Last Wednesday Bill Stewart and the North Gwinnett football team hoped to be celebrating a state title by now. But thanks to the winter weather that dumped nearly six inches of snow on north Georgia last week, the Bulldogs’ (13-1) Class AAAAAAA state title game against Colquitt County (11-3) in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was postponed to Friday.
In addition, the game was moved from The Benz to North Gwinnett’s Tom Robinson Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
AccessWDUN’s Jeff Hart caught up with Stewart to discuss how the extra, and unexpected, week has gone in preparation for the Bulldogs’ first title game since 2013.
QUESTION: Was there some disappointment when you heard that the finals would not be at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?
ANSWER: I think initially there was a lot of disappointment from all of us when we found out that the finals were not going to be (at Mercedes-Benz.) You get revved up to play somewhere that you have been trying to get to and using as motivation so when you find out you’re not going to be able to do that, there’s going to be some disappointment for sure. But, we just tried to begin drawing the kids back and reminding them that there is a still a game to play no matter where it was going to be. I think they have put that behind them and seem ready to go. We’re all excited about the opportunity in front of us.
Q: Has it been difficult with the extra week or has that helped as y’all get ready for the game? Also, y’all are considered a favorite in the game. Does that mean anything?
A: Our routine is the same. Go over the opponent on Monday, start working on game plan on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then get ready for a Friday game. Obviously it’s the biggest game of the year, but really it’s been just like any other week as far as preparation. I don’t know if it will end up being a help or not, but I don’t see anything real negative about an extra week of practice. We get to work on a few things we needed to fine-tune and also study (Colquitt County) film a little more as well. As far as a favorite in the game, all I know is that we beat some teams during the season where we weren’t the favorite and we lost to Walton (in the season-opener) when we were probably considered a favorite. I don’t know if that means anything at this point in the season. You have two good teams that are playing well right now. We’re expecting a battle.
Q: With that in mind, this is Colquitt County's third trip to the finals in four years. None of your players were on the roster the last time North Gwinnett went to the finals in 2013. Do you think there is anything to the perceived experience factor that the Packers may have?
A: Honestly, I don’t think playoff experience will play that much of a factor. To us, we feel we’ve already played a bunch of big, high-pressure games. We had to play the defending champions (Grayson) and also a McEachern team that has a lot of experience [the Indians have made the quarterfinals or better four of the last five years] so we’re not worried about whether they have more experience or not. It’s about how well you execute. If we do what we do well, we’ll be fine.
Q: What do you see as the real key(s) to this game?
A: It’s hard to say because both teams are so statistically close. Both offenses have been efficient and both teams have played good defense when it matters. I look at things like red zone possessions. Scoring points when you get down there will be huge. Not turning the ball over will also be big. You can’t make mistakes, but if you do you have to be able to turn that around and limit damage. Colquitt has a great run game; we have a great run game. They have a quarterback that can sling it, so do we. Guys like (senior Bulldogs’ linebacker) Jayden (McDonald -- team-leading 76 tackles, 10 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries) could be factors if they can disrupt the offense. This should be a great game with a lot of things and players that could be the difference, so putting it on just one thing is tough.
Q: Finally coach, you have been to the semifinals the last two years as an assistant with Mill Creek. Are you seeing any difference prepping for the finals and do you think it will be different coaching in the finals as the head coach?
A: Not too much. Preparation should be the same no matter the game and that’s what we’ve been focused on. Coaching is coaching so I don’t really anticipate anything that will be something that I’ve never seen before. But I do think it’s going to be fun to be in the finals and be coach. I’m looking forward to it, and I think all the coaches and players are looking forward to it. We’re excited and ready to go.
NOTE: AccessWDUN's Jeff Hart will be on site live Friday in Suwanee and will be tweeting on our @FridayGameNight feed. We will also present postgame video highights as well as reaction from Suwanee.