File Photo North Gwinnett takes the field during a game last season.
ATLANTA -- North Gwinnett has become accustomed to tough early tests in Bob Sphire's tenure as head football coach, and 2012 will be no exception.
Following their third straight appearance in the Corky Kell Classic late this past Saturday against No. 3 state-ranked Colquitt County to open the season, the Bulldogs prepare for another tough challenge.
For the fifth straight year, North welcomes a strong opponent from beyond Georgia's borders -- this time, A.C. Flora of Columbia, S.C. -- to Tom Robinson Stadium in the finale of the National High School Gridiron Challenge this upcoming Saturday at 6 p.m.
There are a few differences to the Bulldogs' border battle this year.
For one thing, this will be the first time that North is the only Gwinnett team participating.
For another there will be three games in the event instead of two, with the North game following matchups between Valdosta and North Augusta (S.C.) at noon and Stephenson and Pine Forest of Pensacola, Fla., at 3 p.m.
"It's been great in the past having a Gwinnett partnership in terms of local interest," Sphire said during a media luncheon for the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome earlier this week. "But I'm really excited, (and) I think our whole community is real excited about Valdosta coming up (here) with the great tradition they have representing south Georgia.
"And then Stephenson High School, with all the success they've had and the quality athletes they've had. What a great run Coach (Ron) Gartrell has had since he's been there. We feel great about the fact we've got three games with Georgia folks involved that really represent the whole state."
What will be the same is the challenge the host Bulldogs will face from an out-of-state opponent, something senior defensive back/running back Donnie Miles says the teams has come to look forward to.
"We get pretty hyped up for every game that we play," the 6-foot, 210-pound North Carolina commitment said. "When you're playing an in-state that you may play later on in the playoffs, it has ... intensity to it. But it's also good to go and play teams from out of state to see what they've got from different states. It's always a good challenge.
"Our coaches do a really good job in our first couple of games of putting us up against pretty good opponent and really seeing where we're at. It really helps us when it comes down to the (state) playoffs and playing in really big games."
A.C. Flora should give the Bulldogs the same experience.
After a 12-2 season that included an appearance in South Carolina's Class 3A state playoffs a year ago, the Falcons (1-0 after a season-opening 34-20 win over White Knoll of Lexington, S.C.) possess plenty of talent, including senior cornerback Will Turman and junior running back John Miller.
But it is another aspect of A.C. Flora that concerns Sphire more.
"They're really a very power-oriented football team, a physical football team," Sphire said of the Falcons. "So, their style is a little different from Byrnes (which North faced in the first multi-state event in 2008). But it will be a heck of a challenge."