Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Championship preview: Peach vs. Calhoun

The Class AAA championship game between the second-ranked Peach County Trojans and the fourth-ranked Calhoun Yellow Jackets pits two of the most storied programs in the state, and two of the most successful coaches in the state, against one another at  1 p.m.   Friday  at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Peach Coach Chad Campbell has the second-highest winning percentage among active coaches with at least 100 victories, trailing Ware’s Franklin Stephens. Campbell’s winning percentage (.845) is also the sixth-highest in state history from coaches with at least 100 wins (120-22).

The Hawkinsville native, who has been at Peach for 25 years (11 as a head coach), has compiled winning seasons in each of his 11 years in Fort Valley. In 2009, he led Peach to a state title and an undefeated season after beating Gainesville by one point, 13-12, in the championship game. Campbell’s brother, Lee, the former Hawkinsville head coach, is his defensive coordinator.

At Hawkinsville, Lee led the Red Devils to back-to-back state championships in 2003-04, and when Chad led Peach to the 2009 title, it made Chad and Lee the only brothers to win state titles in Georgia.

Since 1991, the Trojans have been to the playoffs each season under five different coaches, including Campbell. Neal Rumble led the Trojans to the quarterfinals in 1991 and 1993. In 1992, Rumble led Peach to the championship game but fell to Thomas County Central, 14-13. In 1994, Rodney Walker took over and led the Trojans to the first round in his first two seasons before making it to the second round in his third and fourth year. In his last season at Peach in 1998 the Trojans lost to Dougherty in the championship game.

Alan Rodemaker’s two seasons in Fort Valley (1999-00) yielded only a second-round appearance before Rance Gillespie took over in 2001. Gillespie led the Trojans to a state final in 2003, but lost to LaGrange, 16-7. The Trojans made the quarterfinals in 2004 before winning back-to-back titles in 2005 and '06. Gillespie’s departure after the 2006 title opened the job for Campbell in 2007.

Like Peach, Calhoun has been a model of consistency and has been a regular playoff contender for almost two decades. Before Lamb arrived at Calhoun, the Yellow Jackets had one region title and one playoff victory in 45 seasons. Since 2000, Calhoun, led by Hal Lamb, has made it to the playoffs each year, and since 2005, Calhoun has made it to the state championship game eight times, winning two – 2011 and 2014.

Lamb comes from a family steeped in football tradition. His father, Ray, was the head football coach at Commerce High School from 1967-1988, and by 1981 Hal was the two-time all-state receiver. His brother, Bobby, was the quarterback. That season, the Lamb brothers helped the Tigers compile a 13-1-1 season which culminated in a state championship victory against Greene County, 28-14. It was the elder Lamb’s only state championship.  Bobby is now the head coach at Mercer where he has coached since 2011.

“We had a good career there,” Hal Lamb said in a blog last season. “We actually won a state title my junior year. My brother was the quarterback and I was the wide receiver and my dad was the coach. It really doesn’t get much better than that.”

It could get better for Lamb, and the Yellow Jackets, assuming a victory  Friday . But it will not come easy. The Calhoun defense, which has served up two shutouts and held seven opponents to a touchdown, or less, will have to contain a Peach offense that has been firing on all cylinders, despite being down two of its most productive players – UGA commitment Kearis Jackson and star running back Chris Gibson.

A lot of credit for Peach’s offensive success is a result of senior quarterback Antonio Gilbert, who has passed for 3,030 yards and 23 touchdowns with just one interception. His completion percentage (69.7) during the regular season and (76) in the playoffs has been crucial for the injury-laden Trojans. Against GAC in the semifinals, Gilbert passed for 326 yards and two touchdowns.

This will create a fun matchup to watch -- Peach’s offense vs. Calhoun’s defense, which is led by its stellar defensive line and lockdown defensive backs Bralin Barton, Jonkell Tolbert and Logan Parker.

In the semifinal victory against Cedar Grove, Barton grabbed three interceptions, effectively silencing the Cedar Grove offense led by receiver Jadon Haselwood, who is one of the top receivers in the 2019 class. Clemson commitment Brannon Spector is another key component to the Yellow Jackets' defense. Spector, who moved to safety at the start of the season, adjusted well and has 62 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception.

All-in-all, the Class AAA title game should provide one of the clear-cut best matchups across all of the eight championship games this weekend.

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