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North aims to end trend

North Gwinnett is no stranger to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

Since Bob Sphire took over the program in 2006, the Bulldogs have reached the third round every year.

But it's in the third round and later when North has had to match up with South Georgia teams and it has not had much success.

Tift County took out the Bulldogs in 2006, Lowndes did it in the 2007 state finals, and Newnan last year. North Gwinnett will face another South Georgia team tonight in defending Class AAAAA state champion Camden County.

"It can be against anybody this time of year. It's the top eight in the state and they are all good," Sphire said. "Obviously, they are defending state champs for a reason. Coach (Jeff) Herron does a great job with them."

Under Herron's direction Camden County has been one of the top programs in the state this decade. The Wildcats have won 110 games since 2001, nine consecutive region titles and two state championships.

"I have a ton of admiration for the type of program they have," Sphire said.

It will be a rare road game for the Wildcats, who are no stranger to traveling to Atlanta. Camden began the season at the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome and has been a regular participant in the season opener the last six years. Camden's only other road game this year was to Savannah to play Johnson. Camden has played 10 home games this season and will take a six-plus hour drive to Suwanee from the Georgia coast for tonight's game.

"I'm pretty happy. I would rather not get on a bus for five and a half or six hours," Sphire said. "From a consistency standpoint, it's nice to sleep in your own bed, eat a home cooked meal, get that extra hour of rest."

While North has not had a lot of success against South Georgia teams, it did beat Newnan in the 2007 state quarterfinals on the way to the state championship game. A big difference in all of those games with South Georgia teams is they were on the road. North will host its first quarterfinal game in school history.

"I'm tickled for this community," Sphire said. "I could not be more excited for the Suwanee and Sugar Hill communities to have the opportunity to host a game like this against a team like Camden."

The Camden (10-2) vs. North (12-0) matchup brings a contrast of offensive styles together. The Wildcats run the wing-T and are among the best in the state at it. North plays out of the spread, primarily throwing the ball.

"Oh my gosh. It's incredible," Sphire said of Camden's offense. "You pop in that film and with nine minutes left and a 10-7 lead, Lowndes never gets the ball back. They converted three fourth downs. What great execution in a crucial time."

The biggest common factor for both teams -- the defenses. North recorded its second shutout of the season in last week's 24-0 win over Woodstock. Camden has five shutouts this year and beat South Georgia power Lowndes 10-7 last week.

"You can talk about their offense, but they hang their hat on their defense," Sphire said. "They have some crossover personnel that they may rest on offense, but not on defense. They are unbelievable and the defense is a lot like (South Carolina power) Byrnes."

North is undefeated this season and won the school's first region title in its 52-year history. Now the Bulldogs need just three more wins to bring home the program's first state championship.

"It's good to be playing this time of year," Sphire said.