As high school football’s regular season begins to wind down, many games take on postseason implications.
But few will have a wider range of those implications than when No. 2 state-ranked North Gwinnett travels to Mill Creek for a very important Region 7-AAAAA matchup tonight at 7:30.
NORTH GWINNETT AT MILL CREEK
North Gwinnett Bulldogs (7-AAAAA)
Coach: Bob Sphire
Record: 7-0, 4-0 region
Last week: Beat Mountain View 56-10
Mill Creek Hawks (7-AAAAA)
Coach: Shannon Jarvis
Record: 3-4, 2-2 region
Last week: Lost to Collins Hill 42-34
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: North won 30-3 last year
Directions to Mill Creek High School: From I-85, take the Hamilton Mill Road exit and go east. At the immediate light, turn left on Ga. Highway 124/Braselton Highway. School is approximately three miles ahead on the left.
• 2009: North Gwinnett 30, Mill Creek 3
• 2008: North Gwinnett 40, Mill Creek 24
• 2007: North Gwinnett 35, Mill Creek 2
• 2006: North Gwinnett 31, Mill Creek 14
The scenario is simple for the visiting Bulldogs (7-0, 4-0), who can secure a spot in the Class AAAAA state playoffs and move to within a game of locking down the region title with a victory.
However, coach Bob Sphire is trying to keep his team’s focus less on postseason scenarios and more on this week’s opponent, Mill Creek.
“We’re not even trying to think about the big picture right now,” Sphire said. “What good would it do you anyway? This is a big game, but there’s still a lot of football left to be played, so we’re just zoned in on Mill Creek.
“I can’t even fathom any team taking Mill Creek lightly. They very well could be the best team on our schedule.”
Likewise, Mill Creek’s focus is more on the immediate task at hand, and coach Shannon Jarvis’ respect for North is quite mutual.
However, he also points out the Hawks (3-4, 2-2) don’t have the luxury of totally ignoring the ramifications of tonight’s game.
A win would be a major boost to Mill Creek’s postseason hopes, not to mention how it could further complicate the already crowded region standings, while a loss would make getting to the playoffs an uphill battle.
“You can’t keep (the region race) totally out of it,” Jarvis said. “All these games are huge in a competitive region like this, but you’re always playing a quality opponent, so you’d better take care of the task at hand.
“Our team is pretty mature and understands that. We approach every game like our backs are against the wall because in any region game our backs are against the wall.”
Given how successful both teams offenses have been this season, the two defenses in tonight’s game could have their backs against the wall.
Both North and Mill Creek have multiple weapons in a very balanced attack.
The Bulldogs feature the quarterback tandem of Auburn commitment C.J. Uzomah (929 all-purpose yards, 11 TDs responsible for) and Scotty Hosch (56-84-0, 682 yards, 9 TDs), plus a deep running back corps led by Donnie Miles and Ethan Kilgore — two of five different runners with 135 or more yard on the season — and a line anchored by Southern Mississippi-bound Garrett Clark.
The Hawks, meanwhile, counter with a pretty balanced group of its own, with quarterback John Russ posting 1,564 total yards and 14 combined TDs complemented by running backs Devonte Lewis (759 total yards, 7 total TDs) and Tyler Cierski (66 car., 344 yards, 7 TDs) and receiver Brandon Hayman (27 rec., 517 yards, 4 TDs).
“Mill Creek is a double-edged sword,” Sphire said. “Any one of their skill position players can hurt you. They can hurt you by land and by air. They’ve got a lot of weapons.”
That sets up for what should be quite a shootout, something Jarvis isn’t necessarily looking forward to, but something he says the Hawks are prepared for given the fact they’ve had a few of them this season.
“I was asked that question last week before we played Collins Hill, and I tried to avoid answering it because you never want to get into a shootout,” Jarvis said. “Hopefully, we can continue with our success offensively. But with North, you have to have your kids make plays quickly because their defense will put pressure on you. You can’t play slow against North. You’ve got to be multiple and put the pressure on the defense and make them defend the whole field.”