Drive for the GHSA State Title: Walton at Carrollton Preview

The undefeated Walton Raiders (12-0) will visit Region 2 champion Carrollton (11-1) Friday night in a star-powered rematch of last year’s 52-27 victory by the Trojans in the same round. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the action will be broadcast live on the Peachtree Sports Network live from Grisham Stadium.

“We are looking forward to going back to Carrollton,” said Walton coach Daniel Brunner. “We’re excited to go back there and see if we can change our fate this year.”

Carrollton is making its eighth-straight quarterfinals appearance and used last year’s victory to advance to the semifinals for back-to-back seasons after the program experienced five-straight quarterfinal exits from 2016-2020.

Carrollton’s victory over Walton came just one week after the Raiders topped No. 1 ranked Buford in a thrilling 42-35 road victory and marked the first time in history that Carrollton and Walton met on the gridiron. What made the victory even more noteworthy was that quarterback Julian Lewis improved his team’s record to 13-0 in his first varsity season. Lewis has continued to shine this season and is one of the most celebrated high school prospects to ever come out of the state.

Walton, meanwhile, regrouped after the tough loss and returned a motivated roster that has led the Raiders to a 12-0 record for just the second time in program history. The Raiders have improved in every phase and Wake Forest-commit Jeremy Hecklinski is determined to lead Walton to its first-ever state title.

Walton has been the last Cobb County program left standing the last three seasons and Hecklinski has been the quarterback during that span. This season, Hecklinski is leading Class 7A in passing and the Raiders average 49.83 points per game, despite the starters sitting during running clocks in the majority of this year’s matchups. Walton showcased its explosive offense again in the second round against North Gwinnett and ran away with a 48-19 victory with the game’s final 27 points.

“We regrouped at halftime and came out and played well in the second half,” said Brunner. “We got a resilient group of kids who want to keep fighting for four quarters. That’s what you have to have this time of year. I’m proud of our guys.”

Hecklinski eclipsed 9,000 career passing yards in the victory and finished with 295 yards and four touchdowns. The Raiders have five-star offensive tackle and UGA-commit Daniel Calhoun as a new piece to this year’s team and he helped pave the way for running backs Austin Williams and Makhari Bodiford—who both eclipsed 100 yards rushing—fueling Walton’s 569 total yards. Walton is estimated to have 15 Power Five seniors on this year’s team and will look to take down the Trojans and keep the team’s perfect season alive.

Similar to Walton, Carrollton made adjustments during the halftime of its second round victory and ran away in convincing fashion. The Trojans pulled away in the third quarter with four touchdowns over an eight-minute stretch to power their 45-28 victory over Valdosta. Lewis, who now has 45 touchdown passes this season after adding four Friday night, led the way. Additionally, sophomore running back Kimauri Farmer contributed 160 rushing yards on 29 carries with two touchdown runs.

“We saw some things that we liked that we didn’t capitalize on,” said Carrollton head coach Joey King. “In the first half, we didn’t play very clean, but still, we only had to punt one time and we faked it. We just kept getting in our own way, so the message was just don’t get in our own way and we succeeded.”

Defensively, Jacob Levy has anchored the front and is a sure tackler and a national champion wrestler.

“Jacob is a grown man. We did some things tonight to free him up because they are a heavy counter and buck running team,” King said. “Jacob can play linebacker too and he is just a thick dude and he has played great.”

Carrollton’s victory over the Wildcats grew its win-streak to 11-straight games after its loss to Hughes in the season opener. Lewis, Farmer and Alabama-commit Caleb Odom will look to match the firepower of Walton and return to the semis Friday night.

“We are excited to be playing,” said King. “We are blessed to be playing on Thanksgiving week and we are exactly where we want to be. I know they are a respectable opponent. Coach Brunner does a good job, and they are playing their tails off this season.”

You can watch the game live at 8 p.m. this Friday on the Peachtree Sports Network, on the Atlanta News First app and on the National Federation High School Network.

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