South Gwinnett vs Central Gwinnett Preview
September 7, 2011Great American Football Classic
By Scott Smith
South Gwinnett head coach John Small said it best.
"You could play this game in a parking lot and it would be intense."
That game would be the one between Small's Comets and the Black Knights of Central Gwinnett, two teams that are hardly strangers as it is the oldest rivalry in football-rich Gwinnett County.
This year's game, thankfully, doesn't take place in a parking lot, but instead in the Georgia Dome as the finale in the Great American Football Classic.
The event could hardly have picked two teams more steeped in history to close out its inaugural event. The rivalry dates all the way back to 1956 when the now defunct Lawrenceville played the also defunct Snellville high, which was a 19-0 win for Lawrenceville.
In 1957, those two schools became Central Gwinnett and South Gwinnett respectively, and in the following year, began a string of games that continues to this day.
"This rivalry dates back so far that playing (in the dome) makes it more special," Central head coach Todd Wofford said. "Whether it's in the dome or anywhere else, it's intense. The older alumni always comes out for this one and I'm excited they'll get to see this one in the dome."
If you count the 1956 game, Saturday's match up will be the 52nd meeting between the two programs. Central leads the series 32-18-1, but wins against the Comets have been tough for the Black Knights as South holds a four-game winning streak.
And those four games haven't been close as the Comets have won by an average of points.
"They've had a couple of years where they've been down but they are doing a great job of turning it around," Small said of Central.
Central has a great chance to break that four-game losing skid as the Black Knights bring to the dome one of the most up-tempo offenses in the classic.
Leading that attack is quarterback Eman Westmoreland, a versatile junior who threw for 2,737 yards last season with 28 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
A new target for Westmoreland at wide receiver is Malachi Jones, who caught 45 passes for 11 TDs and 638 yards at Wesleyan last season.
D-1 prospect George Morris is also a big threat at running back and proved that with four TDs in Central's 54-14 win in Week 1 against Mountain View.
The defense that allowed 37 points per game last year picked up a big boost in defensive end Francis Kallon, a 6-5, 260-pound native of England. Despite having limited experience in football, Kallon has already received a long list of offers and has made a verbal to play at Georgia Tech.
Auburn-commit Trey Johnson also boosts the defense at linebacker for Central.
South's offense is much like of Central in that it is a wide-open spread, often times with no huddle. The Comets had a prolific attack in 2010 behind quarterback Kent Rollins, but his graduation left South with a huge hole to fill.
Joran Ramey was set to take over the starting role but broke his arm in a scrimmage the week before the regular season began, thrusting junior Mason Hart in the starting role.
South is a young team, starting just three seniors on each side of the ball, but the Comets are not devoid of talent.
The offensive line is especially experienced, with Dennis Edwards, Darren Russell and Austin Clark each returning from last year.
Azziz Higgins, one of the senior starters on defense, patrols the field at linebacker, while two-year starter Nick Hytlon sees time both at receiver and corner back.
Despite losing starting linebacker Reginald Carter to knee injury in the first game against Lowndes, South has plenty of experience in facing a high-powered offense like Central's.
"You've got to be disciplined in your coverage and pick your spots to get them out of their rhythm," Small said. "We're also a no-huddle offense and we see that in practice every day so it's nothing new to us."