Rumble at the Ridge
Region title on line when Bulldogs, Lions clash

At practice Monday at North Gwinnett, Bob Sphire heard a near-forgotten sound.

During a typical defensive drill, screams and shouts erupted from the other end of the practice field.

"It sounded like years ago, when a Civil War battle was going on and there would shouts from the other side (of the battlefield)," Sphire said. "It is interesting, it has been a month since we have had that kind of uproar."

The epicenter for the return of the intensity didn't come from Sphire or the North coaches. The quaking began from the players. As in previous years, North enters the final game of the regular season in a battle for the 7-AAAAA title. This time against Peachtree Ridge in a matchup of two teams that have represented the region in the state title game the past two seasons. Peachtree Ridge tied. North lost. Neither own 7-AAAAA titles.

"I didn't need to say a word about who (Peachtree Ridge) is," Sphire said. "They are not dumb."

"We definitely would love to win the region championship," said Peachtree Ridge coach Bill Ballard. "Anytime you start out at the beginning of the season it is one of the goals you set for your team and our guys have stayed focused on trying to do that."

Both teams ride winning streaks into tonight's game at Peachtree Ridge. North lost its season opener to nationally recognized Byrnes (S.C.) and the Lions lost their first two, but since then both have blown through 7-AAAAA to 7-0 records.

"We played those two tough games early on purpose," Ballard said of close losses to state-ranked Harrison and Lowndes. "If we were going to compete in the region we are in, we knew it would prepare us to be in the ball games we would have to play later in the season."

Tonight is one of those games. For both teams. But while the playoff picture is stick-figure simple for Peachtree Ridge, the Bulldogs' landscape is more impressionist than photo-quality.

For the Lions, a win means the No. 1 seed and a region title. For North, a win means the same, but a loss could spiral the Bulldogs to a No. 3 seed if Collins Hill beats Norcross and wins a coin toss versus North. The Eagles and Bulldogs did not meet in the regular season. A No. 3 seed means no Week 1 home playoff game.

"That adds a little different element to it," Sphire said, quickly qualifying. "I don't want to get too wrapped up in it. Obviously we control our own destiny. Our ultimate goal is winning Dec. 13 (the AAAAA state championship game). I have never gotten too much into home and away.

"My teams play pretty well on the road."

The Bulldogs will need to tonight if they want to play at home again. The unspoiled region records of the two teams ends their similarities.

North, as it has the past few seasons, scores and scores and scores. The Bulldogs are averaging 34.8 points per game and 374 yards per game this season on the shoulder of quarterback Mikey Tamburo and feet of hybrid running back Tyler Jarry.

"The big thing is we want to try to contain the big play capability," Ballard said of North. "When you are playing a team as talented as they are it is almost unfair."

It's nice for Ballard he brings a defense which is giving up 11.6 points a game and coming off a game in which it allowed just seven points to the athlete-loaded Norcross Blue Devils. The shining star of the Lions' D is LSU commit Kevin Minter but the Lions are mostly a nameless group.

"It is a team atmosphere," Ballard said. "They all get excited together and play hard together. We are not good enough to go out there and have one guy win it for us."

Lost in the potential firsts (Peachtree Ridge wins over North) and the never dones (region titles) floating on tonight's outcome is the proximity of the two schools. Peachtree Ridge is a sprawl-induced spinoff of North. And no matter how Sphire tries to diminish the importance or Ballard trumpets the value, the game brings an intrinsic excitement only amplified by the stakes.

"This is a rivalry," Sphire said. "Do we really have to say much to the kids? That will all take care of itself. We are competitors. They are competitors. We are both going to go compete."

SideBar: North Gwinnett at Peachtree Ridge

North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAA)

· Coach: Bob Sphire

· Record: 8-1, 7-0 region

· Last week: Beat Duluth 53-0

Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAA)

· Coach: Bill Ballard

· Record: 7-2, 7-0 region

· Last week: Beat Norcross 20-7

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: North won 31-19 last year

Directions to Peachtree Ridge High School: From I-85, take the Old Peachtree Road exit and go west. School is roughly two miles ahead on the right.

Series history

· 2007: North Gwinnett 31, Peachtree Ridge 19

· 2006: North Gwinnett 38, Peachtree Ridge 20

· 2005: North Gwinnett 28, Peachtree Ridge 20

· 2004: North Gwinnett 49, Peachtree Ridge 0