ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A resurgent Harrison (6-1, 0-1) team will face one its biggest tests to date when they host the defending Region 3-7A champions the North Paulding (5-1, 0-0) Friday.
The Hoyas look to be returning to the standard they set from 2016-2019 where they went 33-11 and won the 6A state championship in 2019. Harrison’s offense has been thriving through the first seven games of the 2023 season under a certain team-oriented philosophy.
“Players, not plays we don’t think system,” said Harrison coach Josh Cassidy. “Regardless of what we are most comfortable with as coaches. We have to do what our players are going to be most successful doing.”
This philosophy sees a blending of many positions, with both Amari Watson and Xavier Hill playing major roles in both the passing and rushing games. Watson and Hill, alongside star wide receiver and Memphis-commit Brady Kluse and senior quarterback Braylan Ford, Harrison is formidable.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hoyas control the line of scrimmage. Led by defensive linemen Collin Bellomy, a 6-foot-6, 260-pounder and Christian Smith, a 6-2, 185-pound defensive end, Harrison relies on its dominant pass rush which has created 35 tackles for loss and 21 sacks. However, the most important players on defense may be the players you don’t know.
“The unsung heroes that play their hearts out, that’s every player on our team,” said Cassidy. “I could list every kid on our roster. You’ve got to think about those guys; that they may not even be playing on Friday night, but they are doing everything they can to help this program win.”
North Paulding is looking just as good, if not better than it did last year when they won the region 3-7A championship. After their breakout 2022 campaign, the Wolfpack started the season 5-0 before losing to top ranked Walton two weeks ago.
The North Paulding offense is threatening.
First-year starting quarterback Tyler Neihr has passed the tests of the non-region schedule, throwing for over 1400 yards and 13 touchdowns. The rushing game had to replace one of the best running backs in school history, in current Northern Illinois Huskie Jaylen Poe. Calvin Scott and Jayden Clayton, who have combined for 630 yards and 9 touchdowns, have filled in nicely.
However, the game may very well be decided by the Wolfpack offensive line.
“They have a couple really good defensive ends,” said coach Don Stark. “Jaden Ehima and Colin Bellomy are two of the best guys we will play. We have played teams that had one very good defensive lineman, but this maybe the only game we play a team with two very good ones.”
On the other side of the ball, the Wolfpack will look to a dominant front seven to stop the Harrison rushing attack and put pressure on Ford. North Paulding is led on defense by the Maddox brothers – Ethan and Aiden — who have combined for 97 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, and 31 quarterback hurries.
“I think it starts with the defense,” said Stark “That has been the strongest unit on our team. It’s also the most experienced, we start anywhere from 9 to 10 seniors.”
However the defense has some lesser known names and these players will help determine the outcome of Friday’s game and possibly shape the region title race.
“As far as individuals go on the defensive line, Dylan Harris has been the most consistent defensive tackle,” said Stark. “Then other guys that are unsung heroes. At the linebacker position, Austin Kowanski who does a great job.”
You can watch the game on the Peachtree Sports Network Friday at 8 p.m.
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