Class 6A blog: Hughes, Gainesville aim to complete perfect season

Credit: Jamie Spaar/For the AJC

Credit: Jamie Spaar/For the AJC

Two of the four Class 6A teams that were undefeated in the regular season will try to complete a perfect season when top-ranked Hughes faces No. 4 Gainesville in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at Georgia State’s Center Parc Stadium.

Hughes (14-0), the runner-up to Buford in 2021, earned its second consecutive trip to the final with a 42-3 victory over Rome last week. The Panthers scored easily on their first two possessions but led just 14-3 at halftime. They pulled away with four touchdowns in the second half, three on passes by Prentiss Noland and one on a 48-yard interception return by Xavier Leonard.

Hughes has scored 757 points this season, an average of 54.1 per game, and needs just two points this week to break the GHSA record for points in a season, set by Rome with 758 in 2017.

Hughes, a 14-year-old school in Fairburn, has set a school record with 14 victories this season and is seeking its first championship.

“To get to the state championship game, that’s big,” Hughes coach Daniel “Boone” Williams said to Stan Awtrey, who covered the Rome game for the AJC. “To get there again is even bigger. It’s amazing.”

Gainesville (14-0), in its first season under former Hoover head coach and seven-time Alabama state champion Josh Niblett, is in the championship game for the first time since Deshaun Watson led the Red Elephants to a state title in 2012. Gainesville compiled a record of 11-10 the past two seasons in the highest classification before returning to 6A this year. Gainesville went 5-5 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

The Red Elephants advanced to the final with a 35-28 victory Friday against Roswell. Gainesville never trailed after Darius Cannon returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 7-7 with 9:36 remaining in the first quarter, but the Red Elephants needed two big defensive stops in the red zone in the fourth quarter to hold on.

Roswell had the ball first-and-goal at the 3-yard line with less than two minutes left, but a 2-yard gain, a 9-yard loss on a sack and two incomplete passes enabled Gainesville to survive.

Baxter Wright threw for 210 yards and touchdowns to four receivers, including one to Cannon, and Naim Cheeks rushed for 131 and a touchdown on 14 carries.

“We’re going to enjoy this one, and then we’re going to put all our chips on the table,” Josh Niblett said of the championship game after the Red Elephants’ victory last week. “We’re 14-0, they’re 14-0. It’s a great opportunity for us. This is all about us. We’ve got to lock in on what we’re doing. We’ll put a game plan together, our kids will play their tails off, and then we’ll see what happens at the end. We’ve got just as much of an opportunity to win this thing as they do.”

Brunswick and Thomas County Central, the other two undefeated Class 6A teams in the regular season, were eliminated in earlier rounds. Brunswick lost in the first round to Houston County 29-28 in overtime, and Thomas County Central was knocked out by Roswell 42-34 in the quarterfinals.

Semifinals

Gainesville 35, Roswell 28

Hughes 42, Rome 3

Championship

Gainesville vs. Hughes

7 p.m., Friday

Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta