By Brandon Brigman Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org Losses for the North Gwinnett football program are rare. Even more uncommon is a defeat for Bulldogs head coach Bob Sphire. But heading into tonight's first-round playoff game against Marietta, No. 5 North Gwinnett has that bitter taste of a loss in its mouth. Norcross defeated North Gwinnett for the second year in a row last week. It was also the second time the Blue Devils have ended the Bulldogs' unbeaten season and won the Region 7-AAAAA title. "I was telling someone the other day, since 1998, teams I have coached have won 10 or more games, so I'm not used to losing," Sphire said. "But at the same time this program has to put last week's game behind them. Last week was last week. I give Norcross a lot of credit, they played a great game, but we've got to move on." Since Sphire left Lexington Catholic (Ky.) and took over as North's head coach last season, the Bulldogs are 20-3. The Bulldogs' strength has been their offense, which averages 28 points a game. Norcross held North to it lowest point total of the season last week. "I don't even know how you can have 418 yards, 20 first downs and only score 14 points," Sphire said. "You almost have to try to make that happen. I don't know how you make that many yards and first downs and not win." While the offense struggled to score points, the defense didn't help either. The Bulldogs allowed their most points of the season and gave up 365 yards. "Defensively, we missed a lot of tackles," Sphire said. "We've got to tackle." Marietta is coming off its regular season finale with a loss as well. The Blue Devils lost to No. 1 North Cobb 49-0 last Friday. It was second straight loss after losing to Woodstock 31-7 the week before. The Blue Devils' only other loss is to Harrison, which is ranked eighth in the state. "They're dangerous, fast and quick, quick, quick," Sphire said. "They're not extremely big, but they've got some weapons. They don't have as big of guys as Norcross, but they've got guys that can make plays." North has its own playmakers in quarterback Michael Tamburo (1,486 yards, 13 TDs) and running back Tyler Jarry (509 yards, 11 TDs). While on defense Eric Eberhardt (75 tackles, 91â "2 sacks) and Robert Pritchard (36 tackles, 5 sacks) lead the way. "I think we've moved on," Sphire said. "I'm not sure how to put this, but maybe with the position we were in having already secured the No. 1 or No. 2 spot, we were looking ahead to the playoffs."
SideBar: MARIETTA AT NORTH GWINNETT
' Who: Marietta Blue Devils
(5-AAAAA) at North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAA)
' When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
' Where: North Gwinnett High School (From I-85, go west on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road until it becomes Suwanee Dam Road. School is on the right)
' Coaches: Bob Sphire, North; James Richards, Marietta
' Records: North, 9-1; Marietta 7-3
' Last week: North Gwinnett lost to Norcross 24-14; Marietta lost to North Cobb 49-0
' Winner plays: Brookwood-Sprayberry winner
n North Gwinnett Leaders:
' Rushing: Tyler Jarry, 509 yards
' Passing: Michael Tamburo, 1,486 yards
' Receiving: Jarry, 532 yards
' Tackles: Eric Eberhardt, 75
' Interceptions: Marquese Quiles, 7