ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - This week’s Drive for the GHSA State Title matchup is between Gainesville and North Forsyth, who will face off on Peachtree TV at 8 PM this Friday in Gainesville with a lot on the line: a region championship. Gainesville comes in at 8-0 and have held their last four opponents to 6.8 points per game. North Forsyth is 6-2 and undefeated in region play thus far.
For Gainesville, it starts with Naim Cheeks, who is approaching a 1,000-yard season and already has 12 touchdowns on the year. Coach Josh Niblett talked about his running back and the physicality he brings to the Gainesville offense.
“I think the biggest thing for Naim is consistency in everything. He is learning how to do the little things right. I think that has been a key to him having an opportunity. He had a couple of turnovers during the season that he love to have back,” said Niblett. “He really works hard on ball security, so that hasn’t been an issue. Naim is just a dynamic, physical runner. It is hard to explain how violent he is when he runs the football. He has no regard for his body and is one of those guys you are just not going to arm tackle him. Even if two guys have him, he is still trying to get yards.”
On offense for North Forsyth, they like to be balanced with the run and pass. A vital part of their offense starts with senior wide receiver Logan Curry. Curry has 658 yards receiving and seven touchdowns this season. Curry not only plays on the offensive side of the ball but in all three phases of the game. Coach Robert Craft talked about his impact and role.
“Logan will have an impact in all three phases of the game. Offensively, we want to get him a certain amount of touches. The ball needs to be in his hands. Defensively, he will play safety,” said Craft. “He will play some key downs for us there. On special teams, he is our punter, and he is also our kick returner. He’s had a great year. I am confident that in the biggest games, Logan will shine. He will be ready. He has been so consistent all year long. I think that is a great attribute for him. We always know we will get a great effort out of him.”
It’s not just the ground game for Gainesville, but their quarterback, Baxter right, is having a great season too. Last game, he completed 75% of his passes and has 1,684 yards passing and 16 touchdowns so far on the year.
“A gritty competitor. He wants to be a really good quarterback but not just a good quarterback but a good quarterback in our offense which calls for a lot. Our guys have to do it all. He’s got to make the calls to everybody, set the protection, and make sure we are in a good play,” said Niblett. “Then, he has to make a good choice pre-snap, post-snap, and then get us lined up again and let’s go. It has to be a way of life in which you do things. You can’t be thinking about it. It’s like you’re unconsciously competent about what you are doing. We try to put him in opportunities where he gets a chance to go make plays.”
The marquee matchup will be Gainesville’s ground game vs. North Forsyth’s defensive front seven and line. If Gainesville can get the ground attack going, it can be a long night for North Forsyth, but they have Colln Miller, a player who can play multiple defensive positions.
“I feel like they are starting to play at a high level. Our defensive line is playing at a high level. In the middle part/end of the season, we are playing really well controlling the line of scrimmage,” said Craft. “Collin brings the energy for sure. He plays with such a high motor. We do a lot with Collin. We move him around defensively. Both at linebacker and, at times, at defensive end. He is at his best when you can let him play.”
Coach Niblett emphasized the keys to victory winning Friday night and how Gainesville can host their first region title since 2013.
You must take care of the football whenever you play in big-time football games. You have to get takeaways too. We have to force some fumbles. We have to be sound on special teams. Something in the game, we can get hidden yardage on whether it be a return, whether it be a blocked punt, whether it be downing them inside and flipping field position. We just have to be sound there and not give up a play. You have to score in the red zone. I don’t think field goals will help you a lot.
Coach Craft highlighted his message to his team this week and what they need to do to secure a victory on the road in a huge matchup.
“The message for us all week is to be aggressive. It is the message for our coaching staff. It is the message for our players. When you are not that way, you make mistakes,” said Craft. “You are in this game for a reason because you belong on this stage and in a championship game. We are going to have to take care of the ball offensively. We cannot give their offense extra possessions. On defense, we will have to be super disciplined and tackle well. They have some explosive playmakers on offense, so we have to tackle well and can’t miss tackles.”
North Forsyth is 7-1 all-time against Gainesville and looking to secure the region title on the road.
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