Peach County’s players. But head coach Chad Campbell, who will be leading the Trojans into the semifinals for the fourth time, says he won’t be approaching this semifinal differently.

Peach County (12-1) has enjoyed a solid playoff run. The Trojans posted runaway wins over Tattnall County and North Murray, and they led most of the way in last week’s 27-17 quarterfinal victory at Westminster-Atlanta.

The Trojans have won 12 straight since opening the season with a 49-31 loss to Houston County.

“You always reteach every week, just fundamentals and different things,” said Campbell, who is 2-1 in semifinal games with the Trojans. “That’s what gets you this far, doing those things.”

Greater Atlanta Christian (12-1) is unbeaten in Georgia, with its only loss coming Sept. 9 at Valor Christian in Highland Ranch, Colorado, in a game televised on ESPNU.

The Spartans’ playoff run, however, has been bumpy. A 35-17 win over Pace Academy was followed by a 34-21 win over Worth County. Then came a triple-overtime thriller at Liberty County, with Greater Atlanta Christian prevailing 44-38 when Liberty County was unable to score in the top of the third overtime and Greater Atlanta Christian quarterback Davis Mills threw a touchdown pass to Trent Fowler.

Greater Atlanta Christian is in the semifinals for the third straight season and the fourth time in five seasons. The Spartans are seeking their first state title.

“They’ve got a good football team,” Campbell said. “Offensively, they have the top-rated quarterback in the state, a good tailback and a good offensive line, efficient wide receivers who run good routes. The quarterback knows where to go and what to do with the ball.”

Both teams feature high-production quarterbacks. Mills has 2,507 yards and 34 touchdowns through the air, while Peach County quarterback Antonio Gilbert has thrown for 2,645 yards and 29 scores. Mills has completed 71 percent of his passes, while Gilbert has completed 63.2 percent of his throws.

One thing Greater Atlanta Christian has that Peach County lacks is a 1,000-yard running back. The Spartans’ Kyler McMichael has run for 1,353 yards and 15 touchdowns, while the top Trojans’ running back, Chris Gibson, has 745 yards and six scores.

“They have a good quarterback and a lot of skill runners,” Nixon said. “They have a lot of good route runners, too. There’s a real challenge coming against us this Friday.”

The Class 3A championship game is slated for 1 p.m. on Dec. 9, with the Greater Atlanta Christian-Peach County winner taking on the Cedar Grove-Crisp County winner.

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