Drive for the GHSA State Title: Walton at Marietta Preview

ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - This week’s Drive For The GHSA State Title matchup is between Walton and Marietta, who will face off on Peachtree TV at 8 PM this Friday. Walton comes into this matchup at 2-1 after their 49-0 victory against Pope last week. Marietta comes in at 1-3 after their 35-21 loss to North Cobb. Marietta coach Richard Morgan chimed in on the loss and some things that stood out to him.

“I like the fact that we are competing and playing hard, but we have had the lead in the 3rd quarter in the last two games, and we’ve turned the ball over or made a mistake that cost us the game when we had the game under control,” said Morgan. “That has to get cleaned up. We have to do a better job of not turning the ball over and creating turnovers because that has happened to us the last two weeks against state-ranked teams.”

A matchup in the game that can loom large is Walton’s offensive line vs. Marietta’s front seven. Coach Daniel Brunner talked about his offensive line and how they have performed since the beginning of the season.

“I think we had some question marks on that group early in the season as far as where guys were going to be and what our top 5 would look like,” said Brunner. “The offensive line has done a great job led by Phil Eichelzer, our center who is committed to Princeton. Filthy Phil is his nickname. I think their growth has been far beyond where I thought they would be at this point in the season. We want to make sure we don’t have any setbacks in that group and continue to stay healthy.”

If Marietta wants to have some success against Walton, it will put them behind the chains consistently and generate pressure with their front seven. Coach Morgan chimed in on the defensive players to look out for.

“Putting pressure on quarterbacks is a good way to get them a little uncomfortable, so we got to be able to do that. Da’marion West and Anthony Kruah are leading our team in sacks, so those two defensive linemen have been very important for us,” said Morgan. “Melvin Alexander is the leader of our defense. He’s our middle linebacker and makes all the calls to get everybody lined up right. Those guys are having great years for us.”

An interesting thing to note is Walton’s standard for their quarterbacks. It is rare to see in high school football, but it could loom large as the season progresses and the competition stiffens.

“We set a goal for our quarterbacks to be 70% in their completion percentage. Friday Night, we threw one incomplete pass, and that was our third-string quarterback,” said Brunner. “One of the things he [Jeremy Hecklinski] did was he came after the game and was like, coach we threw one incomplete pass. He was proud of that. It wasn’t just about him but the whole quarterback room.”

Hecklinski is a guy to keep your eye on for the Walton Raiders. He split reps last year as a sophomore with Zac Rozsman and has improved each week. Hecklinski has thrown for 1,002 yards and ten touchdowns through three games this season. Coach Brunner chimed in on what has made his quarterback so special this year.

“I think his approach and his leadership have changed. I think that is the biggest adjustment I have seen with him. It is his team now. He’s taken on that leadership role and is trying to get everybody at the level he is at,” said Brunner. “As far as what he is doing on the field, I think he is continuing to grow and build on the stuff I already knew he could do. He is making good decisions with the ball and has given us a chance to win every time we touch the field.”

Another matchup that could be vital in this one is Marietta’s playmakers, Christian Mathis and Nacari Ashley, vs. Walton’s secondary. Mathis has 18 catches, 287 yards receiving, and three touchdowns, while Ashley has 144 yards receiving and one touchdown.

“We are trying to get the ball to the playmakers’ hands in space. We’ve been able to do that a couple of times this year, but now as much as I liked,” said Morgan. “We have to take some more chances downfield and give those guys a chance to make some one-on-one plays, so we will continue to do that. They both have been good weapons.”

Both coaches chimed in on the keys to victory in Friday night’s matchup.

“You have to win the turnover battle. We have to find a way to not give up those leads late in the 3rd quarter and 4th quarter and have to do a better job of surviving those bad moments when we turn the ball over,” said Morgan. “We have to do a better job of not allowing teams to score and get the ball back. If we do that, we will be in a lot better shape.”

“I really think the 3rd downs will be huge on Friday Night for both teams. Defensively, we have to make sure we minimize big plays. Keep the ball in front of us. We have to make them work for touchdowns. I think they are running the ball more effectively than they possibly have in the past. You include that with their passing game, it becomes more of a challenge. We have to do a good job on the run, and when we get in those 3rd down situations, make sure we can limit them and get them off the field as many times as possible.

Walton is 14-12 all-time against Marietta. Marietta has won two straight against Walton, with their latest victory coming last year in a victory 42-14.