The No. 2-ranked Roswell Hornets struggled early with a sloppy offense and kicking game, but their stingy defense and opportunistic special teams unit guided them to a 29-12 home win over the Peachtree Ridge Lions on Friday in the second round of the AAAAAAA playoffs.
The Hornets, a No. 1 seed from Region 4, improved to 12-0 and are in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. They’ll host North Cobb, the No. 2 seed out of Region 3, next Friday. The Lions, a No. 2 seed from Region 6, end their season at 6-6.
In the first half, Roswell threw three interceptions and missed a field goal and an extra point but never had to sweat thanks to one of the state’s best defenses. They controlled the game with nine sacks for minus-67 yards and added two interceptions, holding Peachtree Ridge scoreless until the game’s final minutes, when the Lions tacked on a pair of scores against Roswell's reserves.
Hornets defensive back Xavier McKinney, who had one of the interceptions and gave Roswell a 16-0 lead in the third quarter with a 57-yard punt return touchdown, said the defense is locked in.
“We go for the shutout every week,” McKinney said. “That’s our goal, to not let the offense get into the end zone. Not one time. We like to play aggressive and get after it.”
The Hornets opened the scoring with a 68-yard touchdown pass by Malik Willis to Christian Ford four minutes into the game, but they missed the extra point. Willis would then throw interceptions on the Hornets’ next two possessions. After the Hornets forced a Lions punt, they drove the ball down to the Peachtree Ridge 17 and then missed a 34-yard field goal.
Hornets coach John Ford said the team will need to improve on its focus for next week.
“You can’t do stuff like that against a good team like North Cobb and expect to win,” Ford said.
Fortunately for the Hornets, the miscues never led to great concern. The starting defensive unit forced Lions possessions to end in two turnovers on downs, two interceptions and eight punts. Another Lions drive stalled at halftime, where Roswell took a 9-0 lead into the locker room.
On the season, Roswell is allowing just 7.8 points a game.
The Hornets put the contest out of reach in the fourth quarter with two more scores; a 2-yard Willis run and a 9-yard Tyneil Hopper reception, which gave them a 29-0 lead with 7:06 left to play. Hopper’s touchdown came after penalties backed up the Hornets to first-and-goal from the 42. They would miss another extra point after that score.
Despite the three picks, Willis put up big numbers with 244 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13-for-23 passing. He also had 75 yards and score on 11 carries, helping to pick up slack in the run game. Feature back Sheldon Evans limited due to an ankle injury suffered last week. Ford had 134 receiving yards on just three catches.
Peachtree Ridge 0 0 0 12 - 12
Roswell 6 3 7 13 - 29
R - Christian Ford 68 pass from Malik Willis (kick failed)
R - Turner Barckhoff 33 FG
R - Xavier McKinney 57 punt return (Barckhoff kick)
R - Willis 2 run (Barckhoff kick)
R - Tyneil Hopper 9 pass from Willis (kick failed)
P - Dondre Sanderson 2 catch from Fred Payton (pass failed)
P - Payton 20 run (pass failed)