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Unbeaten North faces stingy Collins Hill defense

Before he began to make a name for himself as one of the county's top quarterbacks this season, North Gwinnett's Michael Tamburo used to hang around Collins Hill games.

Collins Hill head football coach Larry Sherrill remembers Tamburo as Mikey, the younger brother of former Eagle quarterback A.J. Tamburo, a senior on the 2000 team. The family moved after A.J. graduated, sending the younger Tamburo to North.

Now Sherrill and his fellow coaches will have to slow down "Mikey" and the undefeated Bulldogs tonight. The left-hander, only a sophomore, already has emerged as one of the county's best QBs.

"(Tamburo) was a little guy when A.J. played for us, so it's always interesting to see how kids mature," Sherrill said. "He functions really well in their offense.

"I read where (North) Coach (Bob) Sphire was very happy with him. He orchestrates everything they do."

Tamburo led two fourth-quarter drives last week in a 31-20 win over Forsyth Central, capping both with touchdown runs to save North. The victory kept the 4-0 Bulldogs unbeaten at 2-0 in Region 7-AAAAA and tied for the region lead with Norcross and their opponent tonight, Collins Hill.

The Eagles (3-1) are playing phenomenal defense, so moving the ball won't be easy for Tamburo and the Bulldogs.

"These (Collins Hill) guys are big, mean and nasty," said Sphire, in his first year at North. "These guys are really good. If there's a better defensive team in Georgia, I'd like to see them. Maybe it's because I'm a rookie but I can't imagine one better."

Sphire said he can't find a weakness in the Collins Hill defense, praising what he sees on film of defensive linemen T.J. Greenstone and Bo Adebayo. He said the Eagles' linebackers are underrated and he is impressed with the entire secondary, particularly free safety Michael Young.

North already faced a very good Brookwood defense - Sphire's team won that game 10-3 - and he thinks the Collins Hill group may be even better. Brookwood is the only team to hold North's offense in check this season as the Bulldogs put up 27 on Walton and 31 on both Mill Creek and Forsyth Central.

"Brookwood had a really phenomenal linebacking corps," Sphire said. "I don't want this to sound bad toward Brookwood, but position by position if you add all 11 up, Collins Hill is outstanding. I'm just saying, if there's a better group in Georgia high school football I'd like to see it."

Sherrill certainly doesn't have any complaints with how his unit has performed thus far. Collins Hill has given up just 10 points in four games - a TD vs. Tift County and a field goal vs. Peachtree Ridge - but it hasn't faced an offensive as explosive as North.

Still, the sum of the Eagles' defensive work is impressive. They haven't allowed a TD since the second game vs. Tift County and have already recorded three safeties.

Their success also has come against varying styles, the wing-T of Peachtree Ridge and Grayson, the no-huddle, spread passing style of Tift County and the zone attack used by Mill Creek.

"We're happy with the results on defense," Sherrill said. "But we see things we need to improve. We tell our kids you can't be the same as last week. You've got to keep getting better."

The better team tonight can claim the upper hand in ultra-competitive 7-AAAAA. The other key region game today pits 2-0 Norcross vs. 1-1 Peachtree Ridge, so the standings could mix up a bit after this weekend.

"There's still a lot of football to be played," said Sphire, who won his 150th career game last weekend. "A lot of things can happen in six weeks. We're not putting too many eggs in this one basket. Somebody's going to win, somebody's going to lose. Nobody's out of it if they lose and nobody's in the driver's seat if they win. Although Collins Hill would be in better shape than us because they beat Peachtree Ridge."