Etowah's Dalton Miller looks to pass the ball in last Saturday night's game against Pebblebrook. 

Game: Etowah (2-2) at Hillgrove (3-0), 7:30 p.m.

Last Year: Hillgrove 35, Etowah 3

All-time series: Hillgrove leads 1-0

Prediction: Hillgrove 27, Etowah 10

Friday will be only the second matchup between Hillgrove and Etowah, and the Hawks are hoping for a repeat of last season’s matchup.

The 35-3 margin of last year’s matchup would fit in well with the rest of Hillgrove’s blowout wins in the early part of this season.

The Hawks are winning by an average margin of over 30 points and have outscored their first three opponents by a combined score of 105-13, but it’s the other side of the ball that has caught their coach’s eye.

“Anytime you’re playing good defense you’ve got to like it because that gives you a chance to be in any ballgame,” Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside said. “Regardless of bad weather, bad offensive night, whatever, when they’re good you’ve always got a chance. Each week we’re seeing improvement.”

Etowah started the season with a win over River Ridge but dropped its next two contests. Its loss on Sept. 6 to South Forsyth was a 32-31 heartbreaker.

The Eagles showed resilience and rebounded last week, defeating Pebblebrook in a 45-32 shootout to even up their record with one more non-region game to play.

“The week before the offense fumbled the ball three times in the second half,” Etowah coach Dave Svehla said. “We scored 28 points in the first half and three in the second. That’s just not good enough. I thought we made progress with ball security from one week to the next and that made a difference.”

Against Hillgrove, there will be no room for the little mistakes and turnovers that plagued Etowah’s second half against South Forsyth.

“They’re just really good,” Svehla said. “They’re well-coached, they’ve got good players on both sides of the ball. They’re very aggressive defensively, they crowd you and put a lot of pressure on you and they feel like their back end can cover, which they can. Offensively, it’s going to be a really big challenge.”

Hillgrove’s defense presents Svehla’s team with a big challenge in the incredible talents it will throw at them, like 247Sports No. 4 overall prospect in the class of 2020 and Clemson commit Myles Murphy. Murphy hasn’t played yet this season but is back practicing and is expected to make his return to the lineup against Etowah after dealing with a foot injury since the summer.

The defensive line hasn’t disappointed Ironside without Murphy, however, which will allow him to ease the star back into action with the newfound depth his team features.

It isn’t just the individual talent that is making Etowah’s game planning difficult. It’s the vast number of talented individuals Hillgrove features that makes giving one player too much attention an even more dangerous mistake+

“The thing is, they’ve got other good players,” Svehla said. “If you devote too many resources to one guy, somebody else on that defense is going to eat you alive. You’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to hope that some guys can take care of some individual matchups.”

Last year, the Hillgrove defense won the battle. The Etowah offense was “awful” according to its coach, but despite those struggles, the game was still a battle for the better part of three quarters.

“We were terrible (offensively),” Svehla said. “Part of that was them, part of that was us. If we’re that bad again it is going to be a long night. But I feel like it’s just different teams. We’ve all got some of the same players but we’re a different team than we were last year on both sides of the ball and they are a little bit too. I don’t put a whole lot of stock in what happened last year.”

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