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Gutsy moves pay off for Grayson, North

Maybe Mickey Conn left his book on the bus.

Maybe Bob Sphire's was in his office somewhere.

Either way, it was very evident that neither coach was reading his too closely when they made their game-changing calls on Friday night.

Conn's Grayson team was trailing 21-14 with under four minutes to go when running back Decorja Canada scored from one yard out.

As the Rams were lining up to kick the potential game-tying extra point, North Cobb jumped offsides.

Instead of the ball being placed at the 3-yard line, it was moved up to the 11⁄2. And Conn decided 11⁄2 yards was short enough to go for the win instead of the tie.

So he pulled his kicking unit off the field and put his offense back on to go for two. Not exactly a by-the-book kind of move.

But it paid off when Canada ran in for the conversion and a 22-21 lead.

Conn said he actually was thinking about going for two even before the offsides penalty, but his coaches talked him out of it.

"They had jumped offsides earlier in the game on a PAT, and we were hoping they would do it again," Conn said. "And when they did, it was like a sign from God to go for two. So I said, 'Let's go for it and get this thing over with and go home.'"

The head coach said he had two plays in mind when he called the starting offense over to discuss the crucial conversion. His players left little doubt as to which play they wanted to run.

"And I just saw it in their eyes," Conn said. "When I looked into our kids' eyes, I knew we were going to get it. There was no doubt. I would have been very surprised if we didn't."

At about the same time Conn was making his two-point gamble, Sphire was making a risky call of his own.

North had trailed Chattahoochee 17-7 earlier in the half and now the Bulldogs were lining up for a game-tying field goal midway through the fourth quarter.

Senior Chad Gross booted the 32-yard field goal through the uprights to momentarily tie the game at 17-17. But Gross was roughed by a Cougar defender in the process. The penalty would give the Bulldogs first-and-goal at the 7-yard line if Sphire elected to take it, but it would also take the three points off the board and North would be trailing yet again.

Sphire didn't care.

He wanted to win the game on this drive, this possession, so he took the points off the board and three plays later QB Michael Tamburo snuck in from one yard out to give the Bulldogs a 21-17 victory.

Again, not exactly by the book.

"If you talked with my staff, I think half of them wanted me to take the penalty and half of them didn't," Sphire said. "Which really didn't help me any. So I just had to make a decision. So much of coaching is feel and gut instinct and I just felt like we had great momentum at that time."

Which isn't too say his heart didn't go up into his throat on the second play following the penalty when running back Evan Gilles was leveled by a Chattahoochee safety at the 1-yard line.

"He took a vicious hit," Sphire said. "And my life kind of flashed right before my eyes right there. It was one of those bone-jarring, sometimes ball-jarring kind of hit."

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Gilles hung on to the ball. Sphire then called a timeout after the big hit and, like Conn did with his starting offense, asked his lineman point-blank about the next play call.

"It was a little bit longer than I like to run a quarterback sneak from," Sphire said. "I asked the offensive line about it and they convinced me they knew who to run over. I looked at them in the eye and said, 'Are you telling me you can get us in there? And they said they could."

Tamburo scored on the very next play to send the Bulldogs into the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.

And just like with the Grayson victory at North Cobb, the book was nowhere to be found.