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No title, but plenty of meaning for Bulldogs, Lions

North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge have met in the final game of the regular season the last two years with the region title on the line.

That’s not the case tonight.

North Gwinnett at Peachtree Ridge

North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAA)

Coach: Bob Sphire

Record: 9-0, 6-0 region

Last week: Beat Duluth 25-7

Peachtree Ridge Lions (7-AAAAA)

Coach: Bill Ballard

Record: 6-3, 3-3 region

Last week: Lost to Mill Creek 14-7

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: North Gwinnett won 21-7 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.

The No. 2 Bulldogs wrapped up their second straight region title last week and are in the postseason.

Peachtree Ridge lost a heartbreaker last week and now needs a win and some help to make the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

“It’s a really weird feel to it since the previous four years we’ve played for the region title in the final game,” North head coach Bob Sphire said. “But it’s Peachtree Ridge. That’s enough said.”

The Bulldogs can get their 20th straight regular season win against a Peachtree Ridge team they’ve beaten five of the last six years. North won 21-7 last year on its way to the program’s first region crown.

“We wish that was the case,” Peachtree Ridge coach Bill Ballard said of playing for the region title. “That’s what you set as your goal. Things just didn’t work out for us this year.

“North is a rival of ours. We’ve only won one game in the series and we’re trying to make it more of a rival.”

Despite already having the No. 1 seed wrapped up, Sphire still sees plenty of things to play for in tonight’s game.

“We’ve got to work on some things and build momentum going into the playoffs,” Sphire said. “We’re treating this just like any other game against another quality opponent.”

Peachtree Ridge would just like to make the playoffs. The Lions need a win over North Gwinnett and a Duluth victory over Mill Creek to force a three-way tie for the No. 4 spot in the region. A coin flip would determine the final playoff team.

“They’ve got a legitimate chance to get in,” Sphire said. “They do still have that carrot hanging out there. For them it’s North Gwinnett, that’s enough.”

The Lions started the season 5-0 and were ranked No. 3 in the state. Since then they’ve lost three of the last four and dropped out of the top 10.

A big reason for the decline has been inexperience and injuries. Peachtree Ridge had to replace 15 starters off last year’s team that reached the state quarterfinals. A lack of depth combined with injuries to some of their key players has left the Lions vulnerable at times.

“We got injured at the wrong time,” Ballard said. “We’re starting to get healthy, but it might be a week late.”

The one constant has been the defense. The unit has not allowed more than 14 points in the last six games. In its three losses, the offense managed to score just one touchdown each game.

“I see them as a team that plays great defense and don’t let you score a lot of points,” Sphire said. “They give you so many different fronts and blitzes. They bring guys from different angles. They are very aggressive up front.”

North Gwinnett’s opponent in the first round of the playoffs will be Lassiter, the No. 4 seed from Region 5. The two teams met in the season opener in the Corky Kell Classic, which North won convincingly 34-14.

“It’s about being ready for the playoffs,” Sphire said.