Corky Kell Preview: Colquitt County vs. Mill Creek

Photo By Hyosub Shin | AJC

Class AAAAAA staged the game of the year last December as undefeated Colquitt County and undefeated Mill Creek met in the semifinals. Everything about the matchup was intriguing and lived up to the hype. The Packers were playing for a 29th straight victory, while Mill Creek’s defense was on a record pace after allowing less than seven points per game on the year. In the end, it was the Packers celebrating a 52-31 victory after outscoring the Hawks 31-14 in the second half.

“That game was not for the weak or the young,” said Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst after the game. “That was big boy football right there. You saw a bunch of good football players out on that field tonight. We got ‘em and Mill Creek’s got ‘em, too.”

Last year’s semifinals classic is just one of the many reasons that this primetime matchup is one of the top showdowns slated in the Corky Kell’s 25-year anniversary.

Packers Prime

Two-time defending state champion Colquitt County rides a state-best 30-game winning streak as Propst enters his ninth year with the Packers. Last year’s state championship quarterback Chase Parrish threw for 3,501 yards and 40 touchdowns while also adding 362 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. This fall, Parrish moves on to Annapolis, Maryland where he will play for the Navy Midshipmen as they look to replace NCAA leader in career touchdowns, Keenan Reynolds. Stepping in at quarterback this season looks to be 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior, Jay Saunders, who Propst believes has all the tools to lead his potent offense.

The offense will look for a new star out wide as former three-star receiver, Kiel Pollard, suits up for University of South Carolina this fall. Pollard caught 76 passes last season for 1,163 yards and 18 touchdowns. Also moving on are Ty Lee (MTSU) and Isaiah Thomas (West Georgia). Lee totaled 826 yards rushing and five touchdowns to go with 58 receptions, 928 yards and nine receiving touchdowns while Thomas posted 29 receptions, 584 yards, eight touchdowns and a school-record 98-yard touchdown catch.

Seniors Tory Ponder and Ty Powell look to be the answers at receiver this year for the Packers. In their junior years, Ponder had 30 receptions for 331 yards while Powell had 10 receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns. At running back, junior Nigel Hillie steps into the starting role after his sophomore campaign saw him gain 317 yards and five touchdowns on 64 carries (third-highest on team). The centerpiece of the defense this year is junior linebacker JJ Peterson. Ranked as a five-star prospect by 247Sports, Peterson finished his sophomore campaign with 30 total tackles (four for loss) and three sacks.


Hardwired Hawks

Senior quarterback Cameron Turley is back as the Hawks’ signal caller after throwing for an impressive 2,358 yards with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Mill Creek averaged 37.1 points per game using multiple offensive sets that kept defenses off balance. Despite losing running back Daniel Leconte (624 yards, 13 TDs), senior Joe Thomas will return to lead the team from the offensive backfield. Thomas’ 16 touchdowns last year were a team-high. He gained 758 yards rushing off 191 carries. Thomas runs behind an experienced offensive line anchored by three-star seniors Tyler Fannin (UVA) and Jack Franklin.

Top receiving targets Edmond Graham and Preston Norwood return as senior leaders. Graham, a two-star, recorded 29 receptions for 473 yards and four touchdowns. Norwood added 24 catches for 371 yards and two touchdowns. Graham is a threat in the return game as well, recording two touchdowns and averaging 34.6 yards per kickoff return.

The strength of the Hawks’ championship-caliber team is their stout defense, which posted six shutouts during their 2015 dominance. There will be questions to answer in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, however with just two defensive starters returning. Two-star senior defensive back Jamar Hall returns his 56 total tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles to lead the secondary. Junior Jonathan Gipson holds offers from Auburn, Maryland and West Virginia. The cornerback made 52 tackles, picked off three passes and had 13 pass breakups. Up front, Tyler Vernon (Army) is gone after a school-record 16-sack season.

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