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Balance, developing line lead North's offensive charge

Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett running back Joseph Jones (2) is dragged down by Mill Creek's Brandon Holley (39) during Friday night's game.

Photo: Brian Kamer North Gwinnett running back Joseph Jones (2) is dragged down by Mill Creek's Brandon Holley (39) during Friday night's game.

Having a balanced attack is something any football coach would hope for in an offense.

It comes as little surprise North Gwinnett has had one of Gwinnett County's most balanced offenses throughout the 2011 season as the No. 8 state-ranked Bulldogs (9-1) open the Class AAAAA state playoffs Friday against Archer.

"We hope we're in a place where we can take what is given to us (by opposing defenses) and exploit it," North coach Bob Sphire said of his offense. "We know we have to do that and adjust each game."

In fact, North entered last week's regular season finale against Peachtree Ridge averaging 168 yards and roughly three touchdowns per game on the ground and 221 yards through and about two touchdowns per game through the air.

And the manner in which the Bulldogs have achieved that balance is intriguing.

Through the first third of the regular season, they were far more reliant on the passing game, paced by the arm of senior quarterback Scotty Hosch and dynamic receivers like Chad Scott, Alex Boyd and Russell King, with about 72 percent of their total yardage coming through the air.

But beginning with the middle third of the season, the production began to balance out.

Finally, the last three weeks have seen a shift toward North's running game, with running backs Donnie Miles and Joe Jones have led ground attack that has produced roughly 74 percent of the Bulldogs' yardage.

While adapting to opposing defensive sets is part of the explanation in the shift, Sphire believes Hosch's higher comfort level with the spread offense's option package -- and more importantly, the development of the Bulldogs' offensive line -- has played just as big a role.

"One of our biggest worries coming into the season is that our offensive line. We lost so much from last year," Sphire said. "Their development has been obvious over the course of the year, and we've been able to do more things in the running game."

While the Bulldogs did have guard Austin Parker and tackle Alex Stoehr as returning starters, the three new starters did have plenty to learn, and depth had to be developed with an early season injury to Parker.

The former was especially true for center Evan Gholson, who moved from right tackle as a sophomore to right guard as a junior before trying to fill some big shoes this year with the graduation of two-year starter Manrey Saint-Amour.

But after a few weeks, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior says he and his teammates began to develop a better understanding of the offense's complicated blocking schemes, as well as a stronger chemistry as a unit.

"It took us a few weeks to really jell," Gholson said. "We want to be able to run the ball and make it easier for us to pass. So, we do a lot of drills during the weak in practice, and ... a lot of things have come together for us."

North offensive line didn't come into this season with many household names like it had the past few years, when stars like Austin Shepherd, Ja'Wuan James, Garrett Clark and Saint-Amour went on to play at successful college programs.

But that may soon change as Sphire believes the current group, which also includes juniors Devondre Seymour and Alex Kwon, is beginning to make people sit up and take notice.

"Probably our athleticism is the biggest (asset)," Sphire said of his linemen. "Alex Stoehr is probably the most athletic, and he's just now starting to make a name for himself. Devondre Seymour was kind of a project. He'd never played football before he came to us, but he's come a long way. Evan Gholson has done a really good job at center and taken charge of the O-line. ... So, (the line) is really what enhances our offense."