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Region 7 coaches filled with pride in quarterfinals

Norcross head coach Keith Maloof offers congratulations to running back Alvin Kamara (6) after Kamara scored a touchdown during the third quarter against South Gwinnett in a second round Class AAAAAA playoff football game on Friday. Kamara's touchdown set the score of the game at 20-0.

Norcross head coach Keith Maloof offers congratulations to running back Alvin Kamara (6) after Kamara scored a touchdown during the third quarter against South Gwinnett in a second round Class AAAAAA playoff football game on Friday. Kamara's touchdown set the score of the game at 20-0.

After every game, Keith Maloof checks his phone or asks someone the scores from Gwinnett County football games.

The Norcross head coach first wants to know how other Region 7-AAAAAA teams played that night and then Region 8 games.

Maloof will have that same interest Friday night.

Of the eight teams left in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinal playoffs, four are from Gwinnett, including three from Region 7.

"I want to know who we're playing next and if our region could get it done," Maloof said. "This a tough region and you take pride in it."

Norcross (12-0) is the only undefeated team left in Class AAAAAA and will travel to South Georgia to face Camden County. North Gwinnett (10-1) will play at Region 2 champion Lovejoy and Mill Creek (9-3) is on the road at North Cobb.

The fourth Gwinnett school is Region 8's Parkview (9-3), who will host Colquitt County.

"All eight of us are really good. Anybody can beat anybody," Maloof said.

Only Region 1-AA has three teams left in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.

"I think it says a lot for our region, competition and the players," Maloof said. "To have three teams in the final eight is pretty good."

The three Region 7 teams in the quarterfinals has cemented an already strong bond between the head coaches. During the regular season, they typically keep in touch via text, e-mail and phone calls about how their teams are doing week-to-week.

"I'm really proud of how our region is represented," North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. "I'm really happy for Shannon (Jarvis) and Keith because I know how hard they work."

During the season the three teams battled for playoff berths and positioning. Norcross dethroned North as the region champion, while the Bulldogs beat Mill Creek to claim the No. 2 seed.

The Blue Devils' two closest games were a 31-21 win over North and a 49-41 victory over Mill Creek. North defeated Mill Creek 47-28.

Now that it's playoff time, they are rooting for each other every week against non-Gwinnett schools.

"You go to war against them on Friday and then shake their hand after a game," Sphire said. "We want the best for each other when we're not playing them."

Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis is quick to point out how difficult it is to make the playoffs from Region 7. The Hawks went 5-5 a year ago and missed the postseason. They needed an early season win over Peachtree Ridge and a last-second field goal against Collins Hill to secure the No. 3 spot.

"It's a statement to the quality of football in our region," Jarvis said. "I feel like Collins Hill and Peachtree Ridge could be in the same position. There's a fine line in making the playoffs and not in our region."

Wins by all four Gwinnett schools would set up an all-Gwinnett Final Four, including North Gwinnett playing Mill Creek again for a shot at the state title game.

"I am extremely proud and I know all of us are pulling for each other," Jarvis said. "Hopefully, we can go another round."

The three Region 7 teams gives them the upper hand on their counterpart Region 8 with bragging rights for the season. Region 7 was 8-7 against Region 8 teams this season, including 3-0 in last week's second-round playoff games.

"I don't see anybody above anybody," Sphire said. "On a given year someone outshines others."

Gwinnett teams were lumped into one region in 2003. They branched off to Region 7 and Region 8 in 2004 and since then have been battling for state supremacy. Region 8's Parkview and Brookwood reached the state finals, then the power shifted to Region 7 with Peachtree Ridge twice and North going to the championship game. Region 8's Brookwood and Grayson have won the last two state championships, but it appears the power has shifted with three Region 7 teams in the quarterfinals.

"I think this county is good in itself. One year it's us, one year it's them," Maloof said. "We don't have bragging rights yet. They've won the last two state championships. Let us win a couple of state championships and then we'll have bragging rights. Until then, they have bragging rights over us."