0

Early matchup, big meaning
Region title implications loom as North meets Norcross in 7-AAAAA showdown

North Gwinnett and Norcross may come into their Region 7-AAAAA meeting with considerably different overall records.

But recent history has indicated the winner over the annual clash between the No. 3 state-ranked Bulldogs and the Blue Devils has a rather big say in who wins the region.

And with both teams at 1-0 in region play after victories last week, tonight's clash at Blue Devils Stadium figures to feature more of the same.

"It's a big game for both teams," Norcross coach Keith Maloof said. "Our kids know it. I'm sure their kids know it. It'll be no different from any other Norcross-North Gwinnett game. It's just not the 10th game of the season."

Both teams have made the Class AAAAA state playoffs the last three seasons, and both have been a factor in the region race twice playing the deciding game in the final week.

And both the Blue Devils and Bulldogs come into tonight's game having found themselves to an extent.

For North (3-0, 1-0), it has been a gradual process.

Starting the season with plenty of question marks - particularly replacing graduated offensive playmakers Mikey Tamburo and Tyler Jarry, plus six defensive starters from a year ago - the Bulldogs have built off their season-opening upset of nationally ranked Prattville of Alabama.

With new playmakers like quarterback C.J. Uzomah (628 total yards, 8 TDs) and tight end Cody Gower (10-105, 3 TDs) having emerged behind a veteran line led by Austin Shepherd and Ju'Wuan James on offense and a defense that has allowed only 10.3 points per game, North has picked up where it left off.

"I'm pleased the way we've utilized all our positions and gotten everyone involved," North coach Bob Sphire said. "We've shared the load quite a bit (offensively), and that goes back to confidence in our offensive line.

"But (Norcross is) always dangerous, especially with their skill guys. They can all go 80 yards on any given snap. ... And defensively, they tightened the chain last week. ... They were searching to get some guys in the right spot, and it looks like they've done that."

Indeed, Norcross (1-2, 1-0) had to make some changes defensively after giving up 77 points in losses to Walton and South Gwinnett its first two weeks of the season.

But last week, the Blue Devils forced two turnovers and had five sacks - three by defensive lineman Adrian Hubbard - in last week's 31-7 win over Mill Creek.

Combined with the explosiveness of offensive weapons like receiver Geremy Davis and running backs Kendrix Huitt and Delino DeShields, Norcross definitely seems rejuvenated.

But Maloof knows that effort must continue if the Blue Devils are to post their third win over North in the last four meetings.

"We fixed a lot of things (last week) - both physically and personnel-wise," Maloof said. "Obviously, we had to get more physical. We were a little soft early on (this season), so we had to get down to it, and it paid off."