Coach Maurice Dixon talks to his players after their win over Grayson.

Credit: Creekside High School

It was the shocker of the opening week of the 2021 high school football season in Georgia. Defending class 7A champion Grayson welcomed Creekside to Gwinnett County. There were some who felt the Seminoles would compete and play well, but not take a 19-14 victory back to South Fulton. Maurice Dixon's crew pulled off the season opening win that was a surprise to everyone.

Everyone except Dixon, now in his fifth year as head coach at Creekside.

"Our goals are different," says Dixon. "It’s not necessarily about just doing something great, because we are working toward trying to win a state championship. You have to treat every game like it’s the biggest game of the season. Us beating Grayson was a good thing, but I would say that it’s just bulletin board material. We had just seen them this summer at a 7-on-7 and a couple years ago we went to a padded camp against them. Our kids weren’t afraid and knew what it took to beat them."

After taking an early lead, Creekside saw the Rams gain momentum and the lead in the second half. But a pair of Grayson fumbles – one that was returned 100 yards for a touchdown and another that set up Creekside’s winning score -- would allow the pendulum to swing in the other direction again.

"We were down 14-6," recalls Dixon. "We still had complete confidence that we could win the game. That goal line stop and getting that fumble in the end zone was huge. We work on turnovers three times a week. So, I wasn’t surprised that we came up with that ball and got it out. Once that happened momentum just took over."

Creekside captains

The Creekside captains line up before the coin toss at Grayson.

Credit: Creekside High School

The ride from Grayson back to Fairburn was long but sweet. Even sweeter would be the celebration on the way to class, as this fall victorious football teams can share their success with their schoolmates, who were all studying at home a year ago.

Ah, but the coach is focused on something else.

"For me it’s going to be like another regular day," says Dixon. "We try not to get too up and try not to get too down. We are trying to play 15 games."

“The win on Friday felt like a win for our whole community, " says Creekside Athletic Director Mekia Troy. "It’s been the talk of the town. I’m glad this is a bye week so that players and coaches have a little time to enjoy the moment, but we know our goals don’t stop at Game One.”

When the coach says he wants to play 15 games, folks around “The Swamp" know what he is talking about. You see, it happened there once before. In 2013 the Seminoles were a perfect 15-0 and won the Class 5A title. By 2016 the program was on a downward spiral and was out of the playoffs.

Here in South Fulton, in a 15-20-mile radius, I will put our three schools up against anybody in the state. Athletics and academics.

Troy knows very much what the Grayson win represents. Like Dixon, she is also a Creekside graduate. In order to truly appreciate the win over the defending 7A champ, you have to go back to 2017. That was the year that Dixon answered the call to come home and lead his alma mater. That team posted a 0-10 record, and it was clear there was only one way for the program to go.

"When I took over the team at Creekside, it was in a very bad situation," recalls Dixon. "I was the third coach in about six months. The community had turned its back on Creekside because they felt like Creekside had turned its back on them. So it was me coming in and trying to heal those relationships. I needed to get a group of kids that I could really work with and build up. It just went from there."

Creekside has made three consecutive postseason trips and won two region titles during Dixon's tenure. It comes at a time when there is success just down the road in either direction as both Westlake and Hughes anticipate runs into the postseason in 2021. I like to call it "The South Fulton Triangle." Teams that have to venture there this fall will have a difficult time finding wins. A product of the area, you can hear the pride in Dixon's voice when he talks about it. 

"Nowadays so many people want to run to Cobb County or run to Gwinnett County," says Dixon. "They think that their school systems and their athletic teams are better. But here in South Fulton, in a 15-20-mile radius, I will put our three schools up against anybody in the state. Athletics and academics. I think Creekside, Westlake and Hughes can compete with anybody on any level."

Whenever two of the South Fulton rivals face off, the crowds are usually big. You don't want to miss it. This Friday the Seminoles are off, but go back to work next week against arch-rival Westlake. The coach won't have to make any special speech before this one.

"I’m just excited that it’s not the first game of the year," says Dixon. "We’ve always played them in the first game of the year and it’s always been the game where we make those first-game mistakes. This year I think it will be one of the better games in the state of Georgia, because we are two really good teams and we are going to play really good football."

According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, since Creekside opened in 1990, Westlake is the opponent that that have faced more than any other. This year’s game will be the 22nd meeting, with Creekside holding an 11-10 advantage. Dixon has special memories of playing in the rivalry. The 2020 season opener was part of a high school showcase at Herndon Stadium.

Creekside Tribe

Creekside emphasizes "Tribe Pride" and has the phrase stitched on the back of every uniform.

Credit: Creekside High School

"My senior year we played them at Morris Brown in front of a sold-out crowd," remembers Dixon. "For me the environment matched the game. Anytime the two teams play it should be a game that the city circles. It should the game of the week around the state, because we are two of the better teams in the state."

At least his team has a big win under its belt. Dixon says that having a regular spring and summer has helped his team come together. Last season the defensive line was experienced, while the perimeter was young. This year it's just the opposite with the perimeter players returning. The coaching staff could spend more time during the summer developing the bigs. The Creekside coaches also had more time to work on their senior quarterback, who threw two touchdown passes in the win at Grayson.

"I really believe Nyqua Lett is one of the best quarterbacks in the state of Georgia," says Dixon. "He came to us as a junior and there was COVID, so we couldn’t work with him as much as we wanted to. But as he learned the offense and picked it up, he got better during the season. We actually won a couple playoff games because of him last season."

"Tribe Pride" is on the back of each Creekside players jersey. It's something that Dixon wants his players to remember. They are also two words that Grayson won't soon forget.

"Friday night was just a testament to the work that the kids have put in," says Dixon. "Oftentimes you tell kids that if they work their butts off, if you are committed and be consistent good things will happen. Well, they actually saw that what you said will actually happen. I think that the trust that they will have in us as coaches going forward is going to be tremendous. Just remember, we are trying to play 15 games and win that last game of the season. We are happy about the win, but we are focusing on playing Westlake, because that happens to be the next game on our schedule"

Football Fridays in Georgia will kickoff a new season on Sept. 10 on the great GPB!