It might not be the most historic rivalry in the state’s highest class in terms of its length—the programs might have only met five times. However, when you consider three of those five matchups were in the playoffs and all of the five meetings have taken place since 2011—it is certainly one of the ripest rivalries growing over the past several season in the state’s highest classification.
Since losing the first meeting between the schools 26-17 on August 20, 2011, North Gwinnett has not lost to McEachern.
In 2013, the teams met in the semifinals where the Bulldogs won 27-21. In the 2017 semifinals, North Gwinnett won 38-17. Last season, North Gwinnett edged McEachern 32-13 in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. This season, North Gwinnett opens ranked at No. 5 and McEachern holds the No. 9 spot in the poll.
Simply put, we present you playoff-quality football in September, with this showdown.
Franklin Stephens took over the McEachern program after Kyle Hockman’s departure and in his first season last year, Stephens led the Indians to a 12-1 record before the quarterfinal appearance against North Gwinnett in the 7A state playoffs.
The quality of program awaiting Stephens at the Corky Kell Classic garnered much attention.
“Coach Stewart has been doing very well over there,” said Stephens. “He has taken it to another level regards of winning a state championship and last year they were in the semifinals. They have incredibly good coaches and good players and have great support.”
Before continuing, Stephens paused and then stated, emphatically, “…. and we have those things too.”
McEachern’s star quarterback Carlos Del Rio transferred over the offseason, however in junior quarterback Bryce Archie, Stephens sees much promise.
“We are excited about our quarterback situation,” Stephens said. “We lost a very good quarterback last year who decided to move somewhere else and we are in a world where those things can happen. But we have Bryce Archie returning and he is a pretty dog gone good quarterback.”
The goal for McEachern is to solidify experience early in the season, especially on the offensive lines.
“As far as we are concerned, we feel like we have some growing to do and some maturing in some sore spots,” Stephens said. “If you look from an offensive perspective, we are young up front on the offensive line. Especially if those guys are going to be good. We are going to have some size up there, but it is going to be some maturation throughout the season.”
On the other side, North Gwinnett enters the season ranked fifth in the state’s highest class and coming off a semifinal appearance last season. Coach Bill Stewart has been leading North Gwinnett since 2017 and in his first year at North Gwinnett, the Bulldogs beat Colquitt County in the 7A state championship game. In the years since, Stewart has carved out a quarterfinal and a semifinal appearance.
Entering 2020, the Bulldogs are stacked with returning talent led by two four-star defensive recruits.
Barrett Carter, a four-star linebacker and Clemson-commit, will anchor the Bulldog defense. Carter made a team-second 73 tackles last year with 48 solo tackles and 10 sacks. Ohio State-commit Jordan Hancock, a four-star corner back made 15 tackles with two interceptions last season, but opted out of his senior season.
“I would say I’m sideline to sideline linebacker,” Carter told Gwinnett Prep Sports. “I run a 4.5 (second) 40 (yard dash) so I can cover. I can hit. I can play inside. I can play outside. I say I’m a do-it-all linebacker.”