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New rivals Archer, Central to meet

Central Gwinnett's George Morris (27) cuts up field past Dacula's Dexter Walker (6) earlier this season.

Central Gwinnett's George Morris (27) cuts up field past Dacula's Dexter Walker (6) earlier this season.

Some opposing players are just numbers on jerseys, faceless foes who aren’t anything more than that. This isn’t one of those weeks for the players at Archer and Central Gwinnett.

When Archer opened up last year, it took a good chunk of its student population from the Central district, meaning tonight’s first varsity football game between the two schools will pit former classmates against each other.

Archer at Central Gwinnett

Archer Tigers (8-AAAAA)

Coach: Andy Dyer

Record: 2-4, 1-3 region

Last week: Beat Shiloh 17-14

Central Gwinnett Black Knights (8-AAAAA)

Coach: Todd Wofford

Record: 2-5, 0-5 region

Last week: Lost to Parkview 24-17

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: First meeting

Directions to Central Gwinnett High School: From I-85, take Sugarloaf Parkway exit and go east to Ga. Highway 29. Turn left on Highway 29 and school is on the right at Gwinnett Drive.

“All of (the players) know each other, that’s what they’ve told me,” first-year Central head coach Todd Wofford said. “It’s the first time all year I didn’t have to give any kind of motivational speech. You know them and they know you so that’s motivation enough. ... The way the kids talk and hang out with each other, I think this could grow into a rivalry easily.”

The two programs also share more than friendships that cross district lines. Both are trying to compete in tough Region 8-AAAAA against obstacles — Archer as a second-year school and Central as a once-proud program that slipped in recent seasons. Central got off to a great start under Wofford, whose fast-paced offense has put up big numbers all season. His defense has steadily improved, too, highlighted by a battle with perennial power Parkview that ended in a narrow 24-17 loss. Wofford has been impressed with linebacker Trey Johnson, who has really stepped up his play the past two weeks to lead the defense.

“We were in the game until the last play with one of the great programs around here,” said Wofford, whose team was hurt last week by its lack of production in four early red zone trips. “The last two weeks the defense has played great. They’ve gotten better with each game.”

Central has lost five straight since a 2-0 start, though the tough schedule featured a run of all the region’s top playoff contenders except Grayson. The Black Knights (2-5, 0-5 region) aim to get back on track against a 2-4 Archer team that is coming off a milestone, its first region win.

The Tigers defeated Shiloh 17-14 last Friday, getting solid play from their defense and doing just enough offensively against an attacking, eight-man front from Shiloh.

“We could be sitting 4-2 at this point or we could be 0-6,” Archer head coach Andy Dyer said. “We’re two plays or so away from it going either way.”

Instead, they’re in the middle of those two. Blowout losses to region powers Grayson and Brookwood to start 8-AAAAA aside, Archer had good chances to win its other four games. It split those four, pulling out tight victories over Mountain View and Shiloh, but letting leads slip away in narrow losses to Duluth and Berkmar. Tonight could be another one of those nail-biters.

“It’s giong to be a big challenge,” Dyer said. “Central’s gotten better and better the last few weeks.”