Hillgrove two-way star Jaylen McCollough had been used sparingly on offense in the Hawks’ first two games, rushing for 5 yards on just three carries in losses to Buford and North Gwinnett.
But with leading rusher Trevor Smith out with a hamstring injury and the Hawks needing a spark, they turned to their highly recruited junior. He came through, rushing for 170 yards and three touchdowns in leading Hillgrove to a 42-20 victory at home Friday over West Forsyth.
Hillgrove (1-2) finished with 377 yards rushing and 510 total yards. Issaiah McCray had 94 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, and Drew Radford carried most of the load in the second half, finishing with 70 yards and a score on 17 carries. Quarterback Hunter Arters was 13-of-23 passing for 113 yards and had a 7-yard touchdown pass to Chigoziem Okonkwo.
“We felt like we got out-physicalled [in the first two games],” Hillgrove coach Phillip Ironside said. “We were relying on cuteness and throwing, and we just addressed it this week. We said we’re going to run the football. We’re going to be physical and get back to being tough and get our identity back and let the rest of it come. We’re not there, but it was a step in the right direction.”
The victory snapped Hillgrove’s five-game losing streak dating to last season and prevented the Hawks from starting 0-3 for the first time in its 11 seasons playing a full varsity schedule. It also was the 100th win in Georgia for Ironside, who coached in Louisiana and Tennessee before taking the Campbell job in Cobb County. Ironside started the Hillgrove program in 2006.
“It’s been a long time,” Ironside said of the losing streak. “You hate it for your kids because they work so hard and are such good kids. I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so I’m used to losing and used to winning. But you’re just hungry for it, so it’s good. Any time you get your first win it’s good. Much better feelings in the locker room.”
McCollough, who is the No. 3 safety prospect nationally among juniors in the 247Sports Composite rankings, had touchdown runs of 25, 3 and 57 yards as Hillgrove scored on four of its first five possessions to build a 28-0 lead. The Hawks put the game away with 17- and 11-play scoring drives in the second half that took almost 12 minutes off the clock.
West Forsyth’s Zach Burns threw touchdown passes of 12 yards to Saxby Waxer and 3 yards to Garrett Woodall, and the Wolverines (2-1) had a chance get within 35-20 late in the third quarter, but they were stopped on a fourth-and-1 play at the Hillgrove 5. The Hawks drove 94 yards in 11 plays to put the game away.
West Forsyth finished with 365 total yards. Burns was 19-of-33 passing for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Mitch Hollyfield ran for 54 yards and a touchdown on four carries, and Waxer had 53 yards on 17 carries.
The Wolverines had their chances but turned the ball over on downs three times inside the Hillgrove 40-yard line, threw an interception in Hillgrove territory and had a field-goal attempt blocked by Zach Stewart.
“As it gets cooler and gets later in the year, people are going to see a lot of Tank,” Ironside said of McCollough. “I thought the two other guys that came in were very admirable, a senior who hadn’t played much [Radford] and a sophomore that’s never played [McCray]. But the line played great too.”
West Forsyth – 0-7-6-7 – 20
Hillgrove – 14-14-7-7 – 42
H – Jaylen McCollough 25 run (Louis Garcia-Cano kick)
H – Chigoziem Okonkwo 7 pass from Hunter Arters (Garcia-Cano kick)
H – McCollough 3 run (Garcia-Cano kick)
H – McCollough 57 run (Garcia-Cano kick)
W – Saxby Waxer 12 pass from Zach Burns (Bryce Jones kick)
H – Drew Redford 3 run (Garcia-Cano kick)
W – Garrett Woodall 3 pass from Burns (kick failed)
H – Issaiah McCray 34 run (Garcia-Cano kick)
W – Mitch Hollyfield 28 run (Ty Sherman kick)