Here comes a behemoth toward Forsyth County, a force that’s been tough to thwart no matter where the valiant opponent comes from: Gwinnett County football.
Each of the county’s three Class AAAAAA state playoff teams will face a team from arguably the state’s best county for high school football. West Forsyth goes on the road to Peachtree Ridge, while Lambert and South Forsyth play at home against Collins Hill and Norcross, respectively.
“They’re one of the power counties in the state,” South head coach Jeff Arnette said.
“They are the measure of football in the state,” Lambert head coach Louis Daniel said.
Gwinnett’s résumé speaks for itself.
Teams from the county have won 22 GHSA state championships, including four of the past five in the state’s largest classification. Twenty-nine have gone on to play in the National Football League from a part of the state that is rich with some of the best talent in the country.
Forsyth County has historically struggled against Gwinnett teams. Forsyth teams are 59-148-2 all-time against Gwinnett, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Forsyth’s playoff history isn’t much better: 1-8, the lone victory coming in 2012 when West defeated Collins Hill, 66-41, in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
But Gwinnett eliminated the Wolverines the following week in a 26-23 loss in overtime to Parkview.
It’s tempting to make comparisons between the two counties’ athletic landscapes, if only because of the proximity, but in reality they differ greatly in many ways. Gwinnett has almost five times as many people and five times as many public high schools. Gwinnett continues to grow, but its boom in population is in the past. Forsyth’s population burst is still ongoing.
The greatest impact of that population disparity is in the depth of talent on teams. Lambert found that out before the season started when it faced 2011 AAAAA state champion Grayson in a scrimmage.
“We hung with them OK early on,” Daniel said, “but their ability to rotate two teams that are similar in athleticism, it wears on you over time.”
Arnette recognizes the same thing in the War Eagles’ opponent tonight. Norcross enters the game on a three-game losing streak, but it’s only two years removed from winning back-to-back AAAAAA state championships.
“They got a tremendous amount of athletes and a lot of speed,” Arnette said.
Despite Gwinnett’s reputation, Forsyth teams haven’t shied away from them. West has opened its season the past two years against Mill Creek. South has opened the past two seasons against Mountain View. Lambert followed its scrimmage against Grayson with its season-opener against Lanier.
Arnette and Daniel know the challenges that await their teams.
“Our players have to compete every single play,” Daniel said. “We’ve dealt this year with a lot of adversity. We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. … [Our players are] resilient. They played hard, no matter who the opponent.”
“Our players are ready to play and see what they can do in the playoffs,” Arnette said.