Corky Kell finale features potent passing attacks of North Gwinnett, Walton

QB Cade Fortin of North Gwinnett. Credit: John Amis/AJC

It has been 10 years since North Gwinnett and Walton have met, and out of the four meetings between 2004-07, North Gwinnett holds a 3-1 lead in the series. The last meeting was in the 2007 semifinals, when North Gwinnett won 31-7 but would eventually fall to Lowndes in the championship game. The two will clash again on Saturday at 8:45 p.m..

North Gwinnett will be led by head coach Bill Stewart, who is in his first season with the Bulldogs after previously coaching at Etowah for six seasons. The Bulldogs went 6-5 last season, losing in the first round of the playoffs to South Gwinnett under coach Bob Sphire, who left to take the Camden County job.

On the other side of the field, Daniel Brunner will be leading Walton for the first time as head coach after being a member of the coaching staff since 2014. Brunner took the head job for the Raiders after head coach Mo Dixon left to join Rush Propst’s staff at Colquitt County.

Last season saw the Raiders drop to a 4-6 record. However, this year Brunner is bringing a more experienced Walton team to the field.

“[We are] a lot more experienced at most positions,” Brunner said. “Our secondary on the defensive side of the ball is essentially back from last year. They all played as sophomores. Our linebackers, same thing.”

Brunner’s Raiders will be led by one of two quarterbacks who helped them through the summer 7-on-7 tournaments after Addison Shoup graduated. Senior Avery Cybul and junior Austin Kirksey split quarterback duties this summer, placing second in points in the USA Football 7-on-7 with 173, so it is safe to assume the Raiders offense can produce.

After star receiver Dominick Blaylock was injured during baseball season, senior Chandler Smith stepped up to fill the void for the summer and became a go-to receiver. Add in a healthy Blaylock, and either quarterback will have options through the air.

North Gwinnett also has offensive weapons. The Bulldogs return senior Cade Fortin, a Texas A&M commit who started all 11 games during his junior year and passed for 1,764 yards. Fortin is an efficient quarterback and went 138-of-267 passing for 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions. L.J. Fisher, who caught 32 passes for 532 yards and eight touchdowns last season, will certainly be a target for Fortin.

“Cade is a very good quarterback who is efficient and is just a good leader,” Stewart said. “He takes very good care of the football and has the ability to lead this team.”

With all the experience at the quarterback position, it will be important to protect the pocket with some fresh faces on the offensive line. The Bulldogs will rely on Warren Ericson, a Georgia commit, to lead the way as the only returning starter on the offensive line. However, senior Omezu Onyiri and juniors Will Hamilton, T.J. Skinner and Justin Bullock will fill the void.

For the ground game, the Bulldogs graduated running back Ryan Lovelace but return two experienced backs in senior Cameron Butler and junior Tyler Goodson. Several players will have opportunities to step up at wide receiver including seniors Dylan Pulgarin and Chris Northrup; juniors Riley Walker, Garrison Manor, Bryce Fowler and Javonni Cunningham; and sophomore Josh Downs. On defense, North Gwinnett lost seven starters and must rebuild the front seven, but it returns starting juniors Warren Burrell and D.J. Turner in the secondary. D’Armani Ridley will anchor the secondary at the safety position.

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