Similar North, Newnan teams clash in quarterfinals

Just 362 days removed from their last meeting, North Gwinnett and Newnan will once again do battle in a Class AAAAA state quarterfinal game tonight.

Not a whole lot has changed in that time, though one thing that will be different is the venue - Newnan's Drake Stadium instead of Tara Stadium in Jonesboro.

Certainly many of the names will be the same, especially for the host and No. 3 state-ranked Cougars (12-0), who return 17 starters from last year.

Coach Bob Sphire and his 10th-ranked Bulldogs (10-2) certainly hope the results don't change after their 38-35 win that propelled them to last season's state championship game.

But he knows one thing that will be different is that a more experienced Newnan team should pose an even more formidable challenge this time around.

"All they've done over the last year is they've put on more pounds and gotten faster," Sphire said. "I knew they were going to be loaded for bear this year after we got done playing them last year."

The Cougars have certainly lived up to Sphire's expectations, and probably those of their own coach Robert Herring, having won their first 12 games of the season - the first time in the program's storied history they've done so - by an average margin of 38 points.

Offensively, Newnan has been most impressive, averaging 40.5 points per game and scoring at least 35 in all but one contest, behind a balanced attack, led by running back Kendreas Wynn (19 rushing TDs) and a passing game that includes quarterback Russell Powell and receiver Alan Bonner.

If that sounds a lot like North's offense - led by quarterback Mikey Tamburo (2,749 yards total offense, 28 TDs) and receiver/running back Tyler Jarry (1,506 total yards, 18 TDs) - it should, according to Sphire.

"If you flip on tape of the two teams and you're not looking at the jerseys, you might not be able to tell much difference," Sphire said. "They are a spread offense almost identical to us, even personnel-wise. They've got a left-handed quarterback who can makes some quick runs, just like we do. ... It's uncanny. It's almost like we went to Football 101 at the same school."

Defensively, both teams run a similar 3-5 set, though Sphire says that is where the main difference between the Bulldogs and Cougars lies.

While North has needed all season to establish its defensive identity after having lost all but one starter from last year to graduation, Newnan has used its experience to become an immovable object.

The Cougars have not yielded a single point in six straight games dating back to Oct. 10, and has posted eight shutouts while giving up only 28 points the entire season.

That has Sphire wondering if his team will have to get creative to match last season's shootout.

"I'm thinking about going back to my roots in the '70s by going with the wishbone - two tights and three backs," Sphire quipped. "Seriously, this is not the time to be changing horses midstream. We'll just go out and do what we do and see who does it best. It will be a tall order with their defense, but hopefully, we've given the kids with less experience an opportunity to go out and make plays."


Who: North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAA) at Newnan Cougars (4-AAAAA)

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Newnan High School (I-85 South to Exit 41, Newnan/Moreland U.S. Highways 27 and 29. Turn left off the exit ramp and head back under the underpass towards Newnan. Go 2-3 miles to Sewell Road. Turn left onto Sewell Road until it ends. The school is on the right)

Coaches: Bob Sphire, North; Robert Herring, Newnan

Records: North Gwinnett 10-2; Newnan 12-0

Last week: North beat Lassiter 43-21; Newnan beat Tift Co. 42-0

Winner plays: Camden Co./Woodstock winner

North Gwinnett Leaders:

· Rushing: Tyler Jarry, 779 yards, 11 TDs

· Passing: Mikey Tamburo, 2,126 yards, 18 TDs

· Receiving: T. Jarry, 727 yards, 7 TDs

· Tackles: Zach Humphrey and Warren Roberts, 85

· Interceptions: Humphrey and Robert Nelson, 2