Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett running back Cam Lewis (2) and the Bulldogs will face Lovejoy during the quarter finals of Class AAAAAA state high school football playoffs in Lovejoy Friday.
North at Lovejoy
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lovejoy High School at Twelve Oaks Stadium (Take I-75 to Exit 235 (Hwy. 19-41). Travel south on 19-41 (Tara Blvd) to McDonough Road. Turn right onto McDonough Road and the stadium is located approximately 1 mile on the left)
Coaches: Bob Sphire, North; Al Hughes, Lovejoy
Records: North, 11-1; Lovejoy 11-1
Last week: North beat Grayson 28-10; Lovejoy beat Marietta 36-15
Winner plays: Mill Creek-North Cobb winner
North Gwinnett leaders:
• Rushing: Michael Haynes, 635 yards
Cam Lewis, 552 yards
• Passing: Haynes, 2,112 yards
• Receiving: Caleb Scott, 639 yards
Nate Brown, 491 yards
Russell King, 436 yards
• Tackles: Carter Cross, 85 tackles
Jalen Brooks, 82 tackles
• Interceptions: Colton Manning, 3
Jalen Brooks, 3
• Sacks: Preston Green, 6
Jalen Brooks, 5
• Rushing: Travis Custis, 1,629 yaras
• Passing: Alejandro Bennefield, 2,039 yards
• Receiving: JuMichael Ramos, 653 yards
North Gwinnett Bulldogs (11-1)
Colquitt Co.* W 16-14
A.C. Flora (S.C.) W 38-0
Norcross L 31-21
at Meadowcreek W 45-20
Duluth W 42-28
at Mill Creek W 47-28
Habersham W 44-6
at Collins Hill W 38-24
Mountain View W 49-7
at P’tree Ridge W 24-20
Johns Creek W 49-19
at Grayson W 28-10
*at Georgia Dome
Lovejoy Wildcats (11-1)
at Mundy’s Mill W 44-6
at Colquitt Co. L 14-7
Alpharetta W 43-24
at East Coweta W 30-7
at Druid Hills W 58-3
Rockdale Co. W 41-0
at Morrow W 50-0
at Luella W 60-0
Newton W 51-6
Alcovy W 56-0
Tri-Cities W 51-13
Marietta W 36-15
Bob Sphire watched the film of Lovejoy's second-round playoff game and just marveled.
On the first play of the game, Lovejoy's receiver jumped up and snatched the ball away from a defender.
"They are just unbelievable athletes," Sphire said. "They have a big wide receiver and he went up for the ball and there's nothing you can do about it."
It's a challenge North Gwinnett will face in Friday night's Class AAAAAA quarterfinal game against Lovejoy at Twelve Oaks Stadium.
North's defense did a nice job of slowing down Grayson's wing-T offense last week and forced four turnovers. Now they'll face a totally different brand of offense with Lovejoy's spread attack.
"They are the best coached football team we've seen on film in quite a while," said Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes, who will occasionally coach from a chair on the sideline due to two knee replacement surgeries.
The winner will play the Mill Creek vs. North Cobb winner in next week's semifinals.
"They have the right ingredients to be good," Sphire said. "Lovejoy presents the full menu to defend. They are very multidimensional."
Lovejoy running back Travis Custis (2,039 yards, 29 TDs) averages 8.2 yards a carry and is committed to Georgia Tech.
"He's a special individual," Hughes said. "We're smart enough to realize you have to use people like that."
Lovejoy has three recovers 6-foot-4 or taller that also play on the basketball team. The group is led by 6-6 A.J. Jackson, who is committed Auburn. JuMichael Ramos is a 6-4 receiver headed to Georgia Tech as well.
"We try to get the ball to those basketball players," Hughes said.
Quarterback Alejandro Benefield is committed to Tennessee-Chattanooga and is one of seven players committed a college. The Wildcats have three or four other players mulling college offers.
"They are huge on the offensive line," Sphire said. "The quarterback is athletic and makes good decisions."
Lovejoy has outscored its opponents 44-7 this year. The offense has scored 30 or more points in 10 games, including six with 50 or more points. The defense has allowed 14 or more points three times and has four shutouts.
"Defensively, they are incredible," Sphire said.
The unit is led by defensive end Arshad Jackson, who has scholarship offers from Division I-BCS schools.
The Wildcats will try to slow down quarterback Michael Haynes and the North offense. Haynes has thrown for 2,112 yards and 26 TDs and rushed for 635 yards and three TDs. The emergence of running back Cam Lewis the second half of the season has helped the offense. Lewis has 552 yards rushing and six TDs.
"He's not the only thing they have by any stretch of the imagination," Hughes said of Haynes. "They have some really good skill players and the offensive line is a special group of young men. They have the entire package."
It's the first meeting on the football field for these two schools, but they did face off during 7-on-7 passing league tournaments this summer. Sphire said after Friday's second-round win that Lovejoy 'beat us unmercifully this summer.'
"In 7-on-7, you don't have any equipment, you don't have to worry about the line scrimmage, there's no threat of the running game, so that's not a fair assessment," Hughes said.
The two teams also share one common opponent in Colquitt County. The Wildcats' only loss was a 14-7 defeat at Colquitt County in Week 2. It's the same Packers team North beat on a last-second field goal 16-14 two weeks earlier.
"You look at it and evaluate how you want to," Hughes said. "One team beat the pants off the other. We lost to them. It's a self explanatory situation."
Lovejoy had 19 penalties and had two touchdowns called back against Colquitt.
"Those people trying to compare scores and things is like yin and yang," Sphire said. "It was a heck of a football game between Colquitt and Lovejoy and us against Colquitt. Both games could have gone either direction."
North Gwinnett is in the quarterfinals for the fifth time in seven years. The Bulldogs reached the 2007 state finals, but have not reached the semifinals since then.
Lovejoy has quite an impressive resume as well. The Wildcats were state runner-up last year in Class AAAA and are 35-3 over the last three seasons.
"They are playing with superior confidence because they are well coached," Sphire said. "They have a system that they have bought in to. They want what they didn't get last year."