It just so happened to work out this way, but, as it turns out, the finale of the inaugural Freedom Bowl weekend may well be the premier game of the bunch.
Who: No. 20 North Gwinnett (GA) vs. No. 23 Wekiva (FL)
Where: Milton HS, Milton, GA
When: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 8:30 PM CT
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
North Gwinnett (GA) and Wekiva (FL) is a heavyweight matchup of potentially epic proportions with game breakers on opposing sides of the ball—on offense for the Bulldogs and across the Mustangs’ defense.
The game pits the AAAAAAA Georgia State Champions up against a team widely considered to be a favorite in the state of Florida this season. Both programs enter nationally ranked. Both enter with loads of star power and highly-regarded head coaches.
So, what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’ll see.
North Gwinnett Will Need To Run To Win
Two weeks ago, Iowa-commit Tyler Goodson led North Gwinnett to a blowout victory over Brookwood with 142 yards and three scores on 20 carries.
If the Bulldogs hope to close out the Freedom Bowl with a win in the event’s finale, they will need more of the same from Goodson—but to do so against Wekiva is no small ask.
The Mustangs are loaded on the defensive side of the ball, with a headliner quartet of Rian Davis, Tyler Davis, Malcolm Green and James Lynch Jr.—each of whom recorded tackles for a loss last week in a win against Jones.
Wekiva’s 17-3 win over Jones was viewed, in some circles, as a bit of a disappointment. But it could only be considered that if the conversation revolves around offense. The Mustangs held Jones to just 127 yards of offense.
If North Gwinnett can’t get it going on the ground, a player like Rian Davis will have the opportunity to pin his ears back and rush the passer at will—and that is not an attractive option for the Bulldogs.
A Reunion Of Sorts Between Josh Downs and Rian Davis
When North Gwinnett wide receiver Josh Downs and Wekiva linebacker Rian Davis see one another on the field in Milton, it won’t be the first time they’ve shared a forum.
The pair were roommates at the Rivals 5-Star Challenge this summer.
“He’s a dog,” Downs says of Davis. “It’s going to be a good game, I feel. I’m ready for it.”
Bedesem Has Transformed Wekiva In Short Order
It wasn’t long ago that Wekiva was a district also-ran. Forget about the program’s perception on a national level.
From 2012-’15, the Mustangs lost to rival Apopka by 61, 54, 49 and 37 points, including a much-publicized 80-26 defeat in 2013.
Enter Rich Bedesem, a former University of Virginia linebacker, who left Edgewater (FL) for Wekiva in 2016—bringing with him a vision, a swagger and a defensive mentality that is ever-present within the present day Mustangs football program.
Wekiva went 12-2 and won its first district title in program history last season. This season, the team carries something that has been even rarer to find in Wekiva: Expectations. The Mustangs will enter Saturday’s contest nationally ranked. And, if Bedesem’s defense can shut down North Gwinnett, it will be well on its way to something special.
Prospects to Watch
- Rian Davis, LB, Wekiva — 4-star, committed to Georgia
- Josh Downs, WR, North Gwinnett — 4-star, uncommitted
- Tyler Davis, DT, Wekiva — 4-star, uncommitted
- Tyler Goodson, RB, North Gwinnett — 3-star, committed to Iowa
- Renardo Green, CB, Wekiva — 3-star, committed to Florida State
- Malik Tolbert, WR, Wekiva — 3-star, uncommitted
- Brandon Hill, S/RB, Wekiva — 3-star, committed to Pittsburgh
- Quinton Newsome, S, North Gwinnett — 3-star, committed to Nebraska