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Norcross, North Gwinnett set for battle to determine 6-A state champion

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The Georgia Dome will host the best teams in the state to decide the champions of each classification on the final weekend of the GHSA 2013 football season beginning on Friday afternoon and concluding on Saturday night. While all the matchups promise to be good games, one of the best is sure to be the battle between Region-7 rivals Norcross, the defending state champion, and North Gwinnett that will crown the Class-AAAAAA champion.

The Blue Devils (12-2) and Bulldogs (13-1) played early in the season and North came from two touchdowns down early to win going away in front of the Norcross home fans. Since their first encounter, both teams have established clear identities and the two teams that will take the field Saturday night are very different from the ones that last squared off.

Norcross is led by their defense, a unit that has improved every week and held Colquitt County to just three field goals last week even though the Packers began four of their first six possessions on the Norcross side of the field. The Lorenzo Carter led D has allowed just 25 points in their four playoff victories, a 6.2 per game average-and keep in mind that is against playoff and championship caliber teams.

The Blue Devil offense is loaded with talent at all the skill positions, yet has not been a dominant unit. Because of outstanding athletes like quarterback AJ Bush, running backs Josh Boyd and Myles Autry and Clinton Lynch at wide receiver Norcross should be expected to have a minimum 4-5 big plays on the offensive side of the ball and put up 25+ points.

Bush is a dual-threat QB that can hurt you with both his arm and his legs. In the 28-7 win over Lowndes two weeks ago, Bush had more success through the air (11-for-26 with 140 yards, 2 TDs) than he did running (43 yards on 11 carries), but then in the win over Colquitt County the senior racked up 113 yards on only 14 carries while not passing much due to the bad weather conditions.

GHSA Championship Schedule

The North offense is a high risk, high reward attack that is led by quarterback Hayden Sphire, anchored by running back CJ Leggett and includes Nate Brown, one of the top receiving prospects in the nation. Caleb Scott is also a threat (13 receptions for 141 yards in the last two games) and forces opposing defenses to play more man-to-man. Factor in Leggett (446 yards on 76 carries in last two games), and it is easy to see why they light up the scoreboard.

The Bulldog defense can give up points in batches, as evidenced by the Mill Creek win and the Collins Hill loss, but have shown tremendous resiliency in being able to step up and get stops in critical situations.

If Norcross can shut down the North ground attack and force them to the air the chance for turnovers increases, as well as denying the Bulldogs control of the clock. However, Sphire is an outstanding game manager and is confident in changing plays at the line which will be a bigger challenge for Norcross.

This writer expects to see Leggett break the century mark again while North scores in the mid-to-high 20s-the question is will that be enough to dethrone Norcross?

Examiner is going with North Gwinnett by a slim margin for the following reasons:

  • After both teams played in bad weather conditions last week, playing the Dome will mean better ball protection, resulting in few turnovers and less extra chances for either team.
  • Less turnovers means drives must be finished with points, and North has kicker Michael D’Angola. Coach Bob Sphire calls his kicker “money” and with a number of big kicks already this season D’Angola gives the Bulldogs a better chance of adding points.
  • Norcross will have big plays, but will not be able to put together consistent drives that control the clock and result in points.

This is going to be a tightly contested game with great individual performances on both sides that will come down to the wire. Gwinnett County is going to be represented well.

Buford is also going to be in action at the Dome as they look to complete a perfect season with another state title when they play Washington County, also undefeated, on Friday afternoon, so Gwinnett could be home to two state champions-again.

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