North Gwinnett and Colquitt County will play in the Class AAAAAAA final on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
North Gwinnett, opened in 1961, has never won a state title. The Bulldogs lost to Lowndes in 2007 and Norcross in 2013 in championship games.
Colquitt County has won three state titles, including 15-0 teams in 2014 and 2015. Only four schools have won three state titles in four seasons in the highest classification. Lowndes (2004, 2005, 2007) was the most recent.
‘’They are two of the best-coached teams in the state,’’ said Walton’s Daniel Brunner, whose team defeated North Gwinnett in the opener but lost to Colquitt County in the second round, both in close games. “They have great players that play extremely hard. Neither team makes many mistakes and whoever can capitalize on the few that are made will win the game.’’
Here’s a positional comparison of the teams:
QB – Both starting quarterbacks are seniors and first-year starters. North Gwinnett’s Jimmy Urzua is 139-of-217 passing for 2,260 yards and 23 touchdowns with four interceptions. Steven Krajewski is 185-of-283 passing for 2,226 yards and 22 touchdowns with six interceptions. Both are patient pocket passes, but Krajewski is more likely to use his wheels. He had a 58-yard run against Tift County. Urzua got the starting job when Cade Fortin, a Texas A&M commit, was lost in game two to season-ending injury. He has Division II college interest. Krajewski is committed to UConn.
RB – North Gwinnett’s Tyler Goodson (Southern Miss offer) has been hot in the playoffs with three straight 100-yard rushing games, including a 135-yard effort in the semifinals against McEachern. He has 1,318 yards rushing on the season. That would be more if not for a hamstring injury that limited him in several games. Colquitt has a pair of top-flight backs. Ty Leggett is Colquitt’s leading rusher with 1,231 yards, but Daijun Edwards – a sophomore with offers from Georgia and Tennessee – has run for over 100 yards in three of the past five games, including 179 in the semifinals against Brookwood.
WR/TE – North Gwinnett sophomore Josh Downs has over 1,000 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns. He has a couple of ACC offers. Cam Singletary, a senior, is Colquitt’s main target. He has 73 catches for 965 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had four TD receptions against Lowndes on Oct. 27. Downs (5-10, 165) and Singletary (5-8, 162) are small but hard to cover. No other wideout on either team has more than 400 yards receiving. North Gwinnett averages 16.2 yards per reception to Colquitt County’s 12.1.
OL – North Gwinnett’s only returning starter on the offensive line is Warren Ericson, who is committed to Georgia. But the group has come together. Colquitt is young but experienced. William Rykard (6-2, 265) and Kamaar Bell (6-3, 270) struggled as sophomore starters last season but made first-team all-region as juniors. Colquitt is about 10-15 pounds heavier per man on the line – if you don’t count Ericson, who is 6-3, 330 pounds.
DL – North Gwinnett DE Payne Walker (6-2, 240) is the biggest and best on an undersized defensive line. The only returning starter on the unit, Walker has 15.5 tackles for losses and 10 sacks. Colquitt’s best defensive lineman is junior Brian Merritt, who has 15.5 tackles for losses. He’s a surprisingly strong pass rusher for his size (6-0, 280) with 5.5 sacks and 45 QB hurries. Both defensive lines are young. Colquitt plays a couple of sophomores.
LB – Jayden McDonald, North Gwinnett’s leading tackler, is committed to Rutgers. He has 10 sacks, five in the playoffs. MLB Jake Stewart, head coach Bill Stewart’s son, started the past two seasons at Mill Creek and played on two semifinal teams. Colquitt’s LB crew is the strength of the defense. J.J. Peterson, a four-star recruit and Alabama lean, and juniors Marcus Anderson and Rashad Revels have 63 tackles for losses, 16 sacks and 65 QB hurries among them.
DB – North Gwinnett has four starters in the secondary with Division I offers. The leader is D.J. Turner, projected as a cornerback in college but playing safety for the Bulldogs. He has an offer from Alabama, as does cornerback Warren Burrell. For Colquitt, Kaleb Dawson (Appalachian State commit) and Jay Ward are first-team all-region performers, and sophomore Nyquan Washington has five interceptions, two huge ones against Archer in the quarterfinals.
ST – Colquitt County PK Ryan Fitzgerald puts 75 percent of his kickoffs in the end zone and averages 40.8 yards per punt. He’s made 17 of 24 field-goal attempts, one a 60-yarder. Fitzgerald could help limit North Gwinnett return man Javonni Cunningham, who averages 27 yards per kickoff return and 14 per punt return. Colqutit’s Jay Ward has blocked three kicks.